The East Coast and more
We made it to the East Coast just in time for Christmas Eve with Shawn’s family. We relaxed for awhile, ate some home cooked meals, went to the movies, had a vegan taco night and played lots of Little Big Planet. While there was snow on the ground when we arrived, it rained all of Christmas day, so no snowmen were made as I had hoped. Though we had planned to head in to NYC from the New Jersey suburb where we were staying, we opted to stay home and stay dry.
Luckily this meant we got to try out a (new to us) vegan Chinese restaurant, Veggie Heaven. Oh and it was heaven. I have enjoyed some fabulous vegetarian Chinese restaurants but there was just something about this place that has me dreaming about it. Maybe it was the sushi. Okay, so that’s not Chinese specifically but I’ve never had such amazing vegan sushi. I love sushi. Hey, I’m from Los Angeles, I’ve been eating sushi since I was two. As soon as I saw the fireball roll on the menu, faux spicy tuna with avocado and a signature spicy sauce, I knew it was the one thing I had to have. My goodness, it was divine. But it wasn’t just the sushi, we also had a great wonton soup and some fantastic crispy duck. So good, I can’t wait to go back…
Soon enough we were on the road again, heading to Asheville to pick up our backseat companions. I should mention that this is probably around the point where I was far enough from home and a computer that I forgot about taking photos of much. We went to some really neat restaurants and it just never even occurred to me to take photos. These things happen when you just enjoy your trip and forget about blogging for a bit.
After getting stuck in traffic on the horror that is the I-95, we were ecstatic to find the Blue Nile in Harrisonburg, Virginia with a bar that was open late (we drove through at about 11pm) and yummy vegan sandwiches. Also, I should mention I now have a deep affection for Hampton Inns. After staying in the creepiest Motel 6 ever, and after one of our more stressful driving days, it was so nice to fall asleep in a clean room (and watch Animal Planet). Not to mention, their complimentary breakfast actually has a few vegan options.
Asheville ended up being one of the surprisingly awesome stops on our trip. We spent most of our time exploring the amazing Biltmore House, but also had the opportunity to try a couple restaurants including Green Sage, where the reuben you see above is from, a cafe with a bunch of vegan options clearly listed on their menu. We had an amazing pizza with a super thin crust made from beer mash at Barley’s Taproom. And get this, Mellow Mushroom in Asheville has Cheezly vegan cheese! This isn’t true for all Mellow Mushroom locations either. As far as I know, it’s only Asheville. Did I mention that Asheville has the most craft breweries per capita in the US? Oh I didn’t? Well it does.
I’ll have one more episode of our road trip tour, featuring my favorite stop: Austin, Texas. In the mean time, I recommend you check out Shawn’s beautiful photo sets from our trip here and here. You can see much more of the places we stopped, some of our crazy antics and not just food.
The Sunday before Christmas we packed up my little VW wagon and hit the road heading east. (Let me just tell you, you don’t realize how small your car is until you fit four people and a load of luggage and gifts in it.) Shawn and I were off to visit his family for the holidays and decided to finally take the road trip I’d been dreaming of, well sort of. I never meant to take a road trip in winter but the weather treated us rather decently.
Our friends Jannatha and Kyle piled in with us heading for North Carolina. Lucky for us, they’re both vegetarian and put up with our crazed searches for vegan pizza and obscure restaurants along the way. The first place we decided to stop was Flagstaff, Arizona, high up in the mountains, covered in the first snow of the trip. Shawn had located a pizza place with vegan pizza. Unfortunately we arrived to find it closed. Lesson one, call ahead.
We drove around looking for an alternative and when our other option was found to be boarded up for the winter we just asked someone walking down the street. Lesson two, don’t be afraid of people, go ahead and ask. Being from Los Angeles, you forget people often will be glad to help you (just not so much in LA).
We ended up at Macy’s Vegetarian Coffeehouse. It was a cute place with a comfortable atmosphere. There were a number of items on the menu that were vegan or could be made that way, but I went for the basic veggie blt with tempeh bacon. This is something I usually wouldn’t order, because I am all too often let down by tempeh bacon, but this sandwich was truly satisfying. First of all, it was huge, and the bread was simultaneously soft and crunchy, with a really great flavor. All the fillings were fresh and crisp and the tempeh was the perfect nutty compliment to the greens and tomato.
So when you’re on the road, you often don’t eat at anyplace special at all. Sometimes you eat only the entire contents of bag full of car snacks. Sometimes, if you’re unlucky, you get altitude sickness and don’t eat anything but saltines. So let’s just skip right along ahead to Columbus Ohio! You weren’t hoping to hear about anything between there and Flagstaff, were you? Didn’t think so.
Shawn was super excited to take me to Benevolence Cafe in Columbus as he remembered it having been there forever. Surprise, surprise, it was closed (possibly for renovations, possibly forever, I’m not sure). Back to Lesson one, call ahead. This ended up being for the best as we instead found On the Fly Street Food. This small cafe is part of the upscale Dragonfly Neo-V. Both restaurants are all vegan. On the Fly is open during the day with an awesome selection of delicious street style foods and great beers.
We couldn’t resist the empanada, which was stuffed with a rich mushroom filling. The crust was just as buttery and flaky as you could wish for and the cheesy sauce on top was just the right amount. I also ordered the chili and cornbread which was equally, if not even more delicious. The chili achieved a magical balance of beans, sauce and “meat.” With a hearty taste that wasn’t too spicy, it was the perfect thing for a very cold Ohio day. Oh and the corn bread, it was delicious; moist and soft, just right for spooning into your chili. It had a lovely cakey consistency and wasn’t mealy at all. So good!
Though we failed at our earlier vegan pizza attempt, Columbus came to the rescue at Circus. This bar and performance venue, decorated with old-school circus paintings, has two vegan pizzas to choose from, the regular vegan and the vegan crow. Since you can order half pizzas, we went ahead and got both. One is a pretty standard cheeseless pizza piled high with tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers and seasonings. The other has a cashew cheese, corn and caramelized onions. Both were superb. The really great thing about these pizzas is that they have a super good crunchy crust that is just thick enough to hold the tons of toppings without being too thick and mushy. The veggie to crust ratio was about 1:1, which is pretty amazing if you ask me. See, pizza isn’t all bad for you.
Overall, Columbus was pretty awesome in the vegan department, it even has an all vegan bakery which I’ll get to in the next post about all the vegan desserts we devoured. Just had to tempt you a little…
This past weekend, Shawn and I went on a mini-road trip up to San Francisco with his sister, Amy. We packed some tofurky sandwiches and hit the road on Friday afternoon and arrived later that night. We were lucky enough to be hosted by Shawn and Amy’s childhood friend Cristen and her husband Tim. I’ve been to San Francisco before but haven’t had an opportunity to try out many of the the vegan eats around town. Before we left, we got some great recommendations from veg friends on where to try out. There were so many places to try, we were only able to hit up a few in the two days we were there.
The first place we checked out was Ike’s Place for some vegan sandwiches. We had been warned about the lines but it was a beautiful day out and it didn’t take too long to get our food. We ordered the vegan Meatless Mike, a sort of meatball sub and the vegan Eli Manning, a tofurky sandwich with garlic sauce, avocado, mushroom and soy cheese. I had been loading up on tofurky on the way up, so I was much more interested in the meatball sub, but the Eli Manning was really amazing. It’s easy to make a decent sandwich but it’s no small task to make a great sandwich. The flavors in the Eli Manning were perfectly balanced. It was not overloaded with toppings but had all the tastes you wanted in each bite. The bread was fresh and the whole thing was truly fantastic.
One of the places that we absolutely had to go to was MaggieMudd for vegan sundaes. While we frequent Scoops here in LA for amazing vegan ice cream, it’s not the same as a sundae. Shawn got a decked out Tarmack lover with three scoops of chocolate and peanut butter ice cream and topped off with whipped cream, peanut butter and chocolate sauce and peanuts. I don’t even know how he ate this whole thing, it was so huge. I went with a more traditional mini-waffle sundae. A waffle cone filled with chocolate mint cookie ice cream and topped with marshmallow sauce and whipped cream. It was super tasty and quite a treat. Everyone was craving more for the next day we were there. I’m glad it’s in SF since it’s not something I would want to have all the time, but it’s a great once in a while indulgence.
We also visited Weird Fish to test out the vegan fish and chips. The vegan fish is actually either batter fried tofu or seitan, which of course we tried both of. The seitan comes with a vegan tartar sauce while the tofu comes with a sweet and sour sauce. They both come on a bed of regular and sweet potato fries. The seitan was very flavorful and fresh and the tofu was super soft and moist. Both were great but the tofu was definitely the favorite. Again, while I really enjoyed trying out this place, it’s not something I would want to get on a regular basis as one can only eat so much fried food. We did discover though that they do have vegan pancakes and breakfast options so I’m sure we’ll be back to try those.
For me, one of the highlights was going to Rainbow Grocery. I was honestly mesmerized by the great amount of bulk foods and vegan options. There are some great grocery stores these days for vegans but Rainbow Grocery was really exciting. I wanted to buy everything! They seriously had everything you need. I restrained myself and only got some vegan raspberry flavored gelatin and chocolate drops. We tried some of the baked goods but I honestly couldn’t even eat them. My vanilla cupcake tasted like a corn muffin.
On our last night we went out to dinner at Greens. While the restaurant is all vegetarian, they are able to make a number of the dishes vegan, and a few are already vegan. We tried a few different entrees and appetizers and everything was generally good. I wasn’t particularly blown away and the prices were a bit much for the quality. I really enjoyed the appetizers we had, a carrot ginger soup and a greens and citrus salad. Shawn ordered the pea ravioli which was quite tasty and I had some vegetable skewers which were good, but nothing exciting. I think I had a case of simply ordering the wrong thing, as everyone else was extremely pleased with their meals. On the other hand, our waiter was so awful it was comical. He kept disappearing and forgetting about us. By the end of the night we were all laughing because we couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. Luckily we all had a sense of humor about it instead of getting too annoyed.
On our way home we decided to stop in Fresno and managed to find Au Lac Cafe. This vegetarian restaurant ended up being a big surprise. It was exciting enough to find someplace that wasn’t fast food not too far off the freeway, but this place was super good. They had a relatively small menu, and it didn’t seem like anything we hadn’t had before. I ordered the peppered veggie fish, expecting something similar to what you might find at a Thai vegan restaurant in Los Angeles. On the contrary, the fish was not only super moist, but the pepper sauce had a unique, full flavor. Mixed with some soft rice and steamed veggies, not only was this dish delicious, it was filling and satisfying. These chunks of veggie fish were flaky and soft and I know I will be fantasizing about them the next time I order some veggie fish around here. There is no comparison between these and the veggie fish patties I’m used to.
Shawn ordered some garlic veggie chicken which was equally fantastic. Again, the veggie chicken strips were moist and with no un-savory chewiness that you sometimes get with fake meats. The garlic flavor was strong and delicious but not overpowering. Just writing about this I want to go back. Not everything on the menu was vegan but it clearly told you what was only vegetarian. They had some of the meats for sale in bulk but I was concerned about bringing the frozen food back when we still had quite a drive back home. Right now I’m really regretting that decision.
They also had a really awesome RV out back. I’m sort of in love with all the little animals painted on this thing, including that happy sheep you see up top. If you’re ever in Fresno, I definitely recommend checking this place out.