Posts Tagged dining out

VeganMoFo: Native Foods

When I signed up for a conference in Newport Beach, I didn’t know much about the town other than the fact that it was the setting of Arrested Development.  Then, I found out there is a Native Foods there.  Then, I found out it was right across the street from the hotel hosting the conference.  Then, I found out it was under a ten minute walk from the hotel to the restaurant!  I had never had the opportunity to eat there, but could tell from their menu that it was the type of place I would like.

I ate there all four days of the conference, and I was really excited to post about it.  Then, my phone was stolen, along with the photos of my meals.  Sad face!

I’m going to tell you about the dishes I tried there anyway, because they were all so good!  Luckily, it seems like I can borrow other photos from the internet.

photo source blog.nativefoods.com

I first went for a late lunch on the day I arrived, after flying west across the country.  I wasn’t feeling my best and although everything sounded delicious, I knew that something on the healthier side would hit the spot.  I went with the Sesame Kale Macro Bowl – Grilled Native Tempeh atop steamed kale, brown rice, creamy ginger sesame sauce, tangy sauerkraut, gomasio and toasted sesame seeds. Green onion garnish and crunchy cucumber seaweed salad on the side.  I’m a sucker for sauerkraut, and my only complaint was that I could’ve used about triple the amount they gave me.

photo credit – blog.nativefoods.com

I also got an Oatmeal Creme Pie to take back to my room.  It was less authentically Little Debbie-esque than the one I had in Austin, but still very good.  The cookies were thick and a little crumbly, and the filling was like whipped cream.

photo credit – blog.nativefoods.com

Next, I tried their Classic Deli Reuben – thinly-sliced, deli-style Native Reuben Seitan piled high on grilled marble rye.  Topped with homemade sauerkraut, Native Horseradish Cheese and a slather of Russian dressing.  Told you I’m a sucker for sauerkraut.  I’ve had many variations on a vegan Reuben from many different restaurants, and never met one I didn’t like.

The seitan really is pink!  And, like this photo, I also ordered a side of potato salad, which was very tasty and not too heavy, with plenty of fresh dill.

photo credit – http://www.ocmenus.com

For an early dinner Friday evening, I went with what I really wanted: the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger and sweet potato fries.  Thinly sliced Native Original Seitan, melted cheddar, caramelized onions, and crispy Native Bacon on a bun slathered with BBQ sauce and ranch dressing, romaine, carrots, onions, and tomato. Topped with crunchy battered dill pickle chips.  This beast of a sandwich really was piled up that high, and was difficult to put together.  It didn’t really taste like a “burger” since the meaty part was seitan, but it was still really amazing.  Every bite had a different texture and flavor; the warm, melty cheese, the crunchy, smoky bacon, the cool dressing, spicy BBQ sauce and crunchy veggies.  And I adored the fried pickle chips.

Despite making it through that massive sandwich, I had room for dessert.  The Strawberry Shortcake Parfait is vanilla cake layered with almond creme and fresh sliced organic strawberries.  I like a biscuity texture for shortcakes, so the cake didn’t quite hit the spot for me, but the almond creme was kind of mind blowingly delicious.  It was smooth and fluffy and the delicate almond flavor played nicely with the vanilla and strawberry.

photo credit – http://www.ocmenus.com

For my last meal there I had to try one of the entree salads, namely the popular Ensalada Azteca – fresh avocado, cucumber, and jicama salsa atop quinoa, romaine, and an award-winning mango lime vinaigrette. Topped with currants, toasted pumpkin seeds, and cilantro.  It was a massive salad, definitely enough for a full meal.  There were lots of great contrasting flavors and textures going on.  And yes, it did come with a big mango slice and a whole sprig of cilantro like this picture!

I really love their approach at Native Foods.  They make everything in house, including the buns, cheeses, seitan and sauces, and you can tell that a lot of care is put into each plate.  If there was a location near me I would make an attempt at trying every menu item!

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VeganMoFO: Christmas in Central Texas

In what has seemed to become my unofficial theme for VeganMoFo 2013, here is another post about something that happened last year!

My brother was stationed at Fort Hood mid-last year and so he, my sister-in-law, and their baby Josie moved to Killeen, Texas.  My family decided to meet there for Christmas so they wouldn’t have to travel, and my mom found Weatherstone cabin bed and breakfast in the nearby town of Salado, which had the perfect amount of space for all six of us.

Flights into Killeen were super expensive, so I flew into Austin and rented a car instead.  I was hoping we would be able to work in a day trip to Austin but knew with the baby it might be difficult, so I wanted to choose a restaurant for a late lunch after landing.  It was really hard to choose one place from all the awesome-looking vegan food in Austin!

In the end I went with Wheatsville Coop, first because I had heard the tales of their popcorn tofu, and second because I wasn’t sure what would be available food-wise at the cabin or in Salado, so I wanted to pick up a few supplies.

The Buffalo Popcorn Hero was really tempting, but I stuck with the classic Popcorn Tofu Po’boy, which comes with cashew tamari and fresh veggies.  I also picked up a kale and beet salad, mac and cheese from the hot bar, an oatmeal cream pie, and a Blue Sky Jamaican Ginger Ale.

The sandwich was good; the tofu was firm and chewy and made great little fried nuggets.  The salad was really nice, a good mixture of sweet and tangy.  The mac was saucy, warm, and cheesy.  The oatmeal cream pie was a good simulation of the Little Debbie classic; the cookies were chewy and had a strong brown sugar flavor.

Full, happy, and tired, I made the drive to Salado, where I met my baby niece for the first time.

That night we hung around the cabin, ordering pizza delivery for dinner.  I wasn’t very hungry after my big late lunch, so I just asked for a double side salad.  What I didn’t realize is that apparently they put shredded cheese on side salads at a lot of places in the area.  (This began a trend I saw throughout my few days there.)  I just picked the cheese off as best I could.

We chose 9AM as our breakfast time, and being on west coast time and in vacation mode, I slept right up until then (as I did the next two mornings).  Our host Kay had already been hard at work and had everything ready.  My mom had let them know about my diet when booking the rooms and they had said they could accommodate me, but I still had no idea what to expect.

Fresh fruit on a pretty plate is always a good way to start.

While the rest of my family was served an egg casserole, I got my own little plate of veggie sausage patties and bread which had been toasted in margarine.  Kay picks up the bread, which was delicious, from a local bakery.  She also had coffee brewed and offered refills while we ate, in addition to seconds on anything.  She had soy milk for me to use in my coffee, and the cabin was stocked with bottled water, soda, tea, and a few snacks.

We didn’t really have an agenda for the day, so I spent some time taking in the cute Texas decor.  We also got a tour of the barn out back, which they rent out for events.

my brother Tate and seven month old Josie

my parents and Kay

We eventually headed out and walked down Main Street, which is lined with antique shops and all sorts of cute little stores.  We ended up at Adelea’s on Main for lunch, which Kay had recommended.  I forgot to take a picture of my meal, but not because it wasn’t good!

They didn’t have anything vegan on the menu but I noticed that hummus was available as an appetizer special, and there was a veggie wrap that usually came with black beans and artichoke dip.  I asked our waiter if they could sub hummus for the dip on the wrap and he seemed a little flummoxed by my request, but immediately offered to ask the chef and returned with a positive answer.  Despite being a kind of random gathering of ingredients, the wrap was very tasty and nicely grilled, and it came with their freshly made kettle chips.

On the walk back to the cabin we came across Salado Creek Winery.  I was not expecting to see a winery in this tiny town!  My mom and I popped in for a tasting.  Their wines definitely have personality; for example, the Cowpuncher Cabernet.  I do not advocate punching cows though, and I don’t believe they do either :)

I first tried their “Vaquero” Shiraz/Tempranillo Blend, which I like so much that I bought a bottle to bring home.  Shiraz is my favorite wine, and this was a lighter, tangier spin on it.

I also tried the Brown Chicken Brown Cow, a sweet shiraz flavored with chocolate.  The winery’s website says “As far as we know the only ‘chocolate’ wine made in Texas!”.  It was definitely good, but incredibly rich.  A few ounces went a long way.

For dinner that night we headed to Johnny’s Steaks & BBQ, another local restaurant which had been recommended.  It’s the type of joint that puts meat in all the side dishes, so I went for the ol’ side salad and french fries dinner.  The point of being there was to spend time with family, so as long as I got some calories in my belly it was alright.  Josie didn’t want to sit in the high chair, so we took turns holding her and walking around the restaurant, while she made friends with all the other guests.

After we got back I sampled the Red Rabbit Bakery donut holes I had bought at Wheatsville.  They were a little dry, but to be fair it had probably been a few days since they were made at that point.  I liked the flavor.  My brother did not, but my brother is picky.

The next morning, breakfast for the family was french toast, and for me it was waffles piled high with fruit, and veggie sausage links.  The waffles were also gluten free, as Kay was looking to expand her resources for special diets, and they were quite good.

That day we headed out to the Round Rock Premium Outlets for some shopping action.  We took a break for lunch at the food court, which didn’t seem too promising.  I did find Phil’s Philly Grill which had a veggie philly on the menu, so I asked for that without cheese plus a side salad.  Again, the side salad came with unadvertised cheese which I had to pick off.  I also snagged a few of my brother’s curly fries.

After more shopping and the drive back a few of us weren’t feeling so well, so we decided to stay in and take it easy that night.  We were going to call for pizza again, when after searching around I randomly found that the burger place down the road was advertising a vegan veggie burger, actually using the word vegan!  That was a surprise for such a small town.  My mom and I headed to Old Fashioned Burgers and Ice-Cream and placed our order with the one lady working there, who promptly started working hard to make all the food.  I think she may have buttered all the buns but I didn’t say anything since she was clearly busting it to get the food done.

The burger was pretty tasty, and we shared a big order of fries too.

The next morning we were greeted with a gigantic platter of fruit.  I don’t know where Kay was buying the produce, but she managed to find good melons and berries in Texas in December.

The highlight of the fruit was the sugared bananas.  She just rolled sliced bananas in cinnamon sugar, and the sugar takes on the moisture from the bananas and makes something like a glaze.  Delicious.

My main dish was hash browns, veggie bacon, and biscuits made with margarine.

That day we ventured to my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Killeen to check it out, watch football, and for them to get a workout in.  They’re very serious about weight training and power lifting – no breaks on vacation!  For lunch we headed to Red Onion India Bistro, which I was very excited about, only to find that they were closed on Sundays.  Sad Face.  There was a McAlister’s Deli next door, a suitable second choice.

I went for the Spud Ole with veggie chili and jalapenos (no cheese).  I used to go to McAlister’s a lot in Florida, so this was a fun trip down memory lane, as well as a filling meal.

That afternoon, Tate gave us a tour around Fort Hood.  I had never been on a military base, so it was a really interesting experience.  I didn’t realize that some bases are open to the public; Fort Hood has a visitor’s center and two museums.  It’s a lot like a college campus, there are offices, barracks, sports fields and training grounds, as well as business like gas stations, restaurants, and the commissary.

This was the last vehicle out of Iraq after the US withdrew.  Very cool to see.

I’m not sure if you can tell the scale of this helicopter, but it is massive.  Its job is to pick up and move other vehicles and equipment.

For dinner, we went to Texas Roadhouse.  I had a side salad with a dressing off of the “light” menu, a baked sweet potato, and a vegetable skewer.  Not bad for a vegan steakhouse meal.

The next morning I was up early, saying goodbye and driving back to the Austin airport.  I’ll remember this trip as a lot of things:  meeting my niece for the first time, spending time in a cute little Texas town, and eating a lot of potatoes.  A lot.

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VeganMoFo: Zachary’s Pizza

Zachary’s Pizza is a well-known pizza joint with four locations around the bay area.  My boyfriend Dave remembers it fondly from his college days, and it was one of the first restaurants he told me about when we moved here.  Out of curiosity, I e-mailed them in early 2009 to inquire if their crust was vegan.  They replied very quickly that, unfortunately, it contained a small amount of butter.

Fast forward to December 2011, almost three years later.  A Zachary’s manager e-mailed me out of the blue to let me know that they now offered a vegan option, the whole wheat crust and Daiya cheese, and they wanted me to be one of the first to know since I had previously inquired.  Talk about customer service!

About a year after that, I finally got the chance to try Zachary’s one random Friday night when Dave and I decided to get pizza on the way home from work.  Their pizzas aren’t cheap by any means, but they’re substantial and you can tell they’re made with quality ingredients.  One or two slices of the “stuffed” Chicago style pizza is easily an entire meal!

I went with the spinach and mushroom pizza, and it was ridiculously incredibly good.  They don’t skimp with the fillings; lots of veggies, melty Daiya mozzarella, and chunky, herby tomato sauce.  You can taste the fresh basil.

Blurry closeup of the deliciousness.  I officially declare that Zachary’s is delicious, worth the price, and awesome for caring about the vegan citizens of the East Bay!

edited:  Dave has requested that I add this picture of Jake, taken right after he ate some of Dave’s pizza.

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VeganMoFo: Chez Panisse

It’s the last day of VeganMoFo!  I had a great time participating this year, but I’m not going to lie…it was really hard to keep it up with two blogs.  I didn’t quite meet my goal of posting every weekday this month, but this is my 20th post, and that’s pretty darned close!

Dave has been wanting to go to Chez Panisse in Berkeley for quite some time, and he has also wanted to see Beethoven’s 7th performed live, and for his birthday present I set out to make them both happen in one night.  I had heard that Chez Panisse could accommodate vegan diners, but upon calling to inquire I was told that they stick to their nightly menu with no alterations.  They suggested their upstairs cafe instead, which serves the same style of food in a more accessible menu with more choices.  When I called again to make the reservation, they said that they don’t necessarily cater to vegans, but that it would probably be possible to find something to eat on the menu.  Their menu changes daily, so it was a bit of a gamble!

Luckily, my dinner was great.  I asked our waiter right away what he suggested, and he said that the soup that night was completely vegan.

(Horrible photo excuse:  The menu explicitly asked diners not to use their cell phone at the table, so I snapped these as quickly as possible to try to remain inconspicuous.)

This is beet and ginger soup with cumin, turmeric and mint.  The soup was very light in texture, and actually tasted like essence of beet; I couldn’t really taste the mentioned spices.  But, the highlight of the soup was the oil drizzle on top.  I think they cooked green coriander seed in a tiny bit of oil and added it last minute, and those little pops of coriander were delightful.

Our waiter volunteered to ask the chef if they wouldn’t mind preparing a vegan entree for me, and the chef agreed.  I love having a meal made especially for me!  If the chef hadn’t been in the mood, I could have fallen back on a salad or maybe one of the pizettas without cheese.

I was delighted to see this plate.  The base was a variety of shell beans with what I think was cavolo nero, in a delicately flavored olive oil sauce.  Next is a giant crostini with a tangy roasted red pepper spread.  The cherry on top were the eggplant slices, which had to have been slow roasted or braised.  They were incredibly tender.

This little plate was actually on the dessert menu, Medjool and Barhi dates with candied tangerine peel.  I had never had Barhi dates – they were like an amazing caramel custard in a little date package.  The candied tangerine peel was the perfect acidic nibble to cut the sweetness.

Having had such a fantastic experience, I would definitely consider going back to Chez Panisse Cafe.  The staff were very accommodating, and like I said, even if the chef hadn’t made me an entree I could have pieced together a fine meal from the appetizer section.

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VeganMoFo: Reno

I’ve been to Reno too many times to link to all my posts about it (here’s a link to a blog search), but on this latest trip I made it a point to try to find even more restaurants which were vegan friendly.

To start out my Saturday morning, I went for a run along the Truckee River.  There is a pathway along the river which happens to run right through downtown Reno, which made for a really nice run.  There were lots of other people out running, biking and walking their dogs.  Breakfast was a Larabar and a banana which I had brought with me.

For lunch, I headed to Fairly Grounded Too, which I had read about on Vegan Coaches page about dining in Reno.  It’s on Virginia Street a few blocks south of the river, and it’s easy to miss – the sign mostly says “coffee” really big.  Going inside, it’s a modern yet cozy coffee shop with plenty of space for you, your coffee and your laptop.

Their sandwiches and salads are premade and none are vegan, but if you ask the nice people behind the counter they will let you know if anything they have that day is vegan.  This rainbow vegetable soup was recommended; I don’t know if the have it every day or if it’s a special, but it was delicious.  The vegetables were chunky and not overcooked, and there were some interesting spices that I couldn’t put my finger on.  It came with a slice of bread, and they actually had Earth Balance for spreading.

I needed a caffeine fix, so I got a soy latte as well.  This was one of the best soy lattes I’ve ever had, slightly bitter but not too strong.

The girl also mentioned that the biscotti was vegan.  I’m not usually a big biscotti fan, but obviously I had to try it.  It was cherry almond flavor, with both almond extract and chunks of whole almond.  The biscotti was chewy and crispy at the same time, and very good.

That afternoon I had a massage (heaven), and we decided to embark upon the Reno Beer Crawl, which occurs the fourth Saturday of every month.  You buy the glass for five bucks, and can get 6 oz pours at eleven bars for one dollar each.  It was really fun, and a great way to explore more of downtown.

After all that beer and walking around, I was in need of some serious fuel.  We walked down to Pie Face Pizza, as I had heard a rumor that they had vegan cheese.

The rumors were wonderfully true.  Even though it’s not listed on their online menu, they do have Daiya.  This is The Resa specialty pizza – sun-dried tomato, roasted garlic, jalapeno, red onion, spinach, pine nuts, Daiya instead of goat cheese.  It was spicy and garlicy and melty and I ate the whole thing and I’m not ashamed.  Pie Face was a hip and happening place, and I would definitely go back.

Sunday morning I went for brunch at Pneumatic Diner.  I had been there once before for lunch, but it was at a weird time of the afternoon and there was nobody else there, so I wanted to go again when they were more busy.  I was hoping they would have some sort of vegan breakfasty item like pancakes, but they did not.  The menu is massive though, almost too big, so everyone will find something they like.

The breakfast burrito immediately caught my eye, but I think that’s what I ordered the first time I went, so I chose The Vegan Bubba, a sandwich with hummus, red onion, shredded carrot, marinated grilled eggplant and zucchini, and greens.  I chose to add the optional “slab”, which is grilled tofu.

Look at all the deliciousness spilling out!  This was actually a really tasty and satisfying sandwich, despite its apparent simplicity.  It kept me full for a long, long time.

On the way back home, we stopped around 4PM for a late lunch and headed toward a Togo’s, which was in a shopping plaza with not much else.  Walking up to the store, something caught my eye.  It was a sign in the window of Flour Garden Bakery that said “vegan black bean chili”!  Needless to say, I went inside to check it out.

Sadly, they had just put the chili away to freeze (even though it was over an hour until they closed), but luckily they had tofu salad sandwiches on display.  The tofu salad was tasty, but the bakery’s sprouted wheat bread was the real standout.  It was soft, hearty, and a little sweet, the perfect sandwich bread.  If you ever happen to be hungry near exit 199C on I-80, pull over and find Flour Garden.  It’s a great feeling to find things marked vegan unexpectedly.

That’s it for this rendition of vegan in Reno.  My only regret is that I didn’t get to Freeman’s Natural Hotdogs.  There’s always next time!

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VeganMoFo: Vegas

I’ve been to Las Vegas a few times now, and I’m comfortable enough with the lay of the land that I’m not too worried about finding decent food.  We went for three nights last month, and I made it my mission to try some restaurants that I’d never been to.

We got into town late Friday night, and it was around midnight by the time we arrived at the hotel.  I was starving, and this was the only time on the trip I had to settle since most places were closed and we were exhausted.  We ate at the 24 hour coffee shop in TI, where we stayed, and I had a blt with no b and french fries.

The next morning I went for an early run on the strip, which I would highly recommend for anyone who likes to run.  Just make sure to get out there before 9AM so that the sidewalks aren’t too crowded and it’s not too hot.  Breakfast was a Larabar, a banana and iced coffee.

For lunch we decided to check out The Wicked Spoon Buffet at Cosmopolitan.  Looking around online I had seen that it was rated as well as or higher than the Bellagio and Wynn buffets, which are both excellent.  I had no idea what kind of vegan food might be available, but you can always at least find something at a giant buffet.

The line for the buffet was very long, but they had cool food art on the walls.  I really liked this purple and green asparagus photo.  (As with most buffets, I didn’t get to verify that this is all vegan, but used my best judgement.)

First plate:  watermelon gazpacho, heirloom tomatoes, cucumber salad, grilled asparagus, cantaloupe, pretzel roll, green gazpacho.  This was all tasty, and the green gazpacho was the stand out dish.  It tasted like it had tomatillos and jalapeno, and was really bright and fresh.

Second:  seaweed with plain tofu and hot sauce, curried tofu and fall vegetables, veggie sushi.  There wasn’t any veggie sushi on display but the sushi chef was right there making more rolls, so I asked him to make it for me.  I had another little pot of the curry after this plate to make sure I got my money’s worth.

The dessert section had a whole case of gelato, and luckily for me the fruit-based ones were dairy free!  These are pink grapefruit and mango flavors.  The pink grapefruit was really delicious, tart and not too sweet.

That night we hung out at The Wynn.  I think by now all good vegans have heard that Steve Wynn is vegan and made sure that all of his restaurants offered vegan and allergen-free menus, but in case you didn’t know until now – every restaurant at The Wynn has vegan options!  And good ones, too, not like token vegan options that nobody actually wants to eat.

I can’t resist a vegan pizza with “cheese”, so I grabbed dinner at Pizza Place.  This beauty included red onion, red bell pepper and mushrooms, and what I believe to be Daiya.  The crust was really delicious, both chewy and crispy.

Breakfast the next morning was another protein bar, an apple and coffee.  Breakfast seems like it’s usually the hardest thing to find as a vegan, so I always travel with protein bars and fruit.

In addition to its proximity to The Wynn, TI is also right across the street from The Fashion Show Mall, an unlikely source of delicious vegan food.  However, it pays to do your research!

The Red Velvet Cafe is nestled between two escalators in the mall.  Their original location is way far from the strip, and I think this location is fairly new.  Their menu isn’t strictly vegan or vegetarian, but there are plenty of savory options and most of the desserts are vegan.

While waiting for my meal, I enjoyed this dry lemon grass soda.  It was like a less sweet, natural version of Sprite.

For my lunch I ordered the vegan version of the Cuban Press sandwich, which included vegan turkey and cheese, pickles and mustard on hearty sliced wheat bread.  It was hot and melty and wonderful.

The “turkey” was thickly sliced and grilled, and it seemed like a soy product.  It had that meat-like graininess that Tofurkey has, and I really liked it.  I asked the waitress what brand it was, and she said that she thinks they have it specially made.  Too bad, I would love to be able to buy some!

Dessert was a difficult choice considering how many of the cakes, breads and cookies were vegan, but in the end I went with the signature red velvet cake.  The display case was filled with chilled desserts, but this cake came to the table warm.  The icing was surprisingly crumbly yet sweet, and a tasty counterpoint to the rich cake.  I would definitely visit the Red Velvet Cafe again.

For dinner that night we went to the pho restaurant in TI.  This is the vegetarian noodle bowl, which came with fried tofu and onions, a few kinds of mushrooms, peanuts and lots of raw veggies.  I don’t know what they put in this business, but it was fantastically tasty and filling.

Walking back to our room, the v word jumped out at me where I least expected it, on the steak house menu.  It certainly seems that Vegas has become much more vegan friendly over the past few years!  Tal Ronnen and Gardein are taking over.  Fine with me.

For brunch the last day, we headed to The Wynn buffet.  I had heard a rumor that vegan buffet items were actually labeled as such.

The rumors were true!  The downside of food being labeled vegan was that there was sort of a gray area for things that should have been naturally vegan.  The fruit was an easy call, but I was less sure about this cream of wheat, which I think should have been cooked without dairy.

For my second trip through I picked up buckwheat pancakes and rice and bean enchiladas.  I was so excited that I forgot to take a picture before chowing down.  Here is the proof.

Every good breakfast needs dessert!  Grapefruit with mint and a small chocolate chip cookie.

Brunch kept me full for a long while, so I got this burrito in the airport just before boarding.  I was pretty excited to see tofu and broccoli on the menu, but in honesty this burrito was BLAND.  Bland but filling, at least.

In summary, do not be afraid of trying to find vegan food in Vegas.  It is seemingly everywhere!  We’re going back next month and I hope to try out even more restaurants, maybe even a fancy one at The Wynn.

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Good Times in Gainesville

Back in June, I traveled to Gainesville to attend a wedding and hang with some old friends.  The groom was my old band mate, and rather than a rehearsal dinner, he wanted to get the band back together.  Between family, friends, wedding guests and old fans who were still in town, we were expecting a sold out show!  We hadn’t played together in years and needed a few practices before we were ready to play, so I arrived a few days early and ended up spending four nights in town.  I hit some of my favorite food spots, and tried some new ones too.

I got into town on Wednesday night and met a few friends at Reggae Shack Cafe.

I like a lot of their vegetarian dishes, and this time I went with the Vegan Steak – handmade seitan simmered in a sweet Carribean sauce with vegetables.  The dish came with cabbage, rice and beans, and fried plantains.  I love this sauce; it’s sweet, savory and spicy.

Festivals, which are like sweet fried hush puppies.  Not very good for you, but they’re so tasty that I order them every time.

I didn’t even know Red Stripe Light existed!

On my way to visit my parents the next morning, I stopped at my absolute favorite coffee shop in Gainesville, Coffee Culture.

Vanilla soy latte.  None of the baked goods were vegan, but the guy at the counter said that they were planning to open their own bakery soon, and would have vegan options in the future.

Needing some solid fuel, I stopped by Bagels & Noodles on University Avenue.  This place used to be called Bagels Unlimited, but it seems they’ve made the odd move of also serving noodles for lunch and dinner.  Regardless, this whole wheat bagel with hummus and lettuce was exactly what I wanted.  The bagel was toasted and chewy, the hummus was garlicky and warm, and the lettuce added the perfect crunch.

Still fairly full from the bagel, I met my parents for lunch in Ocala.  Our go-to restaurant in Ocala is Amrit Palace, but my mom had heard of another Indian restaurant getting good reviews, so we gave that a try instead.

Bay Leaf Indian Restaurant has a buffet for lunch and a full menu for dinner.  After confirming that some of the buffet items were vegan, we sat down and helped ourselves.  I got veggie pakoras, mint chutney, rice, dal, potatoes and peas and tamarind chutney.  The dishes were well spiced and slightly spicy, and very delicious.

Coming back to Gainesville, I was in a rush to grab some food before our scheduled practice, so I grabbed take out from my very favorite falafel place, Gyro Plus.

Bad lighting, delicious pita – falafel, lettuce, tomato, pickles and tahini sauce, with a big side of fries.

I knew it was going to  be a long night of practice, so I also picked up a spinach pie which I ate in the car during a break.

I needed to fuel up the next morning before heading to another practice, so I grabbed a friend and headed to 43rd Street Deli.  They used to have a location on 13th street which was great because they always had vegan items on the menu.  That location closed a few years ago, and I was hoping there would be something I could eat at the original location.

They had vegan pancakes on the menu but were sadly out of them, so I ordered the tempeh scramble with rye toast.  The scramble was more oily and salty than I would have made at home, but it was a nice, hot plate of protein and veggies, and it helped get me ready for more practice.

We practiced during the afternoon, and I don’t know if everyone knows this, but June afternoons in Central Florida are HOT.  It was possibly the hottest I’ve ever been.  I went back to my friend Janeen’s house where I was staying and was getting ready for the show that night, when Janeen came home with this:

Raspberry sorbet!  She must’ve been reading my mind, and got the sorbet for me when she stopped for frozen yogurt.  It was the perfect cold treat to keep me going.

To get a little more family time in, I met my parents, brother and sister-in-law for dinner at The Top.  I have a few favorites at The Top but selected a special that sounded really good – Tempeh Chimichurri with steamed broccoli and roasted fingerling potatoes.  The chimichurri was much more thick than those I’ve had in the past, but was herbey and citrusey and very delicious.

The show went really well, considering we hadn’t played together in years.  I was made to wear a cowboy hat because we covered a Mley Cyrus song.  Don’t ask.  Don’t ask about the other costumes either…

The next morning I met a few friends for brunch at The Jones.  I went to The Jones once or twice when I lived in Gainesville and was never that impressed, but over the past few years I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews so I figured it was worth another try.

The breakfast menu says that almost any dish can be made vegan, and I chose the Blackhawk Burrito – soy merguez, onions, bell peppers and jalapenos in a flour tortilla with organic black beans, topped with salsa fresca and avocado.  Served with homefries, organic black beans and brown rice.  This was a hugely filling and delicious breakfast.

I wasn’t sure what kind of food would be available at the wedding and was getting peckish by mid-afternoon, so I met Janeen for one last ladydate at Karma Kreme.  Karma Kreme opened soon after I moved away, which is probably a good thing.  Having freshly made vegan ice cream available that close to home could’ve been bad for my health!

An entire half of the ice cream case is dedicated to vegan ice creams, and they boast a variety of soy, rice and coconut-based ice creams.

Before I got to the sugary stuff, I needed some real food.  Not all of their sandwiches are available daily, and I felt very lucky that they had the Tofurkey Reuben that day.  Tofurkey slices on rye with sauerkraut, Russian dressing and vegan cheese, pressed and served hot.  This sandwich was gooey and fatty and wonderful.

You can’t really see how amazing this sundae is, what with the chocolate ice cream, coffee ice cream, cookie pieces, caramel and housemade coconut whipped cream.  It was so good!  If I still lived in town, I think I would be giving Karma Kreme plenty of business.

The wedding was great.  It was actually at the same venue Janeen’s wedding was at last year, and it was really interesting to see what two different couples did with the same space.  It was wonderful to see so many old friends, and the wedding was complete with 40′s brought in from Georgia and a nacho cheese fountain.  As my British friends said, “brilliant”!

Me on the right, with two very pretty lady friends.

reception aftermath

Sadly, I had to head home the next day.  I picked up another hummus bagel on the way to the airport and called it a trip.  I always said that it was very easy to be vegan in Gainesville, and it’s even more so now with restaurants like Karma Kreme and Boca Fiesta around, and mainstays like The Top, Reggae Shack, Gyro Plus and Satchel’s still in business.

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