At D.C.'s Fancy Radish and Philly's Vedge, chef Rich Landau revolutionizes the traditionally cheese-based dish—and non-vegans are obsessed with it, too. 
Rutabaga Fondue Fancy Radish
Credit: Yoni Nimroad

For the cheese-inclined, the idea of eating a fondue made of anything other than cheese (or chocolate) is nightmarish. Because at its core, fondue is simply cheese melted into luscious, dippable form, brought to life with a splash of wine and seasoning. But leave it to Rich Landau, the chef behind Philadelphia's Vedge and most recently Fancy Radish in Washington, D.C., to take the most dairy-reliant dish and make it entirely vegan—while maintaining a high level of decadence.

Fancy Radish's rutabaga fondue, which is served with fresh-baked pretzel bread and pickled vegetables, has become something of a cult menu item since the restaurant's March opening; it's their best-seller. (It's on the menu at Vedge and has long been a best-seller there, too.)

"People go nuts over it," Landau says. Indeed, the fondue is rich and earthy, packing some of the funk you find in fondue cheeses like Gruyère. The melted texture feels similar to that of a traditional fondue, though there's none of that satisfying gooeyness.

If you're horrified by the idea that a root vegetable could ever replace a melted dairy product, stick with us. The rutabaga-cheese connection isn't as far-fetched as it seems, and the vegan fondue mimics cheese's luxurious mouthfeel.

"Chefs love its silky, creamy texture, its beautiful color, and unique nutty, earthy flavor," says Landau. "We caught on to this years ago when making a rutabaga soup and realizing how much it looked like melted cheese. Then we made a rutabaga rarebit that was just fantastic. After that me and my chef-de-cuisine, Andrew, created a cheese sauce for a mushroom steak sandwich we ran for a happy hour snack ... from there the rutabaga fondue was born."

Rutabaga's big moment in the spotlight, Landau believes, is coming.

"Celery root had its day a few years ago, so rutabaga will be huge when it hits the mainstream," he says. "It will be salt baked, served as a steak, stuffed, made into fries, made into polenta, rice, etc. I don't know what could top it, but I would love to see salsify hit big in this country like it has in Europe. I also think parsley root is a relatively unknown root that deserves some attention."

Fancy Radish is the first of Landau's restaurants, which he runs with his wife, pastry chef Kate Jacoby, outside of Philadelphia.

Fancy Radish, 600 H Street NE, Washington, DC, 20002. (202 ) 675 8341