Here in plant-positive 2018, cauliflower is king and the recipe at the top of the cauli-craze is Buffalo cauliflower bites. Almost unheard of a half-dozen years ago, the spicy appetizer has become a mainstay of vegan cookbooks and is beginning to pop up on local pub menus. It’s an ideal choice for any Super Bowl party menu.

What’s more, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady likes Buffalo cauliflower, too. Last year, a private chef shared a Brady-approved recipe for vegan Buffalo cauliflower wings with the website Well + Good.

One place fans will be noshing on Buffalo cauliflower when the New England Patriots face off against the Philadelphia Eagles in this year’s Super Bowl on Feb. 4 is at the Newcastle Publick House in Newcastle. Pub owner Alex Nevens said the Buffalo cauliflower is “our strongest vegan-ish item we’ve ever done.”

He calls it “vegan-ish” because the cauliflower shares a deep fryer with non-vegan foods. (Some day, Nevens hopes to install a dedicated vegan fryer.)

The Buffalo cauliflower joined the regular menu two years ago, after Nevens tried the dish at restaurants in other cities, including vegan-strong Toronto. His menu now offers a choice between Buffalo cauliflower or Buffalo chicken wings. “The cauliflower sells almost as well as our wings,” Nevens said.

Over at the Owl & Elm in Yarmouth, the Buffalo cauliflower is also “one of our most popular appetizers,” according to owner Caitlin Henningsen. “It gets you some veggies with some very familiar flavors.”

The story is the same at the Somerset Tap House, located inside Whole Foods Market in Portland, where manager Risa Kantrovitz said the restaurant’s Bang Bang cauliflower is its best-selling vegetarian dish. Krantovitz said as “so many people are turning towards the plant-based diet,” customers want familiar foods with a healthy twist. Buffalo cauliflower (or in this case Bang Bang cauliflower) ticks both boxes.

As a riff on the Buffalo chicken wing, the dish’s provenance appears recent yet its culinary roots may run deeper. Buffalo cauliflower bears similarities to Japanese tempura vegetables and the Chinese dish gobi manchurian.

Veggies Don’t Bite blogger and vegan cookbook author Sophia DeSantis told me that, like Nevens, she first tried Buffalo cauliflower at a restaurant.

“I love hot sauce, especially Buffalo sauce, so when I saw them on the menu I was hooked,” said DeSantis, whose 2017 cookbook “Vegan Burgers and Burritos” includes a recipe for sliders made with Buffalo cauliflower and topped with lettuce, onions and ranch dressing.

The dish is simple to make, but there seem to be as many variations as there are recipes, and whether or not to batter the cauliflower and, if so, what to use in the batter is one of the first considerations a cook faces when making it.

In “Vegan Burgers and Burritos,” DeSantis mixes together a batter of almond flour, soda water, baking soda and hot sauce. She coats cauliflower in the batter, then dips it in a cornmeal, bread crumbs and hemp seeds coating. For her part, “Veganize It!,” writer Robin Robertson makes her batter from chickpea flour, plant-based milk and garlic powder, a mix she says clings well to the cauliflower and holds the sauce.

But Owl & Elm chef Rocco Marzilli skips the batter altogether, instead simply tossing the cauliflower with salt, pepper and oil and roasting it at high heat, according to Henningsen, before coating it with Buffalo sauce, broiling it and topping it with gorgonzola cheese. Like traditional chicken wing sauce, the restaurant’s Buffalo sauce contains butter. To make the dish vegan, both the cheese and butter can be left off.

Some recipes, such as that in “Veganize It,” substitute vegan butter. Others, such as the recipe in “Vegan Burgers and Burritos,” incorporate the hot sauce into the batter and skip the sauce. Nevens at the Newcastle Publick House coats the cauliflower in a vegan beer batter, deep fries it and then serves it with a side of hot sauce. Somerset Tap House uses a similar recipe that can be made vegan upon request. Most cookbook recipes recommend serving the cauliflower with a vegan ranch dressing.

Finally, comes the decision about how to cook the cauliflower: roast or deep fry. The first is healthier. The second offers irresistible crunch. But there is one point of agreement in the world of Buffalo cauliflower: If you want the traditional Buffalo wings flavor, be sure to use Frank’s Red Hot sauce.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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