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!