Vegan delights at Delux

Every now and then, I find a place meant for general consumers (aka omnivores) that actually puts some effort into their vegan options beyond the standard “yay, I can have a salad and fries, or if I’m lucky, hummus.” Delux at 32nd Street and Camelback Road is just such a place. Delux is a trendy spot, known for its menu of high-quality burgers, fries, panini and sushi. However, with some slight adjustments, vegans can dine in style as well!

They have a few decent salads that are great to share as a starter (even in the junior size is huge). For this visit, we had a beet salad, minus the blue cheese and with a balsamic reduction dressing instead of the creamy balsamic vinaigrette dressing (which is not vegan).

Delux vegan beet salad

The salad barely needed dressing, because the beets were flavorful enough on their own. Also on the menu is an organic field of greens salad that is vegan if you change the dressing to the balsamic reduction. I haven’t asked if their gazpacho or miso soups are vegan yet, but they might be options. They also have a sliced and toasted hand crafted demi baguette that looks tempting, since it’s served with basil-infused olive oil and the balsamic dressing.

The grilled vegetable panini sandwich can be made vegan if you leave off the mozzarella and pesto mayo. I’ve enjoyed it in the past, but a grilled veggie sandwiches tends to leave me bored.

However, the delux veggie burger is a hearty vegan burger that you can really sink your teeth into!

Delux vegan burger

The burger is big enough to split, and is vegan as long as you set aside the aioli. It holds together fairly well, and is grilled to a nice crisp. The sunflower, cashews and sesame seeds give it a good mouth crunch as well.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Delux without sampling their cute shopping cart of fries.

Delux fries

I always go for the mix (sweet potato and French). Delux is one of the few places that knows how to make crispy sweet potato fries that don’t just taste like grease. Although, on our most recent visit they were a touch soggy, so you may want to ask for them to be extra crispy.

Another area to explore at Delux is their sushi menu. They have a section of vegetarian rolls that might we worth a try. I doubt I’ll stray from the burger any time soon, so if you find some vegan delights on that menu, let me know!

It’s also important to note that the service at Delux is excellent. The restaurant managers are very engaged and friendly, and even though it’s a hip place with late-night hours and a bar scene, it also has the feel of a friendly neighborhood restaurant. Our waiter was willing to get answers to our “is it vegan?” questions without being grumpy, and the service was very quick. It’s the kind of place that can easily be “a regular” whenever the urge for a vegan burger and fries hits you!

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Bragging time for Bragg’s Factory Diner

Vegetarians and vegans in Phoenix have another great option for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bragg’s Factor Diner has taken root in the old Bragg’s Pie Factory on Grand Avenue and is cooking up healthy food with a unique twist.

Bragg's Factory Diner

I’ve visited Bragg’s three times (twice for breakfast, once for lunch), because I wanted to get a good sense of different menu items. The restaurant is small, but cute, with lots of light. It’s in a classic restored Phoenix building, and the decor of the restaurant also leans toward vintage. The walls are ornamented with photos of “old Phoenix” and  the tables and chairs are great flashbacks.

Bragg's Factory Diner

The menu is fairly limited, but they are adding new items on a regular basis and often offer daily specials. However, I would like it if they would be more blatantly clear about what is vegan vs. vegetarian on the menu. I’ve been spoiled by Green and forgot that sometimes seeing the word “cheese” on a menu does actually mean cheese!

Bragg's Factory Diner menu

My first trip to Bragg’s was during their first week of business. I ordered the Early Birdrito, which was supposed to be a tofu scramble with soyrizo and veggies in a tortilla, but they had run out of tortillas already so it was served on bread. I liked the flavor of the scramble, but it wouldn’t be fair to post a picture of it since it looked a bit sad on bread. I chose hash browns for the side. I liked how thin they were, but made note to order them “extra well done” next time.

My husband loved his order of The Classic, made with tofu, spinach, tomato and pesto.

The Classic at Bragg's

It hit the spot perfectly for him. The rosemary potatoes were well-seasoned but also could have been cooked a bit more. I’m a fan of tofu scrambles with pesto in general, so I hope to try it on a future trip too!

We also sampled a chocolate covered donut.

Bragg's vegan donut

The chocolate frosting was thin (more like a chocolate sauce), and the cake donut was a bit dense, but it had sprinkles so that makes up for the lack of fluffiness all around.

However, my favorite part of the meal was the coffee! I’ve always been a fan of classic diner-style coffee – strong, cheap and bottomless!

Bragg's coffee

Maybe I spent too much time in old Florida and up-state NY diners, but Bragg’s coffee just seemed right!

The second trip was for lunch, since I was very curious about the Beet on the Brat Burger.

Bragg's vegan Beet on the Brat burger

I liked it and would order it again. It had a light beet flavor, and the corn relish provided a nice contrast. It could use a touch of vegan pesto to zest it up a bit though.

My husband ordered the Secret Wonder Bat, but forgot to ask them to leave off the Swiss cheese, so I won’t post a photo of that either (he removed it once we realized the mistake). He liked the combination of the tartness of the mushrooms mixed with the sauer-apple-kraut and Thousand Island dressing.

Visit number three was a chance for us to try the Bwiscuits & Gravy.

Bragg's vegan bwiscuits and gravy

These are not light and fluffy southern-style biscuits. They are corn biscuits, and were very dense. They probably could be half the height and still make a hearty meal. The poblano gravy was a bit sweeter than I was expecting, but it was tasty! And the hash browns were cooked to a perfect crisp this time!

Our real motivation for this trip though was a special they had on their Facebook page — almond & strawberry shortcake with coconut whipped cream!

Bragg's vegan strawberry shortcake

It was awesome! The shortcake was light and full of flavor, and the coconut whipped cream blew me away. I wanted five more orders! I hope they put it on the menu eventually!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the best aspects of the restaurant: the service.

On each visit, we were greeted warmly, and promptly served. Even when they got busy, they stayed on top of orders and didn’t seem panicked. And I never saw the bottom of my coffee cup. That’s a great achievement for a new restaurant.

We’re adding Bragg’s to our regular restaurant circuit and are glad they are open for dinner now too! Another benefit of frequent visits is that Bragg’s is close to my favorite bakery, Treehouse, so be sure to stop by there to grab a treat for later in the day!

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Dallas does vegan!

While I wouldn’t call Texas a top vegan travel destination, it does offer some unique eats that always makes the trip worth it. On one recent visit to the Lone Star State, we trekked to Dallas and visited Spiral Diner & Bakery.

Spiral Diner Dallas

Spiral is the closest to Phoenix’s Green Vegetarian that I’ve experienced in Texas. It’s completely vegan, and serves “comfort food.” The menu has a lot to offer! I tried the Patty Melt.

Spiral vegan patty melt

It was a soy burger patty with melty Daiya cheese and grilled onions.

My husband is a sucker for vegan “barbecue” and got the Chopped BBQ San’ich.

Spiral vegan BBQ

The grilled seitan and barbeque sauce were sloppy and delicious.

Best of all was the desert. We had a slice of coconut cake.

Spiral vegan coconut cake

It was light, moist and the frosting was particularly great. Sprinkles!

Spiral is a bit off the beaten path of downtown Dallas, but it’s worth the effort to get there! We were sad that we weren’t there long enough to try them for breakfast.

As big as it is, I can’t help but feel there is a lot more to explore in Texas! If you have any vegan favorites, especially in Austin, please let me know so I can try them next time I’m there!

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New menu at Green and Bragg’s Factory Diner coming soon!

In case any fans of Phoenix’s Green Vegetarian haven’t heard the news yet, proprietor Damon Brasch has made some changes to the menu to start the new year. Gone are the flatbread pizzas, the Green burger, the meatball-oriented items (po-boy and bowl) and maybe a few other things I didn’t order frequently.

However, the additions more than make up for the losses. To start, the Big Wac is on the menu! I was never a fan of the non-vegan version, but Green’s is out of this world. It will be very hard for me to not get the Big Wac every time we go to Green.

I resisted the urge today (having already gotten one earlier in the week), and instead tried the Artichoke Chicken Salad, along with the Mac n Cheez from the kids menu.

Green's vegan artichoke chicken salad and mac n cheez

The blackened mock chicken in the salad was crisp and lightly spiced. I’m not usually one for a creamy dressing, but the light lemon flavor sat well with me.

The Mac n Cheez had a good blend of Daiya and what I assume was a homemade cashew cheese, which made it nice and gooey. I was surprised that there was a touch of garlic in it though, given it was for kids.

My husband’s choice may be a challenger to the Big Wac’s priority status. The new BBBQ Bacon Burger was messy and fabulous.

Green's vegan BBBQ bacon burger

It was the same thin burger patty used in the Big Wac, but it was covered in tangy barbecue sauce, caramelized onions and tempeh bacon. It also comes with oodles of mushrooms. I’ll be opting out of those when I give it a try.

Next on the list for us to try is the Lemon Pesto bowl or maybe the Black Jack Pita. Other news of note is that the Wendy’s Pickle is now officially on the menu instead of being a whisper item. Also new is a Blonde Alfredo bowl, but I’ll have to be talked into that since alfredo sauce has never been a favorite of mine, even in pre-vegan days. (Although oddly enough, the Ritz Carlton made a vegan alfredo for me at an event I was at recently, and it was outstanding.) Additionally, the menu now features “kids” items, such as a nice basic burger, pita-quesadilla and chicken nuggs or digits. I was assured that immature adults can order from it too!

Get in there and have fun trying all the new items!

Thanks to a tweet from @WesleyTech, I also learned that a new vegetarian and vegan restaurant is opening up in the old Bragg’s pie factory on Grand Ave. south of Roosevelt, which will be called Bragg’s Factory Diner. They don’t seem to have a website or menu up yet, but they are actively monitoring their Facebook page and said they will probably open in March. And there will be pie! However, they are so close to my other favorite, Treehouse Bakery, that pie may be less of a priority than vegan Pop Tarts.

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Messing with Texas, vegan style

I’ve been making regular trips to Austin for almost a decade, and I’ve always enjoyed exploring the vegan dining options in a city that prides itself as such a cultural hot spot. My close friend in town keeps an eye out for new places to try when I visit. Last year, he came up with what I initially considered an odd choice. I admit I was hesitant to give this place a try, but I became an advocate after my first visit.

Casa de Luz is a healing center that offers a set meal for breakfast,  lunch and dinner. It’s always vegan, always gluten free and always made with whole, unprocessed foods. They provide soup and salad a la carte, then serve up a plate of beans, grains and vegetables.

Casa de Luz Austin kitchen

The specific ingredients and recipes change every day, as do the unique sauces and dressings. They post the menu online daily. This may sound like a boring meal, but trust me, it’s not. In fact, it may be, quite possibly, the best thing ever.

When I visited a year ago, the dinner included beets, lentils, rice, Kim Chi and kale (with an oil-free sauce). The lentils were beyond heavenly.

casa de luz 2011

On my most recent visit (on December 26, 2012), the meal included a borscht (pureed beet) soup with an almond pesto sauce and salad.

Casa de Luz vegan borscht

Again – it sounds boring but it was fantastic. I especially liked how well the almond sauce blended with the soup, giving it a bit of texture and zing. The creamy (yet vegan and oil-free) “Pepita cucumber” salad dressing had my husband going back for seconds.

The meal consisted of medium and short brown rice; kidney and black beans; steamed mushroom, carrots, onions, broccoli and yellow squash; blanched greens (kale) with a balsamic, sunflower and dill sauce; and pickled red radish.

Casa de Luz Austin vegan dinner

I can’t think of a better meal after a heavy Christmas dinner. If I lived in Austin, I would probably have to move into this place.

Mother’s Café & Garden is my other must-visit Austin staple. Its diverse menu of vegan and vegetarian favorites offers something for just about everybody in the family.

Mother's Austin

The chips and salsa are highly edible (I think we ate four baskets full), and the fresh-made salsa has a lively Texas kick to it.

Mother's chips and salsa

To start, I ordered a cup of vegan tortilla soup. It was so good I forgot to take a picture until it was gone! I’d highly recommend it.

My entrée was the Chili Melt.

Mother's vegan chili melt

It was fairly basic flat enchilada with black beans, rice and corn tortillas. I chose the verde sauce, which was sweeter than I like for my Mexican food. However, they have discovered Daiya vegan cheese, so that made it just right!

My husband’s “TLT” was a bit less fun.

Mother's vegan TLT

It was a simple sandwich of marinated tempeh with lettuce, tomato and Veganaise.

However, it left him with enough room for some vegan Belgian chocolate cake.

Mother's vegan Belgian chocolate cake

Mother’s has a wide variety of vegan treats, but the chocolate cake always calls to us. It’s rich and fudge-like. I’d recommend they serve it with some vegan vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce!

Of course, Austin has plenty of other vegan options to offer. We haven’t made it to Counter Culture since it transitioned from food truck to restaurant, but the food truck was pretty good. There are actually several vegan food trucks in Austin, but my attempts to visit them have been hit or miss. We found a vegan taco truck during this visit, The Vegan Nom’s Rockin Vegan Tacos, but unfortunately we had just eaten so I only took a picture of the menu.

Vegan Nom Tacos menu

They’re on the list for my next trip!

Also worth mentioning is Tacodeli. While it’s not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, the menu offers multiple options for the herbivore. I had the Freakin Vegan tacos (sans avocado).

Tacodeli freakin vegan tacos

They were pretty straight forward – black beans and salsa – but the hot sauce was great and it will certainly do in a pinch!

My husband was more adventurous and tried the Florentino and Frontera Fundido Portobello tacos, made vegan.

Tacodeli Florentino and Frontera tacos

He wasn’t too impressed with either, but he’s a native Arizonan. For him, no Mexican food from Texas will ever satisfy him, but that’s another story.

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We Want Wagamama!

I’ve been obsessed with Wagamama for well over a decade, when a friend said, “You’re going to London? You have to go to Wagamama.” If you’re from the U.S. you’re probably saying “Wagawhat?” But hopefully that will change someday soon!

Wagamama

Which do you think I went to?

Anyone who has traveled with me to the U.K. knows that as soon as I can, I make a beeline to the nearest Wagamama. It’s a chain restaurant, and they’ve multiplied like bunnies since first opening in 1992, with locations in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. Lucky for me, on my last trip to glorious Britain I stayed in a hotel with a Wagamama in the basement (I didn’t plan it that way, I swear).

So far, Wagamama has only slightly penetrated The States, with three locations in the Boston area (we’re tied with New Zealand – yeay!). I think Wagamama must mean “good luck” because one of them is very near my company’s headquarters, which means I can usually get at least one visit in every year.

What’s so great about Wagamama, you ask? My answer: pretty much everything. It’s a “rice and noodle” casual dining Asian restaurant, with a blend of Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indian and Vietnamese items. And if you’re thinking that this is another Pei Wei, think again. Wagamama offers a wider variety of flavorful dishes, and has more to offer for vegans and vegetarians. It’s the kind of place where everyone can find something on the menu to like, and they make it very easy for vegans to get a great meal by providing a vegan menu online. It’s also a great choice for gluten-free diners.

I have a bad habit of getting the same one or two things every time I go because I usually only get one meal in during a trip. I at least try to vary the starters if I’m dining with a companion. On my last visit, I tried the Summer Rolls.

Wagamama vegan summer rolls

They were light and fresh, and were served with a sweet chili, garlic and cilantro dipping sauce. I’ve tried the edamame with chili and garlic salt before – which is just fine. The Yasai Gyoza (veggie pot stickers) are also great, but I’m pretty sure they aren’t vegan – just vegetarian. If your meal doesn’t come with Miso Soup, you should definitely order a bowl as well!

My default entrée of choice for years was the Yasai Chili Men.

Wagamama Yasi Chili Men

It’s a huge bright red bowl of veggies, tofu and noodles that provides plenty of heat in the mouth and belly. Since I’m usually traveling for work when I go to Wagamama now and not wanting my dinner to keep me up late at night, I’ve switched allegiances to some other favorites with less after bite.

As boring as it may sound, my latest favorite is the Yasai Cha Han (order it with no egg to make it vegan).

Wagamama vegan yasai cha han

It’s basically fried rice, but it’s not greasy and nasty like some fried rice can be. Instead it’s light, hearty and full of subtle flavor. It also comes with Wagamama’s wonderful vegan miso soup, which is a life saver on a cold night in Boston. It’s usually what I get if I’ve arrived in town late and want to go to bed without a gut full of spice.

But the entrée that keeps me going back for more is the Yasai Itame.

Wagamama yasai itame

This delicious noodle soup is made with coconut milk, rice noodles, a light hint of chili and ginger spice, and tons of tofu and vegetables. It’s always way more than I can eat, but I try to at least finish the tofu off. If you order it, make sure you squeeze lime into it to bring out the flavor even more.

If you have room left after all of that, Wagamama usually has a vegan sorbet that makes a nice palette cleanser. However, on my last visit in the U.K. they offered a vegan “ice lolly” that I thought would be something unique and fun. Instead it was a pre-packaged fruit juice popsicle shipped from somewhere in the U.S. Oh well!

There are other vegan entrees on the Wagamama menu that I haven’t tried yet. Maybe if they ever make good on their promise to open hundreds of locations in the U.S., I’ll feel less pressure to always order my favorites and will experiment more with the menu.

Beyond the food, the ambiance of Wagamamas always makes me happy. The restaurants tend to be in basements, so you feel like you’re descending into someone’s hidden, private space (except the Tower Bridge location in London — that one is down right scenic). The servers are always friendly, but not chatty, and very good at their jobs.

In the U.K., they sit you directly with other people at long rows of tables, so you usually get to meet fun people from a wide variety of countries.

Wagamama Windsor, U.K.

In the U.S., while the tables are still long, they put small gaps in the rows so the visual of open dining is still there, while giving territorial Americans some sense of privacy. Maybe when they move west that will change.

The ordering process is unique as well. Wagamama is the first place I had been to where the servers used hand-held wireless devices for orders and credit card processing – and that was more than 10 years ago! It was cutting edge high-tech to me at the time! Every menu item has a number, and the servers don’t just enter it into their devices, they also write the numbers on your place mats so the right food goes to the right person. You have what I’d call a “main” server, but everyone manages your order in a communal fashion. All of this makes for an efficient experience.

Over the years, I’ve made Wagamama addicts out of several friends and co-workers. If you’re ever in Boston or in one of their many overseas locations, give it a try and let me know what you think! Maybe we can get a petition going to bring Wagamama west!

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NYPD Pizza Delivers on Its Promise: The Perfect NY-Style Vegan Pizza in Phoenix!

When I moved to Phoenix 15 years ago, my ability to successfully adjust to living in this town hinged on one important thing: the need to find decent NY-style pizza. I tried many “local favorites” and determined they were all inedible. Finally, two recommendations from friends rang true: Ray’s and NYPD Pizza. Both were at least 30 minutes from where I lived at the time, but I was raised in an Italian family that regularly traveled vast distances for “good pie.” But as both restaurants expanded their footprints, I was becoming a vegan. And so, my search for the perfect NY-style pizza was rendered pointless. Or so I thought!

In July, a co-worker told me that NYPD Pizza had posted a question on its Facebook page, asking for name suggestions for their new vegan pizza, which would be made with Daiya cheese. I of course freaked out with anticipation. They said they would have it in stock in August. Despite my constant stalking and hounding of their Twitter feed and Facebook page, and calling the restaurant, no vegan pizza appeared on the menu. Finally, I gave up and stopped checking. I wrote it off as a promise unfulfilled. Until last Friday.

I was trying to decide where to have dinner on Friday night, and checking to see if Green had posted any new specials on its Facebook page. The answer was “no,” but something made me think, “I should check NYPD’s page.” To my surprise, they had announced “the Veganizza” the week before, while I was out of town!

I went to the NYPD website to get the specifics, and saw the “Gluten-Free/Vegan” menu option and became even more excited. Just be sure, I called my nearest restaurant to confirm they actually had Daiya in stock. All systems were go!

While the Veganizza wasn’t actually listed on the menu in the restaurant yet, I didn’t panic. The waiter didn’t blink when I said “16-inch Veganizza please!” But he did come back to the table once he put our order in to say, “It will be about 25 – 30 minutes,” which makes us think we got their first one…

It was worth the wait! In my eagerness to get my hands of my first slice of Veganizza, I forgot to get a picture in its pristine state.

NYPD Veganizza

The Veganizza comes default with Daiya, Roma tomatoes, fresh spinach, basil and garlic. While it lacks the fake meat found on zpizza’s Berkeley Vegan, it makes up for it with excellent flavor and the perfect NY-style crust (defined as: very thin, but firm enough to fold).

NYPD Veganizza slice

The proportions were perfect (just enough cheese and sauce) and the basil and spinach were a great combo. My only recommendations are that they should make sure the cheese goes all the way to the edge (which is always a complaint of mine with pizza – never leave a cheese gap)! And they need to cook it just a little bit more, but this seems to be an issue with restaurants that are new to cooking with Daiya – they just don’t trust the cheese! It’s okay though, because we had enough left over to cook it a little longer at home the next day. Next day pizza can’t be beat!

NYPD veganizza twice cooked

The best part is, there’s an NYPD three blocks away from my office, so the phrases “Who wants pizza for lunch?” and “Hey honey, you worked late, how about I just pick up a pizza on my way home?” have re-entered my life! However, I think “I’m going to ride the exercise bike for awhile” may need to be uttered more frequently now as well!

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