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A few weeks ago, a friend convinced me to go on a midweek dining adventure to Plainview, New York, where a classic steak house had recently undergone a “philosophical” menu makeover. I was a bit skeptical when I heard the words “vegan tasting menu” and “steak house” in the same sentence, and even more apprehensive when we got off exit 48 on the Long Island Expressway and pulled up in front of Race Palace, western Nassau County's 47,000-square-foot off-track betting behemoth. Below the gambling dens, on the ground floor, is Maxwell and Dunne’s, a 200-seat, Art Deco dining room with a Sopranos vibe that attracted a loyal local crowd for years with its Kansas City strips and rib eyes.
Why would a successful steak house go vegan? The executive chef, Chris Palmer—a large man with a mohawk—looks like he could be a Hell’s Angel, not an organic-food evangelist. He’d been running the restaurant back in 2004, when it got a very good review from the New York Times. But earlier this year, when he noticed that one of his sons was having trouble paying attention in school, he decided to try an experiment. He put his family on an all-organic, all-natural diet. Taking away the processed food and sugary sweets worked, and thus began Palmer’s mission to reinvent his restaurant with an organic, sustainable menu makeover.
For the first few weeks, the place was empty—red-quinoa summer rolls and watermelon-ginger mojitos made with agave nectar scared off his regular meat-and-potatoes customers. But now, a new crowd has caught on. Carnivores can still get a great filet mignon or dry-aged porterhouse—all the beef comes from Meyer Natural Angus in Montana and is hormone-, steroid- and antibiotic-free, as well as certified humane. There is a supercreative menu of vegetarian sides. I loved the Kung Pao carrots, which are lightly fried in a house-made ginger-ale tempura. Most of the produce is sourced from local purveyors, including Satur Farms (black-and-white photos of the farm hang on the walls in the bar). And there’s even a four-course vegan tasting menu. What seems like a no-brainer concept to a Manhattanite feels more forward-thinking in the ’burbs, and chef Palmer is trying to educate the community by talking about organic food in local elementary schools. This January, he's going to start taking groups on shopping tours at the local Whole Foods, followed by healthy cooking classes at the Maxwell and Dunne's kitchen.