Big Vegan meets Little Italy

Respect, family vital to Plant Based Mafia, new vegan restaurant in LA Fitness Plaza at PGA National.

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The newest name to rise in a storefront at PGA National sounds like it’s making an offer you can’t refuse.

The words Plant Based Mafia hanging from a shingle in the sedate LA Fitness Plaza can’t help but provoke a response. 

Has the Mafia gone suburban casual?

Can you pop in to order a hit?

Or is this the final step in Lucky Luciano’s vision (and Michael Corleone’s) of legit businesses  covering illegitimate tracks?

Fortunately, it’s none of the above. 

While respect and family are vital to the entrepreneurs behind Palm Beach Gardens newest vegan restaurant, Mafia ties are few and far between.

As their website says: “We don’t whack animals, we whack plants.”

The newest restaurant in the LA Fitness Plaza at PGA National is Plant Based Mafia. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

But this is not your nuts and berries variant of a vegan restaurant. With menu items like “Don’t Breaka My Balls” and “The Italian Coronary,” there’s no pretense. 

Instead, it’s “Vegan Goombah Food” and plenty of it. Big sausage sandwiches smothered in onion, pepper and marinara. Tater tots “ginzo style,” meaning topped by marinara, mozzarella and onions. (As the menu declares: “F’n delicious.”)

Then there’s “The Hit Man,” rigatoni topped with “our sweet-heat marinara, melted mozzarella, our house-made sweet ricotta, and our hand-crafted Impossible Mafia meatballs. FUGEDDABOUDIT” 

But there’s no meat in those meatballs and no cheese in that ricotta at Plant Based Mafia. As the name says, it’s all plant-based, brought to you by companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat confident that they’ve replicated the taste of meat, while cutting the environmental costs of procuring it. 

Danny Costanzo of Plant Based Mafia.
Danny Costanzo. (Provided by Plant Based Mafia)

Bring in the vegans, say the restaurant’s founders, brothers Danny and Ben Costanzo. But also bring in their non-vegan friends.

“Our food is tastier. Our food is healthier,” Danny says. “We are changing the vegan game.”

‘Treat the body beautiful’

The brothers, both in their late 40s, are intent on turning the vegan dining experience into a fun, lively, family-style Italian dinner.

Plant Based Mafia mural defines Mafia.
A wall within the Plant Based Mafia vegan restaurant spells out how the restaurant owners understand the term Mafia. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

After all, the Mafia to them isn’t all crime, murder and enduring movie images. It’s about swagger, boldness and beauty, they say, citing the term’s 19th century origins.

“We wanted to turn it on its head: Treat the body beautiful, with respect,” Danny said. “That’s how it started.”

Ben Costanzo of Plant Based Mafia.
Ben Costanzo (Provided by Plant Based Mafia)

While they grew up in Brooklyn and the Bronx, with occasional real-life mob sightings among family and friends, their parents moved them out to Long Island to get away from the lure of the neighborhood.

“The closest thing we came to the Mafia,” Danny says, “was cooking.”

So, despite careers that have touched on movie production and financial services, they turned to food.

In 2014, Danny, who weighed 375 pounds, went into the hospital with clogged arteries, an experience he would blog about. He was 41 and stents gave him new life. He began reading about heart disease — and food. 

He took an old family marinara recipe and tweaked it to be both sweet and hot. He poured it over rigatoni, topped it with powdered sugar and people loved it.

“We have something with this,” he remembered thinking.

He was out in Los Angeles then, where his production company Costanzo Media co-produced the movie “Austin Found.”

While Austin sought an audience, his meals were a hit. He and his brother made their way to Palm Beach County via the Outer Banks of North Carolina with Ben settling in Wellington and Danny in Palm Beach Gardens.

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Formal opening is May 1

They opened a space in 2019 in West Palm’s Old Northwood neighborhood but electrical problems forced them to do all their cooking in a food truck — in the heat of a South Florida summer.

The Costanzos wanted something more sustainable. 

They lined up investors and zeroed in on a large restaurant space in Fort Lauderdale but COVID hit. The investments dried up but the idea didn’t die. 

Instead, it shrunk. And turned north.

When they heard about the 2,200-square-foot opening in the LA Fitness Center, they liked it because they believe vegans will travel for food and the space offered great access, with the PGA Boulevard turnpike exit across the street and Interstate 95 nearby. It didn’t hurt to be next to a bagel restaurant, which draws customers to a spot buried deep in the LA Fitness Plaza.

They took the space in September and started serving dinners five days a week over the weekend of the Honda Classic golf tournament, March 20.

A grand opening, with expanded hours and a doubling of the menu to include, among other dishes, chicken and waffles, is planned for May 1. Their chef, Jake Herbert, came from Christopher’s Kitchen, the well-regarded organic plant-based restaurant just 2 miles away down PGA Boulevard.

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Even as they move into restaurant heavy turf, they express no fear. 

“We are, hands down, one of the best Italian restaurants in the country,” Danny declared. 

While the restaurant, featuring live music, filled on a recent Saturday night and passers-by stopped to see what was going on, no one roamed the parking lot jotting down license plate numbers. There’s also no word yet on whether the neighboring frozen yogurt shop will change its name to FBI Just Desserts.

© 2021 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

Author: Joel Engelhardt

Joel Engelhardt is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor based in Palm Beach Gardens. He spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business, including 28 years at The Palm Beach Post. As a reporter, he covered countywide growth, the 2000 election and the birth of Cityplace in West Palm Beach. As an editor, he oversaw probes into the opioid scourge, private prisons, police-involved shootings and more. For seven years, he worked on the paper’s editorial board. Joel left The Post in December 2020. He and his wife, Donna, have lived together in Palm Beach Gardens since 1992.

5 thoughts on “Big Vegan meets Little Italy”

  1. Our family loves healthy, sustainable vegetarian food. Looking forward to coming in this week to try Plant Based Mafia!!

    1. My family and I came to eat at Plant Based Mafia last week and we had such a great time. The atmosphere is fun, inviting and original. We loved the decor. The food was delicious and my two kids who usually just pick and never finish, actually ate the entire meal. We couldn’t be happier that a restaurant like this opened so close to home. We have added PBM as a regular dine in for us now. Can’t wait to come back, especially when they open for breakfast soon.

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