How much money is too much money to pay for plant-based food (PBF) at a restaurant? What, if any, are the advantages of making costly PBF for diners? If the goal of a restaurant is to expose people to delicious PBF, why would a restaurant make expensive PBF most people can’t afford or replicate at home? Could farm animal advocates increase their impact by donating the extra money they’d spend on an expensive dinner to a nonprofit working to transform animal agriculture?
These are the questions I asked myself as I visited Elizabeth’s Gone Raw (EGR), a celebrated dining destination nestled in a Federalist-era townhouse in downtown Washington, D.C. EGR was founded by Elizabeth Petty, who after a breast cancer diagnosis, turned to raw PBF to overcome it. She experienced improvements in her energy level, mental well-being, and health. She started EGR to show others the power of PBF.
EGR is only open Fridays, and you’ll need a reservation because it’s a packed house–literally. Every guest eats the same food and pays the same price. The questions the EGR wait staff has never heard: What should I order? What do you recommend? You’ll receive seven visits from your waiter so come hungry. Also, bring a fat wallet because dinner and two drinks will run $146 per person with tax and tip. Invite a date, and you’re in for a sobering $292.
When I entered EGR, a cordial host immediately distinguished the restaurant. He welcomed me, offered to take my coat and order a drink, and engaged in friendly conversation. A bar occupies the foyer and visitors climb a staircase to make their way into an ornate dining room that transports diners to a bygone era. Other staff validated the first impression throughout the evening–a two-hour plunge into food ecstasy that sent my taste buds into unchartered territory. If they could speak, no doubt they would ask why they don’t get treated this way every night.
I find no purpose in discussing the tasting menu because it changes every month and more astute critics have already chronicled the quality of the PBF at EGR. They’d be out of business at these prices if it wasn’t so good. If you visit, you won’t eat what I ate, but trust that you’ll make the same noises. Each dish looks like Basquiat painted it. A real food critic would savor every bite. I wolfed down all seven plates like I hadn’t eaten for days–and I had no regrets.
I met Elizabeth at EGR. She was welcoming, genuine, and grateful. I called her for a phone interview days later so I could gain more insight into the rationale for the business model. She was incredibly friendly, thoughtful, humble, and eager to discuss my questions. Elizabeth helped me better understand her reasons for starting EGR, which is not a profitable venture for her.
EGR shows people what’s possible with PBF, educates them, and it may inspire them to explore their own recipes or reverse a previous bad PBF dining experience. It’s not intended to be a place people visit every week, but rather a unique destination–an option for people who want to treat themselves to sophisticated food on a special occasion. That crowd may be limited, but it exists, and so EGR caters to that demographic–and anyone eager to experience creative PBF. The mortgage payment on the townhouse, large staff, all-organic menu, and classically trained executive chef understandably drive up costs. You don’t operate this restaurant and offer fast-casual prices.
People need to decide for themselves how much they want to pay for a meal. For diners who spend $100 on a steak, it’s a fun, fancy, delicious, healthier, and more humane alternative. EGR provides upscale patrons a better choice and gives people unfazed by cost a place to celebrate special events. If you fall into any of these camps, I highly recommend eating at EGR. Your taste buds will thank you.