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Archive for the ‘On the Road’ Category

So as you all know we went MIA around the end of August, right before we went to the first ever Vida Vegan Con in Portland, OR; which was supposed to inspire more blogging and it did (I have so many notes and ideas – many of which will come to fruition this month if all goes according to plan), except life got in the way.

First we’ll go with the conference highlights (Lisa was the only one able to attend the conference itself) :

  1. I got to meet lots of cool and inspiring vegans from all over the country and put faces to names of locals we’ve followed for a while, like Vegan Milwaukee and Snarky Vegan.
  2.  I got to learn how to make meringue (!!!) from Hannah Kaminsky and delicious chocolate delights from Fran Costigan.
  3. I learned a lot about marketing , review writing,  photography and more!

Now onto Portland itself:

1. Sweet Pea Bakery, 1205 SE Stark, Portland, OR.

Sweet Pea is located in the vegan mini mall, so you can get your pastry fill either before or after checking out Food Fight (Portland’s vegan grocer), Herbivore or Scapegoat, the vegan tattoo shop. Among their offerings are delicious danishes with sweet creamy filling, the likes of which I haven’t had in ages:

Decadent chocolate mousse pie:

And the Charlie Brown, a classic pairing of peanut butter and chocolate:

Not only were their pastries delicious, many of them were vanilla extract free, which made Nick happy!

2. Homegrown Smoker, SW 4th and Hall, Portland, OR.

The Homegrown Smoker is a vegan food cart with a southern twist. They have delicious macaroni and cheese and I highly recommend the Portorrito (smoked portobello slices, macnocheese, smoked soy curls, grilled peppers, onions, two cheeses and chipotle aioli wrapped in a warm tortilla). Nick got the Reuben with sweet potato fries, it was not Portorrito, but it was good, too.*

*Edge folks: Ask about their BBQ sauce before ordering any BBQ items – I believe I saw something on their sign about it being bourbon based.

3. Sizzle Pie, 624 E Burnside, Portland, OR.

Though Sizzle Pie isn’t entirely vegan, they offer quite a selection of vegan pies both with and without vegan meats and cheeses (including our very own Upton’s Naturals!). You can either buy it by the slice or get an entire pie. The slices are pretty big, too!

This slice was my favorite:

It’s the vegan Angel of Doom, which is topped with Daiya mozzarella, jalapenos, pineapple, almonds and fresh cilantro. Something about the jalapeno paired with the creamy Daiya and the pineapple makes this special. It definitely has kick to it, though – you’ve been warned.

Other pies we tried were the Spiral Tap, which is topped with caramelized onion spread, marinara and nutritional yeast:

And the Steve Caballero which is pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers, white onion, and Daiya:

Other places you should check out if you have the time are Voodoo Doughnuts, which offers a wide selection of vegan donuts, including the Old Dirty Bastard (right corner, front):

And Prasad, if you’re looking for something healthy after stuffing yourself with junk, like this curry bowl with red rice and kale:

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Melt Bar and Grilled is a haven for those who love music and cheese, both vegan and not. Their walls are covered with movie and music memorabilia and the entrance and main counter have an awesome mural any fan of independent music can appreciate. As their name suggests, they offer a wide variety of melts, including The Kindergarten, which is simply a grilled cheese sandwich. Many of the sandwiches can be made vegan with either vegan cheddar or mozzarella cheese substitutes and you can add all sorts of toppings to them, from grilled veggies to fried tofu. They also offer soups and salads, which also include vegan options.

This was our second trip to Melt in Lakewood, Ohio. We’d originally planned on stopping in at The Flaming Ice Cube once again, because the last time we visited Melt, there was a long wait and we like supporting vegan businesses, but unfortunately The Flaming Ice Cube is closed on Sundays. When we got to Melt we were informed there was a 2 hour wait to dine in and a 45 minute wait for take-out, so we went the take-out route and ate in the car.

Both Nick and I got The Kindergarten, but with different toppings.

The Kindergarten

I am a big fan of grilled cheese sandwiches. They were one of the things I missed most when I first went vegan, until I discovered vegan cheeses that melt nicely, like Daiya, Ste Martaen and Tofutti. This sandwich is better than anything I’d ever make myself at home though. The bread was thick, and toasted just right (not too crunchy, not too soft and no burnt spots!). I got mine with mozzarella vegan cheese (I think they use Tofutti for the mozzarella, though they would neither confirm nor deny), tomato, grilled onions and grilled peppers. It was delicious! The only thing that would’ve made it better would be fresh avocado, which was on the menu of toppings, but is $1.50 extra and as much as I like avocado, I decided to skip it. The cheese was melted perfectly, my only complaint was that my grilled peppers were a little over cooked, so they didn’t add much flavor to the sandwich. The last time we visited Melt, I got The Kindergarten with the vegan cheddar cheese and tomato, it was better than my choice this time around, but both were worth the wait.

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Vegan Treats has won Veg News‘s  best vegan bakery of the year more than once and for good reason. They offer a wide array of decadent treats including cakes, pies, donuts, cookies and cheesecakes and they all look so delicious it’s hard to resist the urge to buy one of each. Vegan Treats is also heaven for those who would rather not support the alcohol industry, like Nick and myself, since they don’t use alcohol or any extracts containing alcohol in their baking.

Combined we spent about $60 on French pastries, doughnuts and brownies. Some were incredibly fantastic, while others were good, but nothing special. For pics and descriptions of everything we got check out the Flickr set.

Lisa:
I couldn’t help but grin when I walked into Vegan Treats and somehow that grin managed to get wider once I found out they didn’t use anything with alcohol in their baking (their owner is straight edge). It took me a while to decide what to get and I ended up letting Nick choose first, so I could get whatever I thought looked good that he didn’t pick, since we were planning on sharing everything.

We got so many desserts that I have decided to focus on my top 3.

1) Hazelnut Praline Cake:


Before I wend vegan, my favorite chocolate candies were Ferrero Rocher’s hazelnut chocolates. The little nut on top of this cake made me ask what was in it and when I found out I had to get it. It’s a chocolate cake with a hazelnut praline frosting between layers, encased in chocolate ganache, topped with pretty fondant flowers and a single hazelnut. It’s like a truffle in cake form. Perfection!

2) Tiramisu:


I haven’t had Tiramisu in ages and it’s a dessert that is hard to make right. Often it’s too strong or too moist and the subtlety of the different flavors is lost or it’s the frozen variety restaurants get that just tastes awful because it’s been frozen. Vegan Treat’s Tiramisu is perfect! The cake was moist, but not too moist and the espresso didn’t overpower the senses. The cream topping was rich and fluffy and the chocolate shell crust and shavings made it the best Tiramisu I’ve ever had. This is a great choice if you’re a fan of rich desserts and if you like the combination of chocolate and coffee.

3) Chocolate Encased Strawberry Shortcake:


Strawberries are my favorite berry. I like them in ice cream, shakes, popsicles, on cheesecake…you get the picture. This cake just looked like strawberry heaven and it was. It’s a vanilla cake layered with fresh cut strawberries and a light whipped cream, encased in dark chocolate with a white chocolate covered strawberry on top.

Nick:
I’m a dessert fiend and chocolate is my greatest weakness. One of the few things that tempers my dessert purchases is that I don’t consume alcohol, and I take that to the extreme of not even consuming extracts such as vanilla extract. I had been told by my friend Michelle from the band Sick Fix that Vegan Treats didn’t use alcohol based flavorings in any of their products. When I walked into the bakery I had to hear it for myself so I started asking questions. Sure enough it was completely true. With that hurdle cleared, my brain exploded and I started ordering anything and everything. In the end I ordered 5 French pastries, 2 brownies, and a doughnut. I’m trying to list the top three selections I purchased but its too hard for me to narrow it down so succinctly, so instead I’m going to just go with the highlights.

While Lisa was taking pictures of all of the items we purchased, I sat down with my Boston Creme Doughnut. It had been forever since I had anything like this. Lisa recently made doughnuts filled with jelly, but as cool as they were they didn’t match the grandeur of being one of my 2 favorite types of doughnuts before I went vegan – Boston Creme and Bavarian Creme. Needless to say, I had a brief moment of nostalgic bliss as I ate my vegan Boston Creme Doughnut.

Next I want to talk about the two Brownies I had. To be honest, I’m more of a fan of the dense fudgy goodness of a brownie than of the fluffy airy texture of a cake. The Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Brownie was absolutely delicious and though I can’t remember with exact certainty what the other brownie I had was, it was also dense and delicious.

I purchased 5 French Pastries and though they were all good, Death By Chocolate (which the girl behind the counter said was her own favorite) was just okay. It was pretty enough, but at the end of the day it was just standard chocolate cake with a thin shell of chocolate frosting. My favorite out of the 5 I purchased was the Peanut Butter Tandy Cake (I think that’s what it was called). It was a mix of yellow and chocolate cake with chocolate and peanut butter decorations and a peanut butter cup on top.

Peanut Butter Tandy Cake

Strangely, despite zeroing in on all of my favorite things; pretty much anything with chocolate and/or peanut butter, the sleeper hit for me was the Hazelnut Praline cake. Maybe the pink flower just pushed it out of the running when I was making my purchases, but I overlooked it completely. I only got to experience it because Lisa bought it. In my sea of redundant dessert flavorings the hazelnut creme really stood out and got my attention. This was an A+ dessert.

All in all, Vegan Treats was the highlight of the trip for me and though I overdid it completely (I spent over $40.00 on dessert for myself… Oops, I meant for Lisa and I to share) it was worth every penny! Definitely check Vegan Treats out if you get the chance!)

Vegan Treats
1444 Linden St.
Bethlehem, PA 18018
610-861-7660

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Amsterdam Falafel is a falafel shop in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC. All they sell is falafel sandwiches, french fries and brownies (which aren’t vegan). What makes them special is that you get to make your own falafel sandwich. They make the falafel for you, put it in a pita and then hand it over for you to add toppings to it from their fixings bar, many of which are vegan. They’ve got guidelines on how to do this, though, so make sure to read the instructions posted on the walls before diving in or you might get yelled at soup nazi style.

Lisa:

Amsterdam offers sandwiches in two sizes: small – 3 balls, and large – 5 balls. I got the large because we’d skipped breakfast. I added hummus, cucumbers with chickpeas and dill, giardiniera and tahini sauce. I also got a small order of fries. The pita was doughy and moist and all of the toppings I added made a winning combination. I love french fries and Amsterdam’s french fries would rank about a six in my book, with 10 being the best. They give you the fries in little paper cones and each of their tables has holes cut into it so you can stand your fries in them as seen in the picture. We were lucky enough to get there as the lunch rush was ending, so we were able to get a table by the window. I got a delicious meal for less than $10 and I left completely satisfied. I look forward to visiting again someday.

Lisa's Falafel & Fries

Nick:

I lived in the Washington, DC area for most of the year 2005. I was never much a fan of living there, but the one thing I missed when I moved away was Amsterdam Falafel. I fell in love with the idea of a restaurant that only sold falafel and french fries – it just seemed like simplistic genius. I’ve had falafel all over the country and Amsterdam Falafel makes some of the best falafel I’ve had  (the only place that rivals their falafel in my opinion, is a restaurant called Natalie’s, in Buffalo, NY). One of the critical errors I consistently make whenever I go to Amsterdam Falafel since I moved away is that I opt for the full pita rather than the half. First off, a 5 ball sandwich is huge – especially when you add the fixings. Secondly, its very difficult to get a good falafel to fixings ratio. So I recommend getting the smaller size falafel and a small order of fries. As far as the fixings go, I love the Turkish Salad and the Crunchy Onions. This time around I mixed it up and added some Baba Ganoush, as well, which has a delightful smokey flavor. I should note that the vegan and non-vegan items are not clearly marked. Luckily, the items that are not vegan are few in number. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, the staff are usually fairly chill.

I do want to take a moment to get on a soap box. I mentioned earlier that Amsterdam Falafel was a genius idea and I’ve even thought of how successful it would be to import the idea here. Amsterdam Falafel is in a bar neighborhood and open late which makes it an ideal after concert snack. You would think that when I saw that Amsterdam Falafel are now trying to franchise the idea that I would be stoked. Unfortunately, part of the charm of Amsterdam Falafel is that it is unique. Our whole food tour last weekend was born out of my primary desire to share Amsterdam Falafel with Lisa, so I rented a car and drove half way across the country so that she could enjoy this rare treat. To me franchising the idea and the name cheapens the experience. Vegan food tours are cool because there are so many unique businesses out there to experience. Once a theme restaurant travels to other cities the idea becomes bland and homogenized like every other crappy “main drag” restaurant. The idea of Amsterdam Falafel one day becoming the next Chipotle has no appeal to me. One of the incidental joys of veganism is the diversity that I’ve gotten to experience – relying on specialty cafes, sandwich shops, diners, and bakeries. I love the idea of vegan food being readily available to everyone, but I despise the McDonaldization of most of America, but I guess that’s the next logical extension of growth and success. Anyway, that’s my tirade.

Our dog, Ian MacKaynine, outside of Amsterdam Falafel

Amsterdam Falafel Shop
2425 18th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
202-234-1969

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One World Cafe is a vegetarian cafe with vegan options located in Baltimore, Maryland. The cafe is rather large and divided into three sections: a standard cafe with a dessert case up front, a sit down restaurant in the back and a bar in between.

Lisa:

When we first walked into One World, we walked into the cafe area, so I immediately headed to the pastry case to see what kinds of vegan options they had. I was surprised to see how many vegan desserts there were, however, none of them made my mouth water (perhaps Vegan Treats earlier in the afternoon made me raise the bar too high?). We headed back to the restaurant area to wait for a friend. I took a few minutes to check out the menu while we waited. After perusing the vegan options on the menu, I decided to get one of the specials, because nothing on the regular menu sounded particularly appetizing. The couple of dishes I was interested in unfortunately weren’t vegan. The special I went with was a curried chickpea burger topped with the works, which included greens, sprouts, onion and tomato. The burger came with a side of tortilla chips and some tahini sauce. I was disappointed by my burger. It wasn’t anything particularly flavorful and it was a bit dry. I kept pouring tahini on it, but I felt like it needed something more. Since it was a curried chickpea burger, I wanted it to have a little spice to it, but alas, it did not. However, my companions seemed to enjoy their food, so I may have to give One World another shot next time I’m in the area.

Curried Chickpea Burger

Nick:

Back in 2004 I lived in Baltimore for 6 months. During that time I was a regular at One World Cafe and my dish of choice was the Philly Cheese Steak-Less. I have to admit that I’m spoiled by living in Chicago where we have our own companies manufacturing faux meat and cheese, helping to push the envelope of quality vegan food in our local eateries. What I’m getting at is that the Philly Steak-Less hasn’t evolved in the 7 years I’ve been away, even though there have been huge advances in meat and cheese alternatives around the country. One of the things I love about Chicago establishments, like the Chicago Diner and Handlebar, is that they change their menus and incorporate new products – keeping things fresh. Though the Philly Steak-Less was really good in 2004, its just okay in 2011 with its Tofutti Mozzarella and corn chips with nothing but Veganaise to dip them in. The bite I had of Lisa’s Curry Chick Pea Burger was sort of uninspiring as well. I feel bad being critical – I loved having One World to rely on when I lived in Baltimore and they make some quality vegan food – I just think that they need to be more proactive in experimenting with the latest innovations in vegan products. I was genuinely surprised that my sandwich tasted exactly the same as I remembered it.

Philly Cheese "Steak-less"

One World Cafe
100 W. University Parkway
Baltimore, MD 21210
410-235-5777

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On Thursday morning we stopped at Amy’s Place, an old favorite in, Buffalo, NY to get breakfast with Nick’s parents. Amy’s Place is a greasy spoon diner located across the street from the University of Buffalo’s south campus. Amy’s Place offers a $2 (!!) breakfast special before 9am. The $2 breakfast special is limited to a small selection of vegan and non-vegan options, but the rest of the menu includes a lot of clearly marked vegan options, like vegan french toast, sandwiches and more.

Lisa:
I went with the $2 breakfast menu since we made it in right before the cut off. The vegan $2 breakfast consists of lentils with broccoli, home fries and toast. For an additional $1.75  you can add seitan or tofu. I’ve added seitan in the past and you definitely get your money’s worth of it, but I felt like keeping it simple this time so I opted to skip it.
The $2 breakfast isn’t anything mind-blowing, but it is good and the fact that you can get all the food you get for $2 is what makes is special. Everything in my meal was cooked just right – not too oily and not too dry.

$2 Breakfast

Nick:

As a native Buffalonian Amy’s Place has a special place in my heart. Every time I roll through Buffalo I make a point to pop in. Back in the day my friends and I filtered in for what was back in then the $1.00 breakfast. In those days if you asked for it vegan all you got was a double helping of potatoes and a few slices of dry toast, but it was only $1.00, so why wouldn’t you order it? Eventually some of my friends who lived in the University Heights neighborhood became known regulars with sandwiches named after them (I recommend dropping by for the Biff Sandwich) or ended up on the staff. Needless to say, its the type of restaurant where I’m guaranteed to run into someone I know every time I stop in which gives me a particular bias. I love going there, its as simple as that. Fast forward to today’s Amy Place, and the new and improved $2.00 Breakfast Special (formerly the $1.00 Breakfast Special). The $2.00 breakfast consists of a Lentil Broccoli Hash, Country Style Potatoes, and Toast with Vegan Margarine. For $2.00 it is plenty filling and for $1.75 more you can add Tofu or Seitan. In Chicago, where you would pay $7.00 for a meal like this at a place like Flying Saucer, you would likely walk away disappointed. This is not a mind blowing meal, but our sense of value puts everything on a sliding scale. When you take this meal out of the $7.00 price range and it’s suddenly $2.00 – the need to be mind blowing is taken out of the equation. I can’t think of anywhere else in the country where I can get a full vegan meal for $2.00. Factor in being able to enjoy that meal with friends or on a whim and it takes that feeling of value to the next level. After 9AM there are plenty of great options at Amy’s Place. Since they serve meat, you may want to ask prep questions if shared fryers and such weigh on your mind like they do on mine, but if you happen to be in Buffalo over night and you want an early breakfast the $2.00 Vegan Breakfast Special has to be taken advantage of. Remember, it only runs until 9AM each day; oversleep and you’ll miss out.

Amy’s Place
3234 Main Street
Buffalo, NY 14214
716-832-6666

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The Flaming Ice Cube is a vegan cafe located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, across the street from Public Square. They offer standard cafe fare, including soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees, as well as coffee, smoothies and juices.
The waitstaff was very helpful and willing to answer our many questions. The cafe was well lit and had ample seating room. They also had a shelf with vegan cookbooks for sale, as well as various vegan products (sauces, nut butters, etc.)

Lisa:
I ordered the Mmmushroom Burger, which came with one of the sides of the day. The sides for the day were cous cous, black bean and corn salsa, and a pineapple raisin salad. My first choice was the cous cous, but they were out, so I went with the black bean and corn salsa. The salsa was like pico de gallo, it included black beans, corn, tomatoes, green bell peppers, a little lime juice and some spices. The vegetables were very fresh and it was nice to have a healthy side instead of a pile of fries (which I love) or a bag of chips.
The Mmmushroom burger proved to be an excellent choice. The patty was thick and juicy. It was topped with sauteed mushrooms, Daiya Mozzarella cheese, mayo and sauteed onions. The mushrooms were cooked perfectly, they weren’t slimy and they added just the right amount of flavor to the burger.
If you ever find yourself near Cleveland, OH be sure to stop by and try one of the delicious handcrafted burgers or one of the many other items on their menu. Next time I’m in the area I think I’ll try out the Hula Burger, which is topped with grilled pineapples, peppers, onions, mayo, lettuce and cheddar – yum!

Mmmushroom Burger

Nick:

When I walk into a new place sometimes I like to ask what the house favorite is. The girl behind the counter after some degree of thought responded that the Pizza Burger was very popular so I ordered that. After sitting down in the car with our respective sandwiches I took a bite of each. In all honesty I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get the Mmmushroom burger. The mushrooms, onions, and Daiya had a lot more pizazz than the burger I got. The Pizza Burger was supposed to have marinara, Daiya mozzarella, and pepperoni. Unfortunately there was very little in the way of marinara and the pepperoni overpowered everything. Unlike the Mmmushroom Burger, the Pizza Burger tasted like generic store bought faux meat & cheese items just thrown together. I was definitely jealous of Lisa’s selection. You win some – you lose some. Like Lisa, I was a fan of the corn salsa on the side.

Pizza Burger

The unique highlight of the visit was the Peanut Butter Crunch Bar which was a peanut butter rice crispy treat with a layer of chocolate on top. Simple but effective. Delicious!

Peanut Butter Crunch Bar

Flaming Ice Cube
140 Public Square
Cleveland, OH 44114
216-263-1111

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