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Food For Thought: Basic 4 Vegetarian Café’s Delicious Dishes & Moving Message


Basic 4 VegThe Reading Terminal Market has been the home to Philadelphia’s ever changing palate for well over a century, and chef Alfonsie B. Austin has contributed to the Market’s edible history for almost thirty of those delicious years with her stand, Basic 4 Vegetarian Café. A culinary pioneer, Austin founded Basic 4 in 1981 and became the first African American to open a stand in the Market. She continued to break the mold by combining her love of comfort food with her passion for nutrition, and in turn created the only Vegetarian American Comfort Food in the city, which “features the components of the four basic food groups and the most recent vegetarian pyramid formation.” Although, don’t come to the counter expecting to only find a few salads and one veggie burger, as Austin tempts the health conscious foodies with over 40 sweet and savory dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner (not including her sweet treats, smoothies and juices).

Austin’s daughter and co-chef, Lisa Tynes, notes that her mother was passionate about combining the “vegetarian cuisine (which at the time (1981) was not mainstream) with the familiarity of comfort food, so that when people tasted her dishes it would be just like the flavor and texture that they were used to.” Her fusion of health and comfort is best expressed in dishes like her Mediterranean Stew (yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant, carrots & onion simmered in seasoned tomatoes base), a spinach pie (made with soy ricotta cheese), seasonal fruit kobbler without sugar or dairy, and her take on the infamous Philly steak with grilled seitan on top of a multigrain roll. And if you’re practicing a vegan lifestyle, you’ll be happy to know that Basic 4 serves the only vegan friendly brunch in the city every Sunday. Austin is truly tempting taste buds and “satisfying everyone from the most loyal carnivore to the devoted vegan.”

In order to further define herself as a culinary change maker, Austin has recently redefined Basic 4 in both her café’s appearance and mission. Her new logo and stand décor communicate a fresh, clean approach to cooking with bowls of locally grown fruit, an eggplant purple and green apple color scheme, and several glass containers filled with grain, one of which that sits atop an unabridged vegetable cookbook. The new brand image and décor truly achieve the balance of the comfort of grandma's kitchen and fresh approach, similar to that of her food. Austin’s makeover went beyond the surface and to a much deeper level of core values with her new mission of the “Vegelution, which not only represents the shift in sustainable business practices for the business, but also the healthy lifestyle it has presented for its clientele for years.”

One of the three definitions of Basic 4’s “Vegelution” noted on the website, defines the term as a “major change – a dramatic change in ideas or practice.” These particular words personally struck a chord as I tasted her food and realized that my original opinion of vegetarian food (overly simple and often bland) had dramatically changed. I guess you could say I experienced the Vegelution in one bite.

Although Austin’s words and mission are incredibly inspiring, her food truly speaks for itself. Beyond achieving an amazing flavor profile of sweet, savory, comforting and refreshing, Austin’s dishes excite every sense with vibrant colors and aromas. The purple cabbage, orange carrot and green broccoli seem to leap from behind the glass case showcasing her edible eye candy. Both Austin and her daughter Lisa tend to favor the veggie burger (that’s hand made each and every morning from scratch with tofu and veggies) and the soy chicken, two of the most popular dishes on the menu. I was truly fortunate to experience both vegetarian delicacies. The savory veggie burger is served on a whole grain bun that adds a certain earthiness to the dish, along with the traditional side of crisp lettuce, fresh tomatoes and onion. Although what truly brings this burger to the next level is the homemade, signature tofu dressing, which adds a rich, creamy and decadent flavor experience.

The standout dish of my edible journey at Basic 4 was definitely the Carrot Tuna, ”carrots that are deliciously disguised with the texture and flavor of tuna salad.” This creamy yet crunchy dish not only achieved the tuna salad texture, but also the perfect balance of sweet and savory. And if you’re craving something tropical, I highly recommend the Broccoli slaw with shredded broccoli, cabbage, carrots and a special dressing of raisins and pineapple, truly refreshing and naturally sweet.

Austin’s culinary creativity truly shines in her American Vegetarian Comfort Food. It’s evident that she carefully considers each ingredient, combining textures, flavors and colors in a way that satisfies all of the senses. Although her taste bud tempting abilities do not stop there, as she has managed to make your mouth water in yet another forward thinking manner with her frequent tweets and blog posts that highlight her dishes and core values. So the next time you’re hungering for a dish to comfort your taste buds and soul, walk over to Basic 4 Vegetarian Cafe and "join the vegelution."

Want to get a free taste of these delicious dishes? Then you're in luck, because Basic 4 is offering one free lunch especially for a Philly2Philly reader. Register here for your chance win!


Reading Terminal Market 12th & Arch

215 440 0991


Click here to register for a chance to win a free lunch at Basic 4.  When you register, select "other" when it asks how you heard about our site and type "Basic 4" in the box.


m-f: 10am – 6pm

sat: closed

sun: 9am-5pm