Restaurant Review: Little Lad’s

Little Lad’s
41 Delancey Street
(between Forsyth Street and Eldridge Street)
Lower East Side, Manhattan

Vegiboys Rating (3/4)

Seventh Day Adventism plays a significant role in the history of American vegetarianism. The religion’s adherents founded many of the nation’s first vegetarian restaurants, and many defining products of the modern vegetarian experience began through the church (including the Morningstar Farms line of faux-meat foods). This Adventist tradition survives in New York City through the passion of entrepreneurs Larry and Maria Fleming.

On a New Jersey farm in the 1970s, the Flemings trained dozens of budding restaurateurs, working with students to fully launch vegan restaurants around the world (many of which remain in operation). In the 1980s and 1990s, the Flemings coordinated their own global chains of vegetarian restaurants, including several on Manhattan (Country Life with locations in downtown and Midtown, and Living Springs on the Upper East Side). Though these three restaurants have since disappeared, they attracted the attention of many NYC healthy-eaters, including real estate magnate Larry Silverstein.

In 2006, Silverstein provided with Flemings with a small basement space in a Financial District office building for a discounted rent, allowing them to open Little Lad’s Basket. The popular restaurant served as a hidden lunchtime sanctuary for lower Manhattan’s workers until last year, when their expired lease forced them to seek a new venue.

Little Lad’s has now reopened in a sprawling street-level space at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on the Lower East Side. The exterior has nothing to advertise the restaurant; there were no signs for Little Lad’s and most of the window gates were closed when we visited. Interior design seemed an afterthought too, and the restaurant feels like a dated college cafeteria. The space is eclectically decorated with news clippings and informational posters on healthy living. Tables, chairs, and even the architectural elements are mismatched throughout the huge dining room.

Though Adventist veganism stems from personal health beliefs and not environmental sustainability, the restaurant’s Styrofoam plates and plastic utensils still seemed somewhat out-of-place.

We arrived for a lunch to an empty restaurant, which only further expanded the psychological size of the room, though we were gradually joined by a slow trickle of patrons for the lunch buffet.

The buffet menu, self-served from steam trays, included a nice selection of delicious foods. An outstanding vegan mac and cheese contained nutritional yeast to create a pleasing earthy flavor. The lasagna used copious quantities of a nicely blended tofu-based ricotta and was perfectly baked. A spicy red bean soup was thick with ingredients, giving it a chili-like quality.

Simple items like baked sweet potatoes, bok choi, and salads all had fresh tastes. Brian and I both had R.W. Knudsen boysenberry natural soda to drink.

Desserts are not offered, so we tried some of Little Lad’s popcorn instead (shipped to NYC from the Fleming’s other kitchen in Portland, Maine). Cooked in coconut oil, the flavor and texture were perhaps just a bit too unexpected for us, though their unique approach to popcorn certainly has plenty of fans.

Though the restaurant is self-service, employees are friendly and quick to help with any questions. Two staff members carefully maintained the steam-trays, and a third served double duty as cashier and resident DJ (playing vaguely religious rock from Positive Life Radio).

For $7.99, you can pile your plate high with the day’s offerings (and also have two side bowls of soup and salad). We found this more than substantial, and we left the restaurant with very satisfied appetites. For a total cost of $10.50 each, Little Lad’s has one of the NYC’s best vegetarian deals, and we definitely recommend a visit. As they find their footing in the new location, we hope to see their patronage grow once again, keeping the flame of Adventist vegetarianism alive in New York.

Food (3/4)

Atmosphere & Service

Value (3.5/4)

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