Sunday, August 9, 2009

Boston, MA

Thanks to the beauty of Priceline "Name Your Own Price" and Megabus, we were able to take a reasonably cheap weekend trip to Boston. Neither of us had been to the city as adults, let alone vegans, but we excited at the prospect for yummy food and new grounds to explore.

After a six hour bus trip, we checked into our nearby hotel and headed out to Veggie Planet in Cambridge.

We ordered up a large Vegan Oddlot and a large Blonde on Blonde. Sturdy crust with a "white" pizza base of garlic and olive oil, and because they had run out of Teese, both were made vegan with a tofu-spinach mash. The only differences between the two were the addition of salty kalmata olives on the Oddlot, and a light coating of marina atop the Blonde on Blonde.

Nate has never been one to complain about pizza, but Amy was a bit overwhelmed by the greasiness level. If you're a health-nut, avoid this place. Nate finished up Amy's last slice of the pie in our hotel late that night, and it stunk up our entire hotel room, but of course, it was yummy.

We topped our meal off with two delicious "to-go" walnut brownies, not pictured. Naturally, we ate them within a block of leaving and explored the Harvard Square and Cambridge areas of Boston to work off our meal.

Our second day, unfortunately left a sour taste in our mouths. We were eager to try some of "Best of Boston" vegan breakfast at Allston Cafe, previously called Herrells. A great vibe of tattooed-peers greeted us, and took our order counter service style — two large iced coffees, a banana nut muffin and fruit cup for Amy, and French toast for Nate.

Here's where things get tricky. We awkwardly waited for a table for two, for about ten minutes, worried we'd not be seated by the time our food came. Eventually we grabbed a table and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.... 37 minutes later, Amy peaked up and saw her muffin and fruit cup waiting patiently for it's companion French toast. A few more minutes went by, and Nate asked the guy who we had paid how much longer — just a few minutes. Finally, after over 60 minutes had passed from the time we placed our order, Nate's three slices of French toast with a massive glob of Earth Balance, and Amy's muffin we ready to be eaten.

Normally, we're not pushy, but we live in NYC, where the lines at some of our favorite counter service veg-friendly places is far longer, and the wait is far shorter. Being so annoyed that we only had the day to spend in Boston, and we'd just wasted over an hour in this cafe, it was no surprise that the muffin and French toast were nothing to write home about, and certainly not worth the wait. But for the record, Amy found her muffin near tasteless, but the coffee was perfect.

We scurried out of Allston Cafe, and spent most of our day being urban explorers. Consignment shops, Johnny Cupcakes and Newbury street were our major points of interest. After a few hours of shopping and walking, Amy worked up a grumbling tummy, and decided she needed a snack. We made the decision to cut through Boston Common, and back to our hotel to drop off some purchases, and find a place for a late afternoon lunch/early dinner.

As Amy had read on The PPK, Wheeler's hours are a little wishy-washy, so her intent to visit there was crushed. Her second suggestion was to Fiore's Italian Bakery, located in Jamaica Plain, featuring a handful of vegan sandwiches and baked goods.

We ordered two vegan sandwiches, and shared half with each other — both were absolutely delicious. The vegan version of The Nona, a breaded eggplant sandwich on grilled foccacia, topped with fresh basil, tomatoes and cashew-based cheese and The Pirate, with thinly sliced peppered seitan, olive tapenade, garlic, spinach and roasted red peppers on a toasted ciabatta roll. Each sandwich came with a side of potato chips and a free drink!

Unfortunately, they were out of vegan sweets, save for a couple of sad looking cupcakes, so we decided we'd fill our need for sugar elsewhere.

Amy had found Amsterdam Cafe on yelp, featuring a soft-serve machine serving frozen tofu — similar to Atlas Cafe in NYC's Lower East Side. It was located in one of the neighborhoods we had wanted to venture in to, so we stopped in for a delicious (and cheap!) ice cream with raspberry and coconut blendins.

Although it wasn't anything out of the ordinary, it was delicious and cold and refreshing!

We headed back to our hotel completed exhausted with snacks from Whole Foods in tow, after eleven hours of walking around various parts of Boston. Our morning bus was scheduled to leave for NYC at 1130am, so w were excited to make it to one of the few breakfast joints open early enough with a vegan option, 303 Cafe!

Amy says this was her favorite meal of the entire trip, a savory curried tofu with chewy mushrooms and chickpeas was served along side crispy homefries and a toasted whole wheat roll. Nate ordered his up with the offered side of veggie bacon, and Amy ordered up an overpriced, but refreshing little bowl of cut up fruit. Soy milk was also an option for our coffee — served out of random kitschy mugs. It was a fantastic meal that left our bellies satisfied until we arrived back in NYC at dinner time.

All in all, it was a nice little mid-summer get away. Until next time!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Rhode Island

We decided to take a weekend trip to Rhode Island when Nate's aunt left us her car while she took a trip to Italy. We had planned on coming in on a Friday night and going right to Nice Slice, but the traffic getting out of New York was insane — so we were hungry way before we made it through Connecticut. As luck would have it, we just happened* to be driving by the Shoreline Diner and Vegetarian Enclave in Guilford, CT.

*for anyone who loves to travel and has an iPhone, Amy strongly recommends the VegOut application; it finds you veg (and veg friendly) restaurants within up to a 20 mile radius. Without this sucker, we would have been starving for the rest of our drive!

Here we see Nate scarfing down barbecue tofu, chili-lime corn on the cob, and vegan cole slaw. Not pictured: vegetable soup.

Amy went with a tempeh reuben and chili. The reuben had mustard instead of Russian dressing, and also had a wild-rice type patty nestled beneath the tempeh that Amy found to add a really great texture to the sandwich.

For dessert, we had a vegan Napoleon and a slice of "chocolate drift" cake. Forgot to take pictures though!

The next day, we got a Whole Foods lunch and went to the beach. After returning to our hotel and changing, we checked out the Garden Grille Café. This place was a really great surprise, being from Brooklyn we're lucky enough to experience all the great vegan fare our area has to offer, but there was something really unique about this place. It had a hippy-vibe with gourmet, flavorful dishes.

Amy's black bean cakes with a side of sweet potatoes were the highlight of the evening. The slightly spicy flavor of the cakes was balanced by a cilantro remoulade. A crispy cornmeal shell held it all together, and the side of sweet potatoes added another flavor dimension. The plate of cakes were also adorned with grilled lime oyster mushrooms that were slighty crisp and incredibly flavorful. Amy is a lover of presentation, and the way they plated this dish made her almost think it was too good to eat. Almost.

Nate went a little more for comfort food with a TLT and side of mac and cheeze. A chipotle sauce on the sandwich went well with the sourdough bread and avocado, while the mac and cheeze was realistic without being overly salty. For a healthy kick, Garden Grille adds some broccoli into the mix, which Amy really appreciated when she stole a few bites.

Dessert consisted of this apple pie á la mode and carrot cake with fragrant dates and walnuts. We're both lovers of carrot cake, but Amy found it a little dense for her liking, but of course we both ate it anyway. Overall, a delightful ending to a solid and satisfying meal and experience.

The next morning, we got brunch at Julian's.

Nate has now had vegan Benedict more than he ever had regular eggs. Greasy as this offering appears, it was not overbearing, nor was the portion too heavy on the fried tofu "egg" that it left him feeling ill. Sopping up the garlic "Hollandaise" with the Italian toast was a treat. Hash browns were good as well. Amy however, was horrified at the sight of this place and tried only a bite before deciding she wasn't interested. Julians also offers a homemade ketchup, that was sweet and maple-y, and went really well with the slightly spiced hash.

Amy opted for cinnamon-orange French toast. The name (and the smell) of this beauty were unfortunately more impressive than the taste, the outside of the french toast had a nice crisp to it, but Amy was dissapointed to find that it was mostly uncooked plain bread in the middle. Perhaps using texas toast style slices has it's downside when it comes to French toast. No complaints on the giant stein of coffee, however.

Unfortunately, we never made it to Nice Slice. Maybe next time.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ogunquit, ME

As we do every year, we went with Nate's family to Ogunquit, Maine. This is another trip where we mostly grill, but we also go to Frankie and Johnny's Natural Foods — one of the only places in southern Maine that serves vegan food in addition to seafood. And, it is a wonderful little place — the portions are gigantic, the food is crammed full of flavor, and the ambiance is charming.

Nate's vegan tostada is stacked. You can easily see the grilled vegetables drizzled with tofu cream that line the bottom layer. This is followed from bottom to top by a corn tortilla, black beans, another tortilla, coconut rice, another tortilla, and fresh tomato salsa — with more tofu cream drizzled on the top. It's hard to know what to start with. Every layer is delicious and the choice of different flavors from cool and creamy, to sweet and coconutty, to spicy, to salty and crunchy. There's too much there to try and get it all in one forkful with each bite.

Amy took the picture of her salad before adding the creamy and somehow vegan blueberry dressing. This thing was delicious as it was enormous. A heaping plate of fresh greens, tomatoes and cucumbers were entwined with roasted squash, carrots and onions. Garnished with juicy melon and blueberries, and topped off with spiced mixed nuts and beets — Amy was in true love.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wilmington, NC

We were supposed to update this blog with a trip to Boston between our last update (January 14) and now. But, this happened:

Yep, that's our car. Photo courtesy of James Burger, a local photographer who took pictures for us while we toiled in Manhattan, unaware of the fail. Thanks!

So, we didn't get out of the city for a while. But when our birthdays (Nate was born on June 14, 1983 while Amy was born a year and two days later, on June 16, 1984) rolled around, we decided to take a trip to visit Amy's dad in Wilmington, NC. So we borrowed Amy's mom's car and drove the 10 hours from New York.

Though we mostly grilled, we did find a couple places that were nice.

This is Brixx Pizza, which is a chain in the Carolinas and Tennessee. They serve light, California-style pizza — and offer soy cheese! The great part was that the (incredibly young) staff didn't even bat an eye when we requested it!

This is the roasted veggie pizza.

And this is mushroom-arugula. Elitist, I know, but very good. This was sauceless-based pizza, instead with a garlicky crust. Simple and delicious.

By far the best place we went, however, was Flaming Amy's Bowl. This place is fantastic fun. It's an all-you-can-eat stir fry place, where you select your veggies and protein (they do have meat, but tofu is available as well), present it to a (tattooed) guy at a habachi, who adds one of many sauces (options include barbeque, coconut curry, and Thai peanut) and brown or white rice, or pasta. Considering how many times we went up, it's sad that we only have one picture... but here it is.

Amy opted for a garlic-ginger sauce, round one with brown rice and round two with pasta. The rice version was preferred, and for the ridiculously low cost of $15 for the two of us (including Nate's unsweetened-tea) we left with our bellies full and happy..

..and then discovered in the same plaza, a Rita's Italian Ice was having a "free size small" day, for their grand opening celebration. No pics of that because frankly it was kinda gross (we're used to a more Brooklyn-style authentic ice).

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Syracuse, NY

This past weekend we had to make an impromptu trip to Syracuse, NY, where Amy's mom lives, to do some administrative work for our car. It's only about a five-hour drive from our apartment in Brooklyn — just enough time to work up a major appetite.

A long-needed vegan café in Syracuse opened a few months ago, serving delicious fare — great sandwiches, sides, and most important; milkshakes. We made the stop at Strong Hearts Cafe, located on East Genesee street, and managed to nab the last empty table.

Amy's heart beats for baked goods of any kind, and she marveled at the selection of black & white cookies, cupcakes and muffins. She selected a gorgeous (and HUGE) chocolate-mint cupcake, and ordered a large salad with vegan ranch dressing. Nate was in the mood for something slightly more substantial, and ordered a Tofurkey and grilled Teese sandwich loaded with fresh veggies, a side of chipotle potato salad, and an Earth Crisis shake (peanut butter & chocolate).

The salad was the perfect size, contained fresh tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and mixed greens. The vegan ranch was excellent. But, of course, Amy thought the cupcake was the star of the show. It was a fluffy cake, with a large ratio of minty green frosting and, along with a cup of coffee, pleased her tummy.

Nathan, as usual, devoured his grilled sandwich and side in a matter of seconds. Rumor is, it was also delicious. The side of chipotle potato salad was smokey and spicy — just right. The massive shake went down smooth, and was a wonderful value, compared to the cost of a vegan shake in New York!

We're thrilled that such a great place exists back home… so much that we returned on Sunday morning for brunch with Amy's mom.

Much like she does baked goods, Amy loves a good brunch — whether scrambled tofu, pancakes, oatmeal… you name it, she loves it. Nate, however, is "not be a breakfast guy," so he ordered an entree sized chick'n Caesar salad and a soda.

The salad was loaded with faux chicken strips, warm toasty croutons, and cherry tomatoes atop heaps of crisp romaine lettuce. The generous portion of dressing was tangy, salty and delicious.

Amy's mom, Colleen, ordered the vegan pancackes and a tart glass of cranberry juice, while Amy chose waffles with blueberries and another cup of great coffee. Shockingly, the check was only $27!

More finicky than either of us, Colleen claimed the pancakes weren't "done" enough, and traded Amy for her waffles. Amy had no complaints and even considered that she was getting the better of the two any way. The pancakes were hearty, with just the right amount of sweetness. Amy felt the waffles were underwhelming, but Nate who "doesn't really like that stuff" had no problem finishing what Colleen couldn't.

On the way out, Nathan bought himself a cupcake that looked similar to the one Amy had the previous day, except his was peanut butter and chocolate (a flavor he can't resist). Amy found this one to be a little more fresh than her mint, but found the ratio of frosting with the PB flavor to be a bit too rich. Nate, as usual, found no problems with the treat. In fact, Amy was shocked to be offered a bite at all!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Chicago, IL (part duex)

There were two restaurants we repeated in Chicago. The first being Handlebar, a bar and diner focused on bicycle advocacy and vegetarianism (except for some fish dishes). An intriguing mix of radical ideals and radical food, it was only a few blocks from where we stayed and an under-the-radar must for any vegan visiting the area.

The first day we went, Nate got biscuits and seitan sausage gravy, with a side of plantains. The main entree, which was essentially a bowl of gravy with two huge biscuits in it, was delicious, and the plantains were well-cooked; sweet enough to take away some of the saltiness of the biscuit dish. This is something we (well, Nate, because this is not Amy's jam, haha) can't find in New York, so it was a good surprise.

The other time we went, Nate got "Vegan Diablos," which were corn tostadas with an array of tofu, seitan sausage, beans, rice, avocado and salsa on top. A flavorful dish for sure, with perhaps a little too much oil, but too delicious for Nate to care. Nate doesn't turn down much food for health concerns.

Amy got a BBQ seitan sandwich on day one; smokey, sweet seitan was sliced thin and had a great chewy texture, was topped with loads of thinly sliced red onion and grilled between two hearty slices of whole grain bread. The sandwich, which she claimed to be "the largest sandwich in the history of sandwiches," was served with a side of her choice, the small salad. Topped with more veggies than you usually find in a side salad, it had onions, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes and a great balsamic dressing.

Amy got tofu scramble and toast on our return visit, which was greasy and simple. She was disappointed that there were no vegetables involved in Handlebar's scramble, and felt this dish would be better suited for someone with a terrible hangover. She also discovered during this meal that the midwest version of hot sauce is FAR spicier than the Frank's Red Hot we're used to.

We were also lucky enough to visit the famed Chicago Diner twice! Our first trip was on Friday late afternoon. After exploring the city all day, we built up quite the appetite! Unfortunately, the lighting was a little too dark for good quality photos, but the taste was spot on.

We started with an appetizer that was the nights special: warm and creamy spinach artichoke dip served with house made pita chips. Amy commented that she hoped the recipe was in the Chicago Diner cookbook we have at home!

For dinner, Nate ordered a seitan gyro (another item that he has yet to see on a menu in NYC) and a side of delicious vegan mac and cheeze. For dessert, he went with a peanut butter chocolate chip milkshake that was so thick it required a spoon!

Amy opted for the shepards pie, made from lentils, seitan and creamy mashed potatoes, which came with a side of fresh, steamed kale, broccoli, cauiflower and carrots. The whole dish was covered in a delicious savory sage gravy. She had a slice of carrot cake for dessert, that beats out the Vegan Treats version, but seemed a bit stale.

We stumbled out with full bellies, but Amy still managed to munch two of the previously seen cookies from Bleeding Heart!

Our second trip to the Diner was during their brunch hours, on the day we left Chicago. We drove, and were able to get both great parking and the same comfy booth from the previous night.

Because we were making a long drive that day, we failed to order "brunchy" foods, and instead got something a bit more substantial.

Amy had a cup of their famed chili, and a large bowl of the mac and cheeze she'd coveted from Nate's dinner the night before. She found the chili to be nothing special, but the cheezy goodness of noodles and nooch (our shorthand for nutritional yeast) was top-notch, especially with a little hot sauce on it. Mm. Typical of her eating habits, she was even more excited about the ginger snap milkshake, complete with a little cinnamon stick, than her actual food. Unfortunately, Nate intepreted the presentation of the shake with two spoons and two straws, as an unwelcomed invitation to dig in.

That day, Nate ordered a flavorful, creative chick'n caesar wrap, which included warm portobello mushrooms — an ingredient we both adore. It was phenomenal, to say the least. Of course, as Nate tends to do, he ordered an unfitting side — BBQ seitan wings. He enjoyed them, as he does anything covered in delicious BBQ sauce, but Amy found them a little boring and the consistency too spongy.

We had one remaining gift card (a Christmas gift to Nathan from his loving wife) for Karyn's Cooked, which we decided to grab take-out for to enjoy in the wee hours of driving … unfortunately, the food smelled and looked so delicious it managed to last only a few hours in the car before we gobbled it up, unphotographed. We thought the Karyn's Cooked food — a portobello sandwich for Amy and steak hero for Nate — were some of the most flavorful "American vegan" food items we've ever had.

We ordered dessert too.

The coconut cake that Amy had was larger than the review mirror she was peering into. Seriously, this thing was massive – and a sweet and fluffy, easily the best slice of cake (other than homemade) she'd ever had. It's been a long time since she was able to finish a dozen cupcakes in a sitting — it took Amy three attempts to finish its lucious crumbs. Nate went for a beautiful slice of coconut cream pie, something he'd yet to have since being vegan. Amy assumes it was delicious, as it disappeared within a half mile of driving.

We absolutely adored Chicago, and without a doubt will return to eat more of the vegan goodies that the great windy city has to offer!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chicago, IL

We went to Chicago for New Years 2008-09.

We drove from New York. It took two days on I-80. The food highlight of the trip there was a Sheetz sub with Tofurkey (a a vanilly soy-latte). Sorry, no pictures.

We rolled in on New Year's Eve and went straight to The Bleeding Heart Bakery. It's an organic bakery with many vegan options.

In the background, we have some wonderful, crunchy chocolate chip cookies that were only a dollar each. In front of that is a scrumptious apple bar that Nate tried to save for breakfast, but failed. We went back a second time on our way home. Amy had a pumpkin scone, which was a little too dry and a little un-sweet. But, this was made up for by her chocolate cupcake with vanilla frosting. Nate had a chocolate banana bar that was delicious.

That night, we went to Green Zebra for our fancy New Year's dinner. The food was gorgeous, but we didn't take pictures because we felt that pulling out the camera in the middle of the fancy, 5-course prix fixe dinner might be in poor taste. Amy ordered an "Orchard Truck," which contained pear brandy, triple sec, and lemon-lime soda; and got Nate a glass of Chardonnay while he washed his hands (because we recently found out his grandmother hates New York Chardonnay at Christmas dinner. This Chardonnay was from Monterrey, though).

The first course was fingerling potatoes and a mixed green salad. Nate was amazed at how flavorful the dish was, until Amy explained to him that the dressing contained truffle oil, and the burst of flavor it provides is what makes truffles so expensive.

For the second course, a miso-fennel broth was poured over edible flowers and blood orange segments at the table. Amy was not a fan. Nate was a little freaked out by the flowers, but he enjoyed spooning the orange segments in with some of the broth and biting them and mixing the flavors in his mouth.

The third course was a poached egg for the vegetarians, but Green Zebra had a vegan backup that we both though was probably even better. We had Mediterranean dates stuffed with Japanese eggplant and drizzled with tamarind sauce. It was an exploration of world food all in one dish, and was great!

Following the exotically flavored dates, Green Zebra opted for some balance with an earthy provision of poached and grilled trumpet mushroom, root vegetables, and a huckleberry reduction. Nate said that he got the feeling that meat eaters would balk at the rubbery texture of the mushroom, but after eating so much "soft" food (potatoes, soup, dates) it was nice to feel some resistance in the mouth. Amy said this dish was her favorite.

Lastly, for desert, we had a fluffy chocolate cake, candied kumquats, and a citrus sherbet. After all the baked goods we had earlier in the day, and the very satisfying two courses that preceded it, it was a little underwhelming.

Phew, that's a lot! We'll have to do this trip in parts. Stay tuned... way more to come, from Handlebar, Chicago Diner, and Karyn's Cooked.