Monday, February 27, 2012

Vegetarian Restaurant by Hakim North Miami

I get into Opa Locka airport the other day in North Miami and I'm panicked.  I don't know why I'm so afraid of being without food because one look at me and you know I could miss a meal or two.  I'm just speaking theoretically here.  I don't think I actually have missed a meal.  Maybe some suppressed childhood memory of being threatened with having to go to bed without dinner.  I dunno.

I'm panicked because I have, ... oh, like 90 minutes.  I borrow a crew car and on the way I call up Hakim and order a Seitan Philly Cheese Sub.  He originally suggested a Curried "Chicken" with coconut rice.  I'd have preferred the entree but one bump and I'm wearing a turmeric tinged 4 stripes on my arm so I went with the sandwich.  Less stress.  Less drippage.

Nice new sign.  No problem figuring out what this place is now!

It was Hakim's 2nd (I think) Anniversary and I was given a piece of vegan (of course) carrot cake.  I love starting a meal with dessert.  If you die in the middle of the meal you already ate the most important dish.  
The carrot cake was moist and ginger-y.  It was of course vegan but brought in from another off site bakery.  Ah Hakim, it's carrot cake.  You can do it!

Now look at this menu.  You should click on it to enlarge it because you don't want to miss one mouth watering bit of drool.  Oh, not drooling?  Imagine this place is around the corner from you.

I am a sucker for patties.  I love the veggie patties from Georges Jamaican Bakery in Baldwin NY (off the menu last time I went in there and now, years later, I wonder if they used butter back then).

Here of course I don't have to worry about butter or any other crap in my patty.  So I get one of each, (of course).  I wasn't a great big fan of the ackee but loved the spinach and potato.  (Or is it the other way around?)

I don't remember now which was which but the green one wasn't my favorite.  It tasted like very very well cooked greens.  The other was a potato based filling.
The bread is the most perfect bread for this sandwich, perfect density to filling shmoosh ratio.
But, it could use a bunch more seitan.
This seitan is heavenly.  It is just the right texture; not too dry or too wet.  It is just the right amount of moist, not like a matzoh ball), yet firm enough that the bread needs to be held down and the seitan ripped away with your teeth.  That and the creaminess of the cheese.  And the taste, man this is hearty and delicious.

And yes, I made it back in 90 minutes!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Viitals in Tampa

I had a few hours in Tampa and borrowed a crew car.  Not many choices but Viitals popped up on Happy Cow and I was craving a green smoothie in the worst way.  Needed.  Kale.  Now.

I passed it by the first time as it is located on the backside of the "L" of a strip mall.  You have to make a right into the parking lot, (or street) and it's on your right.  If you're driving you actually have to look over your right shoulder to see it.  It's there, you just have to look.  You can't miss the sign though.

There is a whole menu board of smoothies and green drinks on the wall behind the counter.  I find it somewhat difficult to make a decision about the slight differences between them as you'll see 2 pictures lower but Evan, (spelled Ivan), helped.  First off though the decision to replace kale with spinach was an easy one as he doesn't carry kale.

I did stop short a few times to look at the vegan cake display.  I had a hard time focusing.  Sugar plum fairies were dancing in my head and sugar spike memories were making me swoon.  They looked so good.  But green was also on my mind and my body.

Ivan making the goodness.  Behind me are about 10 tables.  Someone was working on a laptop so I'm assuming there is internet connectivity.  The place is bright and happy although wasn't busy enough.  Ivan said he was in business for about 6 months so come on TAMPA and support this guy!

Here you can see the different options available.  I just decide what I want, then add what's not included.  I added my spinach to the Ultragreen.  After I read the menu a few times it all sort of blends together.

There are a bunch of different muffins and cupcakes.  I applaud the level of labeling.  Everything is labeled vegan/gluten free/soy free/etc., and most of the items, (I didn't read all the labels), seemed to be vegan.

These two items also caught my eye.  they are "Meal 'Complete'" items and according to Ivan, who is a semi-retired competitive body builder, contains the "correct" balance of carbs, protein, and fat.  I was saddened to learn that although he tried a vegan diet it didn't work out for him and he now has added animal protein back into his personal diet.  I would have liked to sit down over a beer with him and talk about Brazier and Cheeke and the other bodybuilders who made it work on a vegan diet, to compare what he ate vs what they ate but time was a bit tight and he was, after all, at work.

That being said, I bought one each of the meals.

The green smoothie was thick and rich.  It didn't taste "grassy" but had a hint of green garden flavor with the sweetness of the apples balancing it out.  I could have downed three of them.

Here's a bit about Viitals on a laminated card that was on one of the tables.  I wasn't able to read it all there but it says they are mostly a Vegetarian/Vegan place.  I don't know if that means that some of their baked goods contain eggs.  I do know that it says all of their baked goods are made in-house from scratch.  Bravo on having total control over your ingredients.

After I bid Viitals adieu, I started thinking about restocking my cooler bag for the next few meals.  I stopped by a Whole Foods and lo and behold, all the rave, Quorn Vegan Burgers.  This of course resulted in the "How come there's cholesterol in vegan burgers?" question and of course Quorn's answer.

I am also in awe of the number of prepared flavored tofu and tempeh options out there.  Also, the variety of garden/veggie burgers.  Someday, when I retire, and I'm really really hungry, I'll do a taste test.

I think Whole Foods, in their existence as a corporation and with their goal of making money firmly centered in their sights, does some really messed up things as far as selling animals is concerned.  I know they are at heart a Supermarket.  I still don't like to see "Humanely" raised meat sold there.  I do applaud them for their expansive selection of foods on the opposite end of the spectrum, namely vegan options.  It's almost guaranteed that if it's vegan, (especially local vegan foods), it's going to be in a Whole Foods somewhere.

I also have to applaud Whole Foods because right next to their "cheese" events which turn my stomach now are ads for RAW foods and the Engine 2 28 day challenge.  So while catering to those who haven't changed their diets for compassion, health or environmental reasons they still help to put the thought into peoples heads that there are options out there.  If the demand for meat decreases, guess what folks, the size of the butcher counters will shrink.  It's a simple supply and demand.  That's why I think it's a waste of time to champion welfare causes like "enhanced battery cages" for chickens or "humanely raised meat" for cows.  Just put your efforts into making more vegans!

2 days later I finally warmed up the Viitals' Complete Meal.  It reminded me of my grandmother's potato kugel, which is like a knish, rather than a light airy soufflĂ©.  It was dense and had that green spinach-y veggie flavor. I didn't definitely get the artichoke flavor but truth be told I was famished and wolfed it down without savoring the nuances of the food. I wouldn't say it was great but it certainly was good enough, especially after being carried around for 2 days in my cooler bag with an ice pack and finally ending up being tortured in a hotel microwave in West Palm Beach.  I would definitely buy 2 more if my travels bring me through Tampa, or at least give it a try in the store.

I have no idea why these pics didn't come out well but I enjoyed the taste of this "Complete" meal.  It was still dense but a bit more crumbly than the spinach and artichoke.  I enjoyed the tomato and pepper flavors which were both very present in each bite.  Once again, I think perhaps the experience would have been different had these not been schlepped across the country on an ice pack.  All in all, I'd say go to Viitals for a smoothie, to talk about protein needs, (or how over protein-ized our country is), competitive body building, or just to grab a vegan cupcake without having to ask 20 questions.  

Support a vegan business Tampa!

VIITALS Healthy Bakery Organic Smoothies & Coffee on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Whoopsie, it was a misprint; Quorn

Nothing to make a big bruhaha about. Still, had my heart skip a beat when I first saw it!
Heres the response:

[Thank you for contacting us regarding the nutritional information on the Quorn Vegan Burger packaging.

The value for Cholesterol should be 0mg.

This is an error on the packaging. We will have this amended on the the next print run.

Please know we will mail out coupons with our compliments.

Once again, thank you very much for taking the time to contact us

Assuring you of our best attentions at all times]

Ok, that's it from Quorn but I think maybe when the boxes went to print the weren't giving it their "best attentions," although I never heard that turn of phrase before. I'm going to use it though. I'll probably use a Cockney accent too, "Right Right."

Anyway, I do think this is one of the better tasting burgers.  I prefer mine a little heartier and thicker and richer, (and truth be told a little moister), but I've been eating mine in hotel rooms using microwaves and a cold pack in my cooler.  Really battlefield, (ok, no bullets are flying but you have to give me road warrior), conditions.

If they're giving out free coupons, ask for one and give them a try.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Love in Steeltown - Loving Hut Pittsburgh

The timing worked and my good friend was around to pick me up and join me for dinner.  He's a great guy but so afraid of this kind of food he stopped at Arby's on the way to get me.  Spilled ketchup all over his car in a panic meal but he's come a long way and I'm sure just seeing the stuff made an impression on him.  Favorably or not I'm unsure as he's the kind of guy so set in his ways that when we used to fly together I could order exactly what he wanted from the Cracker Barrel menu.  It never varied.  If I took him to an Indian or Thai he would probably have made the same stop.  Some people change slowly.  His wife will drag him here.  I have hope.

I change when I walk into a vegan restaurant.  I do.  I really do.  I become like a 7 year old at Disneyland when Mickey appears from behind a wall.  I become ... quietly ecstatic.  Joy emanates from the essence of my being knowing I don't have to asks the litany, the dirge.  I can start eating like PacMan through yellow dots immediately.  And a buffet, my friends, well, there goes all traces of self control.  I don't pile my plates very high but I do turn going back into a long distance aerobic event worthy of becoming a tag team Olympic sport.

I mean, look at this spread.  All vegan.  All ... never ending.

Each is labeled but really, who cares what it is?

Of course, I ran back to the dessert display case where many of the offerings were from Vegan Treats in Allentown.  Is VT making inroads in Pittsburg?  What a lucky town and they don't even know it.

I see a peanut butter bomb.  Do you?

One of the largest dining rooms of any of the Loving Huts I've been to.  Notice the big "L" on the ceiling.  Notice that carnivore in the midst of all of those vegans.  (I know his name and have his number).

I am literally like a friggin' tourist here, taking pictures next to  all the famous landmarks.

To me it's like having an opportunity to hold the Rosetta Stone.  Or the 10 Commandments.

I'm telling ya, I'm like a tourist.  This is the famous waitress but I can't find the receipt where I wrote her name down.  Alyssa?  Alaina?  I hate when my memory goes.  Especially about that landing gear thing.  

Thick and rich Mushroom soup with a hint of sweet potato.
Now I'm going to both cheat a little and make life easier for you.  I'm going to summarize this meal.  There were some hot (spicy) dishes, some fried comfort foods, some classics like Pad Thai and Fried Rice and some with other mock meats in various sauces and veggie combinations.  You all know my take on anything fried needing to be awarded first prize in, oh, anything and there were a few fried thing so heaven in my book just went up a notch.  Vegan heaven.  Fried fake shrimp that tastes like the ocean.  There were also Tofu dishes.  Most had a very nice blend of flavors, the sweet dishes not being overly clawing and the hot dishes just a gentle heat.  Of course I order my Bloody Marys with a shooter of Sirracha so who am I to judge heat.  Oh, there was a bottle of Sirracha too now that I think of it.  Most dishes had a degree of salt whether that was from Soy Sauce or salt so you'll be thirsty later for sure.
All in all I could have spent another hour there and forced them to pay the chef overtime but at some point you just have to say, "Hey!  Put the fork down and slowly move away from the table and no one gets hurt!"  So I did.

A chickeny nugget kind of thing and fried shrimpy things.

I mean, like, really, this isn't piled too high.  It's piled wide, ok, I'll grant you that.  But I only made 3 trips, I promise.
Well, plus soup(s).  Oh, and a cupcake and cookie.

Golden Arches, move the hell over.  LH is in the house.  Now all they need is a drive-thru!

2 kinds of "chicken" nuggets, peppery and salty, a sweet and sour mock meat and some other stuff.  I see Pad Thai peeking out from there too.

The only thing I didn't jump up and down about, (but ate non the less), were the buffet desserts.  They were ok but nothing like a Vegan Treats dessert.  Pay the money, eat the Peanut Butter Bomb, (if you like peanut butter), or anything else they make.  It will knock your impression of vegan desserts on it's cardboard flavorless butt!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Quorn's New Vegan Burgers ... where's the beef ... or what?

Alright, it's a bit out of sequence but in Tampa today I picked up a few things from Whole Foods and while shopping for my Amy's products I found this:

So like, WHOA!!!  All the rage right?  So like, I pick up a box, there are 4 in the box by the way, and can't wait for dinner tonight.  They are a bit small sitting atop Arnolds Deli Multi Grain Sandwich thins, (seems to be vegan), under some Daiya cheese, (seems to be vegan), under a handful of organic mixed greens, (I'd think vegan too, no?), and I'm delighted at the smoky burger-y taste.  Since I was old enough to read, or eat cereal, whichever came first, or becoming a vegan, (now I'm not really sure which came first if I throw that in the mix), I have picked up the habit of reading boxes and ingredient lists.  And and and I come across this on the Quorn Vegan Burgers box:

Now I am not a nutritionist by license or course of study but I have read more than a shelf load of books about nutrition and diet and agriculture and the food supply and I can't for the life of me figure out what PLANT BASED INGREDIENT CHOLESTEROL CAN COME FROM.  (caps off).

So I'm going to write to Quorn but for now my eyebrow is up.  (Not a unibrow, just one of them in a skeptical sort of look).  If anyone knows the answer to this conundrum, please chime right in.


Vegan failure is Vegan progress.

It is rare these days to stay at a major chain hotel property and not have some sort of breakfast spread. They range from minimal to expansive. I don't even check ingredients anymore since there's no likelihood of them coming up with an egg-free waffle mix or dairy free muffin. I cruise right by buffet steam tables where most guests are stuffing themselves on eggs and bacon and biscuits with sausage gravy and my only option is some version of home fries if I want to ask what kind of grease was used in its preparation. My waistline can certainly do without greasy potatoes though.

No, I'm making a beeline to the fruit and oatmeal. Fruit sometime is precut and bagged in a factory somewhere and although isn't fresh it is usually passable. There are also fresh bananas and apples in most places.

I also have come across a place or two that made their oatmeal with milk instead of water so I always ask.

Now if you read any of my posts you know I wouldnt write about breakfast options on the road to merely inform you that you can get mediocre fruit and oatmeal. There's going to be a lesson coming up sooner or later.

I'm in Sarasota, Florida and make it down to breakfast as the second hand sweeps past the closing minute. I figure, "Ahh, what the hell, they'll still have oatmeal."

It is a cafe sort of setting with a Starbucks motif. You know what? They already dumped out the oatmeal. It must have been the first thing. Oh well. The waiter said, "No problem. We can whip some up."
"Awesome," I think, in the most diminutive use of the word.

I go back to the counter several minutes later and the oatmeal tray comes out surrounded by small containers of nuts,(good), dried fruit, (good), brown sugar,(good), and a tiny pitcher of milk, (ohhh, bad).   I give the milk back and mumble something about not drinking milk.

So I'm sitting there eating this freshly made oatmeal, thinking about how this must be a different grain than oats as it has a different consistency.  I ask the waiter and he says, "Nope, just oatmeal."

Pause, "Really?" I say.

"Yup, just fried up in a little butter to get it going faster and then just water."

Breakfast is over.  I know and understand what happened and why.  Well, eventually I do.  The cook is an older southern lady who wanted to please the customer, wanted to get me my breakfast and did so in the most expeditious way she knew how.  And this is probably the way she learned to cook from her mom, and in her mind, it adds a bit of homeyness to the dish, a bit more flavor and in her mind it was all good.  Later I talked to the manager of the hotel about how in this day and age, with if nothing else, food allergies are so pervasive that nobody should be changing any recipes for any reason, at least without a customer request or informing them, or asking them.  I also mentioned that many more of us out there are eating differently for ethical reasons and how this was rather ... upsetting.

He, (and the waiter), seemed to understand.  The manager asked if there was anything he could do.  My standard answer is, "Sure, I'd like you to give me the hotel."  That hasn't happened yet but I later asked him if he could email the entire company about why what happened and why and how to prevent it from happening again.  Although email wasn't an option he told me he'd mention it at the managers meeting he was attending in a few weeks.

This got me thinking, even when you think you know, you don't.  Because I do ask if the oatmeal was made with milk.  I just didn't today.  I did get a thousand points added to my loyalty card as a consolation prize though.

Fast forward a few days to a snowy morning in Pittsburg.  No oatmeal at breakfast.  The waitress says they can make me some and I ask, "Is it made with milk or butter?"  She has a puzzled look on her face.

"No, no milk."

"Are you sure?  No milk or butter right?"

"No, they don't make oatmeal with milk or butter."

"Please check."

A half a minute goes by, she comes back and she says, "Nope, no milk or butter."

The oatmeal comes, I take one taste and ask her to go in the kitchen and ask the chef if he used butter.

She comes out and she's blanched.  (She's also of color so this was a feat in and of itself).  Profusely apologetic.  Yes, there was in fact butter used to fry up the oatmeal.  She just asked about the milk because she couldn't imagine anyone using butter in oatmeal.  Chef comes out and says he's a "Good Ole Southern Boy."  I know that this is probably the way he watched his mother cook.  He also apologizes for not following the hotel's recipe.

Nonetheless, what do I need to do?

I got a free night out of this one.  But really, what do you have to do?  This:


Take a Zen moment and understand this is what is happening.  You tried.  You did as much as you could do to follow your ethics.  You didn't fail.  The system failed.  Realize that this will happen as you go through your vegan life.  You make every attempt.  Most of the time it works.  Just be ok with the fact that we are a long way from vegan perfection, a long way from a vegan option at every turn, a long way from a vegan world.  If you don't make every morsel you're going to eat you will, one day, eat something you don't want to.  Hopefully it won't make you sick even if it sickens you.  Keep fighting the good fight, peacefully, conscientiously, consistently.  That's how we educate the world.  One waiter and chef at a time.

Now the reason is obvious as to why these things happen.  They keep putting animal food in places we would never expect.  We make assumptions.  It's part of the way our minds work.  It's a shortcut to not read the label on lets say:

because really, toast and peanut butter, right?  This has been my go to airport vending machine since I became vegan.  But like the old joke goes, "How many vegans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?"  I tuned over the package with my mouth chomping on peanut butter goodness and of course I see:


Huh?  Come ONNNNN!  Really?  

Relax.  Another go to food bites the dust but I have my stock of Purefit Bars and The Simply Bar.  One step at a time. One day at a time.  Breathe, change, and change the world.

Oh, and the answer is two.  One vegan to turn the lightbulb and another to read the ingredients.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tofu and Seitan thrive in Newark, Delaware at Home Grown Cafe

While getting familiar with my new office

Perhaps the most fun video game ever conceived.  
while in training in Wilmington I like to get over to Home Grown Cafe for a home grown meal.  Eating in an efficiency kitchen and trying to cook quick, nutritious meals, while economical, doesn't alleviate the need to sit back and have someone else cook and serve ... at least once during training week.

Home Grown Cafe is perhaps one of the most vegan friendly restaurants I've been in. They really get how easy it is.  Just take out the dead animals and put in tofu, portobello, or (Praise the heavens), home-made seitan.  Really, what's the big deal world?

Home grown is a casual bar/restaurant a few blocks from the college and has quite a mix of patrons.  They have a nice beer list and of course, to the rescue to see which are vegan.  I started with a Sierra Nevada Rye IPA which had a flavor you could call bold or certainly present.  I am not a beer maven but don't think there's ever a time or place, (work excepted of course), that a beer doesn't fit in and I've disliked very few that I've had.  I don't like "thin" or watered down tasting beer and although this wasn't "thick" like a stout it had substance.

In case anyone has a requirement for one of these, the Home Grown has a wall.
Sitting at the bar shooting the entrance and dining tables.
Bar area and dining room beyond.

Sitting at the bar, shooting outside, the other dining room.

What appears to be a sex toy, (did ya just forget to take it with you?),  on the bar but is actually the bar menu turned almost sideways.
 OK, enough about the interior design, on to the food.  First off, a meal just ain't a meal if there isn't an appetizer and I chose the buffalo wings with seitan.  It came with a vegan ranch which I wasn't bowled over by.  The seitan had crispy crunch on the outside and had a very realistic meaty mouth feel to it.  The waiter brought a more spicy Sriracha aioli which was much more to my liking.

Seitan Buffalo Wings with Sriracha aioli
**Boneless “Wings” 9.5
Your choice of breaded fried Chicken or Seitan tossed in our house made Buffalo sauce. Served with carrots, celery & blue cheese dressing. 
Next on the hit parade was the entree. I was hankering, (truly a word from Brooklyn if ever there was one), for a good eggplant parm but they are few and far between, most restaurants dipping the eggplant in egg.  I had some hopes that this would be the meal but the waiter suggested the tomato sauce had a "canned" taste to it and steered me right back to another seitan dish.  I love seitan.  Who could argue.

The seitan was once again perfectly fried and crispy/meaty.  The sauce was asian inspired with a soy, sweet profile.  It was good enough to order again although not good enough ... well, not so unordinary as to dream about.  I was totally puzzled by the noodles.  They were fried and had a consistency between crispy and just plain hard.  There was little if any flavor they brought to the party and eventually the sauce softened them up and they became the starch of the meal but before that I saw no point in eating them.

The beans were perfectly cooked with just the right amount of snap but I thought they also needed a small excursion into the sauce to finish them up.

Crispy noodles, black and white seitan and green beans.
**Black & White 17
Tempura Chicken, Tofu or Seitan
with rice noodles, green beans & an Asian sesame sauce.
The coconut rum cake was excellent but after half I think my palate was intoxicated by the rich thick buttercream-like frosting and the dense flavor punch of the rum cake.  The toasted coconut on the top added to the flavor.  This should, (of course with me at the table it didn't), serve 3 a nice sized delicious hunk of dessert.  Coffee would have been perfect with this but it was too late with a too early wake up call to consider it.

Coconut and Rum cake.  
The meal as a whole was solidly north of average but just a tad shy of exceptional, which is where most meals fall if you think about it.  That's satisfactory range in my book.  I also cut down on the variety by ordering an appetizer and entree with the same protein cooked the same way but both dishes held their own very nicely.  It is the way any restaurant should and could do it, offering us vegans a very decent meal with no hassles and no game of 20 questions.  (I always recommend verifying that what is put down in front of you is what you ordered when eating in an omni/vegan establishment but the waiter was most definitely a+ in the knowledge and service departments).  Next time I will definitely mix it up a bit more despite my love for fried things and seitan.  I also plan on doing a lunch of the meatloaf which is also used in the vegan burger and had a nod of approval from the omnivore waiter.

If you're in the Newark/Wilmington area this is a must stop for either lunch or dinner if you want anything more complex than a pita/hummus/babaganoush and is probably 10 or 15 minutes off of route 95.  They validate parking so you can park in the municipal lots, (street parking is metered until 1 am if I remember and who wants to run out and put more quarters in the meter every hour?), which are a block or 2 away.

Home Grown Cafe & Gourmet on Urbanspoon