My friend Jackie was in town last Thursday for her birthday and she wanted to go to The Top for dinner, which was A-OK with me. The Top has a few vegan dinner options, cool atmosphere, generally friendly service, and good beer selection. What gets me about their menu is that it could easily be much more vegan friendly with just a few tweaks. For instance, all of the sauces that come with entrees and pastas are cream sauces. I feel like if they’d offer one or two non-cream based sauces it would open up the menu to tons of options. Oddly enough, there are more clearly marked vegan options on their Sunday brunch menu than their normal menu. They have the BEST vegan biscuits and gravy on Sundays.
We started with Sweet Potato Fries. They come with a dipping sauce that is not vegan, but I’m just fine with ketchup.
For this particular dinner, I went with the Caesar Salad, which is no longer marked vegan on the menu for some reason. The waiter reassured me that it still is. I add spicy blackened tofu, which they put on the salad while it’s still very hot so it wilts some of the lettuce nicely. The dressing, while not as great as the caesar recipe in VCON, is quite good and gives you really lovely garlic breath.
Jackie likes vegan cupcakes, and I had two over-ripe bananas, so I took the opportunity to try my first recipe from My Sweet Vegan, the Bananas Foster Cake. The recipe calls for five bananas and makes two 9-inch cakes, so I halved it and subbed applesauce for my missing half banana. This was enough batter for eight cupcakes, but I think I overfilled them because instead of poofing up like a cupcake should, they got kind of a flat muffin-top.
Really this wasn’t a problem at all, but I was feeling inventive, so I turned ’em upside down and trimmed off the tops with a cookie cutter that just happened to be the perfect size. I ate the trimmings and soaked rum into the “bottoms” of the cakes.
The only real issue I ran into was the frosting. The recipe tells you to microwave brown sugar with water to make caramel, then mix it into a buttercream frosting. The first time I microwaved the mixture I let it stand too long and it re-solidified – my fault. The second attempt, I let it stand for just a minute or two then mixed it in, but immediately the sugar solidified into clumps and the frosting started to melt. The clumps prevented me from piping the frosting, so in the end I just blobbed in on top.
So that’s the story of how I invented Cupsidedowncakes. I may overfill cupcakes again in the near future to see if I can recreate it, because they’re pretty cute and fun to eat this way. And the verdict on the Bananas Foster Cake recipe is that it’s frickin’ delicious and ridiculously moist. I would highly recommend giving it a try, although I’m not sure what to do about the frosting dilemma. Here is the birthday girl enjoying one.
Saturday morning we wanted breakfast, and I’m so glad we’ve discovered 43rd St Deli, even if it was a little late in the game. Now, the trick is, there are three locations in town. I had heard these myths of vegan breakfast specialties, but never believed because I had gone to two locations not to find much more than a veggie scramble. Finally I realized it was only at one location where I could find the vegan label on the menu, and it happened to be the one nearest to us (the one on 13th St). We have been many times now, and the food is always good. I’ve had their biscuits and gravy, which they do with mushrooms, roasted peppers and savory flavors, the french toast, pan-seared oatmeal cakes with balsamic reduction, and the huge strawberry pancakes, which have strawberry slices baked right in. All of the vegan dishes are on the Specials menu, and they do change, although I think the biscuits and gravy is kind of permanent.
I was pleased to see a new special that I suspected was vegan, and upon the waitresses confirmation I ordered Tempeh Hominy Hash. We are fortunate to have locally made tempeh that many restaurants in town serve. This hash also included onion, shredded potato, mushrooms and spinach.
The flavor needed to be perked up just a tad, and it was perfect with some Tabasco. This dish came with choice of one side, but instead of potatoes I subbed their Nutritional Yeast Encrusted Tofu. This tofu look unassuming, but it’s so incredibly good. I don’t know how they do it. I get this tofu every time, no matter what else I’m getting or that it’s normally way too much food.
It also came with choice of bread. I asked for “whatever’s vegan” and she brought me a biscuit. I didn’t realize their biscuits were so huge when I’d had them covered in gravy.
Now that I’ve discussed all this great Gainesville food, I have an announcement: I’m moving! To California! In a month! BF and I are driving cross-country and hopefully ending up somewhere in the East Bay, near San Francisco. So for the next month you may have to bear with me while I eat my way through the pantry and freezer, and probably have less time took cook. I’ll try my best to keep it interesting.