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 cafĂ© 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.

oh hai.

We are a married vegan couple from Brooklyn that loves to travel just to go to restaurants. We'll take some pictures and write some reviews and post them here.