Healthy eating in the local area took a major step forward with the March opening of Plant Based Mafia in Palm Beach Gardens. The restaurant represents a serious attempt to bring vegan and vegetarian cooking into the mainstream. According to owner/Chef Daniel Costanza, it all comes down to taste.
“We’re an Italian restaurant that just happens to use all vegan ingredients,” he says. “We want to introduce non-vegans to vegan food. Nearly 75 percent of our customers are non-vegans who are being influenced to live a healthier lifestyle.”
Costanza, who has been cooking since he was 5, was diagnosed with clogged arteries in 2014. He began revolutionizing his diet while still working in the Los Angeles film industry, then explored the idea of opening a restaurant after moving to Florida. He developed the Plant Based Mafia menu using his Italian heritage as a reference point, and he sees no conflict between the cooking he grew up with and what he’s now serving to customers.
The touchstone of his kitchen is his trademark Sweet Heat marinara, which blends San Marzano tomatoes, caramelized onions, cane sugar, habaneros, and red pepper flakes. It turns up in popular sandwiches such as The Long G’Islander (a hand-battered, soy-based “fried chicken” cutlet served on toasted garlic bread with smoked provolone) as well as pasta dishes like The Hitman (Costanaza’s award-winning sweet rigatoni topped with melted vegan mozzarella, house-made sweet ricotta, and Impossible meatballs). Pasta dishes are served family-style, and gluten-free pasta is also available.
His vision for the future is ambitious. Plant Based Mafia was originally designed to be a chain or franchise operation, and a second location is on the drawing board. Costanza is also developing what he calls a “five-star concept,” which would be a gourmet, white-tablecloth Italian restaurant with a vegan menu. He foresees a day when Plant Based Mafia will be a chain of sandwich shops, complemented by the more formal restaurants. Food trucks are also a possibility. Whatever path he takes, Costanza is dedicated to the proposition that food can be good for you and taste good too.