Princeton’s new vegan restaurant is a homecoming for Omer Basetemur, a chef who has been a pioneer of plant-based cuisine on the Jersey Shore for 16 years.
Planted Plate sprouted up at 15 Spring Street in mid-January in the space most recently occupied by Savory Spice Shop. Open daily from 10 to 8, the restaurant features a wide variety of vegan dishes, including soups and salads, tacos and burritos, hot bowls, sandwiches and wraps, and kabobs and burgers, as well as breakfast all day.
The restaurant is the latest culinary venture for Basetemur, who grew up in Princeton and attended Princeton schools. He opened his first restaurant, Kaya’s (KY-a’s) Kitchen, in 2005, when he was 25. Last May 2020, Basetemur opened his second vegan restaurant, Kaya’s Café, in Asbury Park.
Basetemur says he wanted the freedom to play around with the menu, so he chose a new name for the restaurant, rather than calling it Kaya’s Princeton.
Basetemur says the response so far has been great. “Our first weekend was amazing. I really wasn’t expecting it to take off that much that quick, but this has been a long time coming,” he says. “I’ve been looking to open out here for a while now. When the opportunity first came up [to open up on Spring Street] a couple years ago, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t already an all-vegan place here.”
After high school, Basetemur took culinary school classes for a time, but found that he preferred the environment of a real kitchen. “I felt like I was learning more on the job than in school,” he says.
At 19, he moved out to the shore and got a job cooking in a vegetarian restaurant. The experience converted him into a vegetarian himself. “Before that, it was pork roll, egg and cheese for me every day. That was my go-to,” he says.
At Planted Plate, he has added his own take on that New Jersey classic to his menu. “The Trenton” ($10) is a plant-based sandwich that features soy-based “pork roll,” tofu in place of egg, and vegan cheese on a sprouted roll. It is served with a side of home fries.
“I always wanted to recreate that in a vegan version,” he says. “I had a maple-baked ham on my Thanksgiving menu one year in Belmar, and one day I got the idea to slice it up real thin, put it on the griddle and use tofu to recreate a fried egg. I threw some (vegan) cheese on it and it tasted like a pork roll sandwich.”
One person who ordered The Trenton wrote on Facebook: “This meal brought tears to my eyes! The pork roll was so delicious and tasted just as I remember it when I ate meat. I can’t stop gushing over the deliciousness!!!!”
Basetemur, who lives in Howell, says he gears the menu to appeal to vegans and meat eaters both. “I wanted to format the restaurant to make it convenient for people to try new things. Most of my customers aren’t vegan, actually. I try to cater to people who are curious about it, who maybe want to eat healthier without sacrificing the flavors they’re used to.”
Planted Plate, 15 Spring St., Princeton NJ 0540. Web: kayasvegan.com. Phone: (609) 356-0845. Open daily 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.