Monthly Archives: June 2010

Vegan Vacation: Portland, Oregon (part 1 of 3)

For us, the trick to planning a vacation is to strike a balance between vegan food options and interesting things to do and see. This year we decided to visit Portland, since it is not only surrounded on all sides by beautiful and day-trip accessible scenery, but it is also a very vegan-friendly city. There were far more places to eat than we have time for, but we tried to make it to as many as possible. Our newly expanded waistlines prove it.

Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of what we did manage to tackle, in three parts.

Cartopia

One of the most unique aspects of Portland dining is the plethora of food carts. Think state fair food trailers, but without the cotton candy; or mall food court, but without the mall. Food carts are all over town – in major groupings of 10 – 15, or in stand-alone spots with just one or two carts. Most were in parking lots or on sidewalks, and few had dedicated parking. They are clearly designed for the mixed-use urban lifestyle (which doesn’t really exist in Phoenix, so it was a very foreign concept to me). The cuisines available via cart are predominantly ethnic (Thai, Vietnamese, Afro-Caribbean, Pho, Lebanese, Indian, Mexican, etc.) but you could also find soup, barbeque, crepes, fried pies and even waffles. I think the only thing I didn’t see was burgers and fries but maybe I was too blinded by the variety to notice.

Our favorite cart spot was nicknamed “Cartopia” on SE 12th St. and Hawthorne, which is on the east side of the river.  It’s a nice self-contained spot with the carts in essentially a circle, and picnic tables for diners. Parking options weren’t great, but we could usually park on the street a block or so away. We visited this spot a couple of times and tried these carts:

Pyro Pizza (vegan friendly)

Pyro Pizza

This was our first stop once we got into town, and I’m not sure we ever topped it. We ordered a vegan version of the traditional margarita pizza with vegan sausage. The pizza was perfect.

Pyro Pizza

They have a big wood-fired pizza oven right in the cart, and they knew how to use it. The crust was light and slightly sweet, the sauce was as good as Pizzeria Bianco’s (in Phoenix) and I’m not sure if it was Daiya cheese or not, but it melted well and tasted great. We had quite a bit of vegan sausage on this trip, but Pyro’s was appropriately seasoned for Italian food (a bit of fennel and spice). It was really hard for me to not want to just keep going back there for more pizza every day.

Whiffies (vegan friendly)

Whiffies logo

My constant desire for anything fried drew me to Whiffies. I got lucky and visited on a day when they featured a vegan empanada, which was stuffed with a picadillo-like mixture, but they used vegan sausage instead of ground “beef”. Given my love of Cuban food, this was an exciting treat for me!

Whiffies fried pieWhiffies vegan empanada

Perierra Crêperie (vegan friendly)

While I was devouring my Whiffie’s fried pie, my husband went for the less greasy vegan mole crepe at Perierra Crêperie. I didn’t try it, but he said it was the best thing he had during our vacation. It was light, gluten free, the mole wasn’t overpowering so he could taste the mushrooms, spinach and pumpkin seeds.

Perierra Crêperie vegan mole crepe

Other Portland Food Cart Highlights for Vegans

Homegrown Smoker (vegan)

Homegrown Smoker vegan food cart

Homegrown Smoker is a totally vegan barbeque food cart. It’s one of many carts at SW 4th St. and College.  They styled up the cart with a cute metal roof. While they actually had a (paid) parking lot here for cart visitors, there wasn’t any dedicated seating for diners. Everyone sat across the street in a cement courtyard in front of a college building.

The menu offers Carolina-style southern food that verged on the “I can’t go there” – like the Macnocheeto, which stuffed MacNoCheese into a burrito along with beans, other stuff and vegan sausage or soy curls. Texture nightmare!

My husband was feeling more ambitious than me, and tried the SloSmoMoFo.

Homegrown Smoker SloSmoMoFo

The SloSmoMoFo was a smoked soy curls sandwich with cold slaw and BBQ sauce, plus a side of sweet potato fries. The sandwich was pretty heavy, but the fantastic BBQ sauce more than made up for it. He’s since gone scrambling looking for a recipe to replicate it. The fries were below average – soggy and tasteless.

I went to the comfort food zone and had the HGS Nachos and a side of MacNoCheese.

Homegrown Smoker HGS Nachos

Homegrown Smoker vegan MacNoCheese

The chips for the nachos seemed to be fresh cooked. They held up well under the tons of beans and gooey NoCheese sauce. The MacNoCheese wasn’t as good as my husband’s Daiya-based vegan mac and cheese, but was tasty in its own right. The portion was huge, so I barely cracked the surface of it!

FlavourSpot (vegan friendly)

What’s there to like about eating a waffle sandwich from a cart on the side of a road in downtown Portland? Everything! Waffle vendor FlavourSpot has three locations in Portland. We went to the “Old Town” location on SW 3rd and Ash. It was a walking/street car day so I didn’t check out the parking situation, and there were two benches for diners.

FlavourSpot

The vegan options on the menu were limited, but no worries. Two vegan waffles with sausage please!

FlavourSpot vegan waffle and sausage

The waffle was perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, firm enough to hold the sausage. The most exciting part was the maple butter. I always put maple syrup on my sausage (pre-vegan and vegan) so having sweet buttery maple flavored goo all over it was beyond awesome. Best of all, even though the syrup dripped to the bottom of the sandwich, it stayed tidy so there was no need for wet-naps!

The Grilled Cheese Grill (vegan friendly)

The Grilled Cheese Grill

The vegan grilled cheese at The Grilled Cheese Grill, at 1027 NE Alberta Ave.,  was a properly prepared grilled cheese with perfectly browned bread that wasn’t too greasy.

The Grilled Cheese Grill vegan grilled cheese

I would have liked more “stringy melty goodness” quality in the vegan cheese. Like all vegan cheese dependant food, it would have would have been far better if it was made with Daiya cheese (c’mon Portland, get with Daiya).

In line with the “remember your childhood” theme of the food cart, they offered dining tables inside an old school bus.

The Grilled Cheese Grill dining bus

It reminded me of my favorite (now gone) bar in Orlando, The Go Lounge. It also had a bus in the back where we could have our own mini party.

That’s it for part one! Part two (100% vegan restaurants and treats) and part three (lowlights and trip summary) are online now!

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Vegan Treats in Downtown Phoenix: Fair Trade Cafe

We were sad to learn the Conspire in downtown Phoenix no longer carries vegan donuts and cupcakes. So much for that little bit of happiness. They kindly offered me a vegan breakfast burrito instead…

Since we didn’t have any desert waiting for us at home, we ventured over to Fair Trade Café on 1st Ave and Portland St. to pick up some vegan baked goods to-go.

Fair Trade Cafe

We ordered our typical “one of each please” and brought home a vegan brownie, chocolate chip cookie and banana nut cookie.

Fair Trade Cafe vegan treats

My favorite was the vegan banana nut cookie, which was soft and “almost like grandma’s banana bread.” The vegan brownie was a close second. It was a cake-like brownie and if there were nuts, I didn’t notice. The chocolate chip cookie suffered from being too dry.

For quick vegan eats, they also have homemade hummus on the menu.

Fair Trade Café’s 1st Ave. location is open Monday -Friday:  6:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.  and Saturday-Sunday 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. Their second location on Central north of Van Buren is only open Monday-Friday from 7:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (office hours).

Hopefully Treehouse Vegan will get their baked goods into the Phoenix Public Market soon so we’ll have another downtown vegan desert option.

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Celebrate the 4th on the 3rd with a vegan BBQ at Green!

While we’re talking about local Phoenix vegan events, I can’t forget to mention that Green New American Vegetarian is hosting a vegan BBQ on Saturday, July 3rd from 2:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. And it benefits feral cats!

Save Animals! Eat BBQ! Celebrate more than 4,500 cats fixed this year by Animal Defense League of Arizona (ADLA). COME TO GREEN ON SATURDAY, JULY 3RD FROM 2PM TO 9PM. FEAST ON GREAT VEGAN BBQ AD HELP SAVE ANIMALS AT THE SAME TIME! (Discount for ADLA membership.) Become a Cat Fan to support ADLA’s Trap – Neuter – Return Program! For more information contact adla@adlaz.org or visit www.adlaz.org

We are so there! Sign up on Facebook so they know you’re going!

 

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Vegan bake sale in Tempe on July 10!

Our fellow friend to the animals over at Chicos and Beans is reporting that there will be a vegan bake sale in Tempe on July 10! Click through for details. And don’t buy everything before I get there! All proceeds go to a no-kill animal shelter.

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Vegan Options in Downtown Phoenix: The Breadfruit Jamaican Restaurant

Downtown Phoenix has been a question mark in my mind since moving here 13 years ago. I grew up in Central Florida, where despite suffering from the same suburban sprawl as Phoenix, downtown Orlando was where you went at night for everything – food, bars, dancing, sports, theater, music venues, people-watching, etc. In Phoenix, if there isn’t a ball game going on, downtown is usually empty at night. However, thanks to a few entrepreneurial restaurants and merchants, that’s starting to change.

Jamaican restaurant The Breadfruit, which opened on Pierce and 1st St. in 2008, is one of our favorite vegan-friendly downtown dining destinations.

The Breadfruit

While the menu is limited for vegans (and they eliminated a vegan entrée since we were last there), what they do offer for vegans is clearly marked, and very good.

During our most recent visit, I ordered the House Tropical Salad, which makes for a fun light meal.

The Breadfruit's Tropical House Salad

The salad includes typical spring mix lettuce, carrots and tomatoes. What makes it great is the fresh pineapple, chocho (a Jamaican fruit) and totally unique dressing. The dressing combines orange zest with ginger and poppy seeds to create a slightly textured, bright vinaigrette with a tiny hint of spice.

My husband got the main vegan entrée, Coconut Curried Tofu.

The Breadfruit's Coconut Curried Tofu

The tofu looks/tastes more like seitan but is soy-based protein chunks. The curry is very mellow compared to the heat levels I’ve previously experienced with Jamaican foods. The dish also comes with three vegan sides: rice and peas (red beans), coconut steamed veggies (cabbage, green and red peppers), and roasted sweet (ripe) plantain pieces.

Other vegan items on the menu include Plantain Avocado Spring Rolls, Festivals (sweet bread sticks) and Chutney, and I think the corn on the cob is also vegan (but make sure you ask what they put on it). They have a Jamaican patty that is vegetarian, but they aren’t sure if the crust ingredients are vegan. I believe the Sweet Potato Pudd’n desert is also vegan, but haven’t tried it yet since it violates my “vegetables are not desert” policy (I know I have issues). The first time we visited, they had dumplings which could be made vegan. We were the only ones there so they made a special vegan curry sauce for us that blew our minds (and noses). It’s not on the menu though, so we haven’t had it since.

The Breadfruit also features a host of fresh-made juices, teas and Caribbean soft drinks. It’s BYOB (with a corking fee) but they’ve applied for a liquor license so that may change soon.

While I’m still looking for something to do in downtown Phoenix after dinner aside from First Fridays, drinking at the revolving bar at the Hyatt, or going to Modified, at least I’m down there more often now. The Breadfruit is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, and closed on Sundays.

For an out-of-towner’s review of the Breadfruit, visit Portland’s Stumptown Vegans blog. We’re going to visit Portland this summer so I’m using this blog as a way to pick out which of the many vegan places to try. Got any recommendations for us?

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Vegan-Friendly Chinese Food in Phoenix: Desert Jade

Desert Jade

Chinese food is notorious for “mystery non-vegan ingredients.” It’s never fun when you order stir-fried vegetables and are surprised to find egg or pork in the dish. The worst thing is trying to figure out if the “vegetarian” or “vegetable” items contain beef or chicken broth. Luckily, one place in Phoenix gets it right – Desert Jade on Indian School and 32nd St. It’s my favorite vegan-friendly Asian lunch haunt in the Biltmore area. Desert Jade is also a great spot for big office lunches and family dinners if you’re looking to make everyone happy.

Desert Jade is a typical old-school family-style American-Chinese restaurant. It’s been around forever (in Phoenix terms). However, Desert Jade features a few stand-out meat and vegan-friendly dishes that differentiate it from the rest. For instance, my co-worker swears their sesame chicken is the best in the world and totally unique.

As you can tell by now, I tend to find an item I like on a menu and always order it. At Desert Jade, that item is the spicy bean curd with vegetables. I order it “made with water, not broth” plus extra spicy (and no mushrooms, because I hate them).

Desert Jade's spicy bean curd

If one of my usual waiters is looking after me, I don’t have to explain the water vs. broth request (or actually even order – yes, I go there that frequently). If it’s someone that looks new or uncertain, I just make sure they write it on the order ticket correctly. The brown sauce they create is tangy, somewhat thick and not too sweet. It’s loaded with garlic and if you have them add extra spice, it can really get the sinuses going. Their tofu is fresh (no freezer burn), prepared properly (browned well and saturated in sauce) and complemented with typical American-Chinese veggies (carrots, baby corn, cabbage, snow peas).

Other vegan-friendly items (when you ask for them to be made with water instead of broth) are the vegetable bean cake soup, hot & sour soup, moo shu vegetables (ask for no egg) and assorted Chinese vegetables. I’ve also had them make the Singapore rice noodles vegan (substitute tofu for the meats). It’s great, but a little greasy. As an added bonus, the fortune cookies are vegan (but always check the wrapper in case they change vendors)!

My guess is they would be happy to make most items vegan as long as you are clear about what’s required, so experiment and let me know what you find! I haven’t tried the vegetable chop suey or chow mein yet because I love the spicy bean curd too much. Items that are sadly off-limits to vegans include the egg rolls and the fried rice.

Desert Jade is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday, and closed on Sundays. I couldn’t find an menu online, but it’s Chinese food. You know the drill.

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Udupi: Vegan Phoenix’s Indian Food Jewel

The Phoenix metro area has three entirely vegetarian India restaurants in town: Café Krishna, Udupi Cafe and Woodlands Vegetarian. All three offer a variety of north and south Indian food, with a special emphasis on the dosai. They are also vegan-friendly, to varying degrees.

Out of the three, we prefer Udupi because 80% of the menu is vegan, and the food is spectacular. Udupi is on Scottsdale Road, about a mile north of the 202.

Udupi Vegetarian Cafe

We’ve only been to Café Krishna once, for the lunch buffet. It was tasty, but it had limited vegan options when compared to Udupi’s. We haven’t been compelled to go back because the dinner menu does not mark what is vegan, and we didn’t like the reaction we got when we asked the waiter to help us figure out what we could eat on the buffet. Woodlands offers similar items to Udupi (I think the previous Udupi owner opened Woodlands) but it is counter-serve/very casual. It’s less expensive, but also a bit hit and miss. Of the three restaurants, it is by far the spiciest, and can be a bit too greasy. I’m up for giving it another try soon though.

We typically go to Udupi for Sunday lunch buffet, which is predominantly vegan. The buffet always offers interesting items I wouldn’t typically think to order from the menu or aren’t on the menu at all, plus standard items such as a dhal or chole. The buffet comes with freshly prepared masala dosai, which are worth the price of admission. Go hungry, wear loose clothing, and expect to eat so much that you won’t be able to move very quickly after. The lunch buffet is open six days a week (they are closed on Tuesdays).

Our most recent visit to Udupi was for dinner. We started with papadum and vegetable samosas.

Udupi papadum and samosa

Udupi’s samosas are second to none in town. The crust is firm yet flakey, and not too greasy. They are stuffed with highly-spiced potatoes, peas and onions. The mint chutney that is served with the samosas is vegan (no yogurt), incredibly good and very hot, so I tend to over-do it. I drench the pastry in mint chutney, then cool down my next bite with tamarind chutney, only to heat it up again with the mint. By the time I’m done my nose is running. The papadum is nothing special, but it just isn’t an Indian meal without it.

I’m flat-out addicted to the dhal curry. I rarely order anything else.

Udupi vegan dhal curry

Sometimes it can be a little salty, but it’s always intensely flavorful. The lentils are matched with onions, mustard seeds, hot chili peppers (watch out for them!) and curry leaves. I think there may be some ginger and garlic in it too.  The spice levels can vary. I’ve ordered it “medium” before and cried from the heat, but I recently ordered it “spicy” and it was mild. It could be my taste buds were deadened from the mint chutney overload though…

My husband’s order tends to vary with each visit. His usual go-to is the special rava masala dosai, which is an amazing crepe with onions and peppers embedded in the dough, plus a filling of potatoes and onions (similar to a samosa filling). During our most recent visit, he experimented and tried the chick peas uthappam, which is a thick pancake topped with veggies.

Udupi vegan chick peas uthappam

It was a little too thick/heavy, and the veggies on top were limited. We preferred the dosai. The chutneys and sambar (soup) that come with the dosai and uthappam are excellent (and vegan). They also serve raita (yogurt salad) as a side but if you’re vegan, just let them know to not bring it.

There really isn’t anything on the menu at Udupi that isn’t spicy, so don’t bother bringing people along who can’t take the heat. If you’re looking for a place that offers good vegetarian and vegan options but also satisfies omnivores, try Pasand. It was our go-to for south Indian food before we discovered Udupi. Priya is similar, but I once found a meat bone in my vegetarian soup, so it’s been black-listed. Let me know if you’ve tried any other vegan-friendly Indian restaurants in town. It’s my second-favorite cuisine so I always want to try new places!

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