Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vegan Mini-Mall, Part IV: Sweet Pea Bakery (i.e. Buzzkill)

After our whirlwind tour of Food Fight, Herbivore, and Scapegoat, we were looking forward to the veritable feast of sweets that was surely awaiting us in the famed Sweet Pea Bakery. We were on such a high from our experiences in the other three stores and were looking forward to completing our vegan mini-mall experience with a relaxing nosh. Unfortunately, our jolly good time came to a screeching halt.

Each of the other stores had been quaint and charming in their own way, but Sweet Pea was cavernous and barren. The visible kitchen in the "back" was huge, but the counter's display case wasn’t very full. Worst of all, though, was the glare that we were greeted with, as if we were interrupting something. I said hello and received a smile-less nod in response. I wasn’t overly impressed by the offerings in the case; surprisingly, many cakes looked dry and not necessarily fresh. But then I saw the Charlie Brown. I had heard of this creation, but had no idea it was a peanut butter and chocolate concoction. I immediately ordered it, along with a scone, a biscotti, and two lattes to share with my traveling companion.

While the counterperson was gathering up our goods I excitedly asked if she knew what Sunday’s brunch was going to be; her response was to shake her head no. I uncomfortably asked if it was too early in the week to inquire (it was Thursday) and she barely shrugged. Hmm, isn't part of being in the service industry talking to customers? You know, actually speaking with your voice? Although the brunch had been on our list for Sunday months in advance, my companion and I exchanged defeated glances that confirmed the agreement of what we were both already thinking: "we are not coming back here". It’s one thing not to be a conversationalist, but the blatant unfriendliness immediately and completely spoiled the visit. I’m guessing she isn’t the person who tweets all the friendly messages about daily muffins and special offers for jokes that make her laugh. I have no tolerance for unnecessary and unwarranted rudeness.

So, onto the food.

For starters, I was immediately disappointed to have been handed the sloppiest mocha I have ever seen. Forget an artful finishing design on top- it was sloshing out of the cup onto the saucer as it was handed it to me: not exactly the vision of the beautiful SweetPea lattes I’d seen blogged and bragged about on Portland blogs. I bit into the Charlie Brown first and it was decadent: a crispy, crunchy layer topped with a thick peanut butter layer, topped with a thick dark chocolate layer- absolute deliciousness. Unfortunately, it was then that I looked over at the vegetarian across from me who had tasted the chocolate chip scone. To my raised eyebrows she responded with dry mouth, “This tastes like what people think vegan food tastes like.” So, of course, I had to try it. It was completely tasteless and dry; as my companion noted, “They even managed to suck the taste out of the few, random chips”. Between my satisfaction with the glory of my Charlie Brown and her understandable misery from the disappointment in her dry blob, I knew I had to defer the pumpkin, white chocolate chip biscotti to her...but I tasted it first. As most vegan biscotti are, it was too soft for me, but it was fresh and delicious and the vegetarian happily munched on it in lieu of the tasteless triangle she had before her. I’d like to stress that the scone was the worst we’d ever tasted: so completely devoid of moisture and any taste whatsoever that we considered asking for a refund on principle (we didn’t); it was as horrible as the Charlie Brown was delicious. The only difference is that I expected Sweet Pea’s stuff to be delicious, never horrid.

I’m assuming this experience is a rare occurrence, but for somebody traveling from across the country it’s the only visit I have to go by. In summary, the Charlie Brown was, of course, FANTASTIC. The biscotti was good, the lattes embarrassing, the scone an abomination. But overall, it’s hard to ignore the slipshod, rude, mute service. Two thumbs down, I’m afraid. You can see why we cropped Sweet Pea out of the frame when photographing the illustrious mini-mall.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Vegan Mini-Mall, Part III: Scapegoat Tattoo

So, I’d been unsuccessfully scoping out possible tattoo shops for a relatively small but meaningful tattoo. When I planned my trip to Portland it occurred to me that this vegan had business getting a vegan tattoo.

When I went on Scapegoat’s website, I clicked on Ryan Mason first. His canine tattoos had me sold immediately, and I contacted him to make an appointment. Unfortunately, he was not going to be in Portland when I was and was already completely booked for his NY stint. He was super-friendly and helpful, highly recommending the other artists in the shop.

Despite gads of sketches, I travelled to Portland with only one picture of an idea and a concerted effort to quell my expectations that this famed vegan shop would prove to be “the one”. Then, one peek into the as-yet-to-open-for-the-day shop and I knew I had come to the right place.

So, after visiting Food Fight and Herbivore we dipped into Scapegoat. Not only is the space literally expansive, but it is decorated gorgeously. I’ve never seen a tattoo shop this beautiful. We were greeted by a kind, non-judgmental guy who immediately began discussing my tattoo in a most respectful way: not at all patronizing or condescending as some tattoo shops tend to be (I’m talking to you, East Side Ink). He had great suggestions and was very responsive to my feedback. Then he introduced me to the artist, Dylan. If possible, Dylan was even more agreeable and collaborative: easily deferring to me as the person instead of him as the capital A artist. The whole process was effortless. Dylan even had me laughing about eating/not eating cheese amidst the buzzing. Dylan, if you’re reading this I hope you’ve since tried Daiya and you love it.

The tattoo came out even better than I had imagined and it was one of my favorite experiences in Portland. On our second to last night we ran into the friendly gentleman from the front desk (I’m such a loser that I don’t remember his name) at Blossoming Lotus Irvington. He was just as kind, and even genuinely interested in how the tattoo had turned out and was healing.

Scapegoat is a class act; thanks guys.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Vegan Mini-Mall, Part II: Herbivore

My mom is an elephant collector, so when Herbivore came out with the line of elephant stuff my radar was up. Only problem was that everything with an elephant said, “I’m vegan and I love you”, and my mom is neither a vegan or a poser. Then I found the matching belt, with the buckle boasting the same elephant and no saying. I thought I had scored until I realized the belt was printed with the word herbivore. She’d given up red meat and fish, but chicken was still on the table, so to speak. So, no go.

One day I absentmindedly sent her a picture I had found on the internet of a cute, fuzzy, live baby chick chillin’ in a hamburger bun. THEN I took her to the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary for the first time to meet the ridiculously colorful chickens in person. AND THEN she went vegetarian. Gotta love it. So, I proudly marched myself right into Herbivore and picked up the very last herbivore elephant belt for my deserving herbivore mom. And now? She explains to everyone who asks her where she gets her protein “If elephants can maintain on the protein they get from a vegetarian diet, then so can I.” HA! Take that, carnies (read more about her on SuperVegan).

But, I digress. It was great fun poking around Herbivore and chatting with the friendly gals. They have tons of cool shirts, sweatshirts, etc., and plenty of accessories like bags, wallets, jewelry, etc. Of course they have a bunch of adorable pins and stickers, and also cute cards and artwork. I got a bunch of stuff, including a really cool belt by Yosifa Penina that I must have missed on the website, and a gorgeous wallet by Espe. Funny note, a non-vegan coworker saw my wallet and surreptitiously went online in search of one for herself. The next day she told me she ordered herself one and asked me if I’d ever heard of “Alternative Outfitters”. Um, yeah! So now one less cow is a wallet; thank you, Herbivore.

A second enjoyable stop in the unduplicated vegan mini-mall; stay tuned for Part III: Scapegoat.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Vegan Mini-Mall, Part I: Food Fight Vegan Grocery

Our non-vegan driven cab pulled up to the mini-mall and before I could even take it in he asked, “Is this where you’re going: F-o-o-d F-i-g-h-t?” Yes sir, YES I AM. After shopping online for so long I had finally arrived. Where to begin?!

We sashayed into Food Fight as if we are always waltzing into 100% vegan supermarkets; yeah right. I was actually surprised by how big it was since I keep reading that it’s “much tinier than you expect”. Come on vegans, are we that jaded? That spoiled? No, no we are not. I mean, we are spoiled in the respect that our offerings have come a long way, but last time I checked there wasn't exactly a vegan Foodtown on every other corner.

Not only is Food Fight of significant size, but considering that every single item is completely vegan: it’s monstrous. It actually took me a few minutes to get my bearings and stop scanning over things hoping to catch a familiar item or the word vegan. Holy crap, it all was! Once that was settled we grabbed a cart (yes, a full-sized wagon for all of those peeps proclaiming the stores’ diminutive size), and went to town. It’s hard enough choosing a meal from an all-vegan menu, but food shopping in an all vegan supermarket is mind-boggling and time-consuming and basically ridonkulous. No reading labels, no wondering if an ingredient is animal-derived...everything is for ME!

I won’t bore you (right now) with everything we bought since you can check it all out online, but I will tell you that there was a lot of cool stuff and the shelf labels are just as funny as the online quips. My favorite purchase was a Herbivore totebag that says “Don’t be a jerk; go vegan”, with a pig holding a thank you note. The funniest thing I did not buy was a small pin with a picture of eggs and bacon, reading: “choke on it”. Of course there was everything in between from the staples to haggis and caviar. And, I was surprised to find, in addition to refrigerated and frozen sections, they even have a fresh produce “department”; very cool. NY, you need to get on this.

One big disappointment, though, was the absence of the nacho cheese pump. Apparently Chad had visited the LES and regaled Blythe from Lula’s Sweet Apothecary with stories of the pump. When she found out we were visiting she urged me to try it and report back how it had changed my life; it was literally on our list of “things to do in Portland”. So, where was it? Chad says that the creators are the youngest kid from Home Improvement and his ex-wife, who thus far can’t settle the division of this supposedly incredible cheese product: Playfood. How selfish of them (I kid…a little). So sadly, no 7-11 style pumping for me.

We spent plenty of time in Food Fight: taking it all in, perusing the goods, and stockpiling for home (4 bottles of Secret Aardvark, thankyouverymuch). It was actually hard to leave; we had come from so far. I imagine it is what people feel like on their descent from Mt. Everest. Again, I kid…a little. I didn’t find Portland to be the total and complete vegan Mecca I had expected, but Food Fight is a definite must-visit for all vegans.

Stay tuned for Part II: Herbivore.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Vita Cafe

In preparation for our trip to Portland I had read a lot of restaurant/cart menus and food blogs. Vita Café was on my list of definites because of their corn cakes. I love corn, I love pancakes, but I’d never heard of or tasted such a thing. Perhaps they are as rampant in Portland as biscuits with gravy (I’ve never had them either), but Vita’s menu boasted the largest and most varied selection: Thai, Hazelnut, Mexican, and I knew I had to try them.

It was our first full day in Portland and Vita was our breakfast of choice. The restaurant was bright, seemingly clean, and bigger than we expected. Even though they had just opened five minutes prior, there was already a couple seated, so we took that as a good sign. And then-

We were neither greeted nor welcomed by our sour-pussed waitress who asked us for our order practically before our butts had hit the seats. Then she slammed our beverages down on the table, presumably as punctuation to her second order inquiry. Her response to my, “Can the Thai corn cakes be made without cilantro” request was an indecipherable and barely audible grunt, although I am happy to report it was fulfilled.

Oddly, as the restaurant began to fill up and a good 50% of patrons began to order a menu item containing the ubiquitous corn cake batter, we overheard the waitress (who equally spread her sunshine amongst the customers) repeatedly report “There’s no corn cake batter. We had a little, but it’s already been ordered.” Score for me, but what the heck? They had just opened.

In any event, I got my corn cake. It was filled with slices of fresh banana, seasoned with ginger and accompanied by a mild coconut crème “syrup” that was more like a pudding. I tried dipping my corn cake into maple syrup, but the thick coconut sauce really lent itself to the ingredients much better. My companion’s French toast, however, didn’t fare as well. Thick slices of sourdough, they were ultimately only “French toasted” on the outside, leaving a thick, dry, uncooked bread center: ick.

Most important to note, though, is that upon receiving our breakfasts, we were immediately inundated by a family of gnats. GNATS. Now, I eat out a lot and this has never happened. We actually choked down our meals whilst simultaneously waving them away; it was not pleasant. And then, as soon as the plates were removed, so too went the infestation. Creepy.

Under normal circumstances we probably would have left then, but we had not yet spent the entirety of our Merc Perk certificate and the gnats were gone. So, once the peace had been restored to our table, we began discussing what to try from the dessert case. And then- the waitress unceremoniously slammed the check onto the table. When I told her we wanted dessert she snatched it back up again in a fury. I had the further gall to ask what the choices were and she informed me that there were too many for her to say. Really? So I went over to the case myself, where most of the stuff was unmarked. Hmm, must be a secret.

I wound up choosing a slice of Sweet Pea Bakery’s peanut butter chocolate chip cheesecake that I recognized from a blog post, but found it to be quite dry and almost pasty; I've never seen a cheesecake crumble when faced with a fork. I should note that I wasn't a huge fan of cheesecake before being vegan, but Vegan Treats has spoiled me with their creamy, delicious, and multi-topped and flavored offerings so perhaps I'm spoiled. And, to give Sweet Pea the benefit of the doubt, it's possible that Vita's refrigerator was not regulated properly for optimum cheesecake consistency. Don’t know, but won’t be going back to a place where the audible sighs from the waitress are only outnumbered by the amount of gnats swarming your plate to find out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cafe Blossom FOR DINNER

I am a big fan of Café Blossom’s brunch and goodies: berry pancakes, French toast, chocolate chip cookies drizzled with extra chocolate, banana chocolate chip muffins, chocolate peanut butter shakes, etc. The tofu scramble I spy at other tables always looks incredible, but I can’t help but order the sweet stuff…they even give me all the maple syrup I need to drench my breakfast-- without any judgmental sneers (I use a lot of syrup; even at home sneers come with the territory). But after visiting Blossom in Chelsea and thoroughly enjoying all of the “real” food I knew I had to do the same at Café. So, I grabbed me an enthusiastic vegetarian and a grumpy carnie and made them promise me that we were ALL going to partake in real grub…and we did.

Cornmeal crusted oyster mushrooms: big, meaty mushrooms deliciously breaded and fried, then served with a tasty, mustardy sauce. The carnie was especially all over this one and even stated that he would “order it next time”, stunning the vegetarian and I into silence.

Caesar Salad: generous portion with just the right amount of tasty Caesar dressing, sprinkled with gomashio and served with crouton-esque crostini. Initially frightened by the gomashio because he heard the waiter’s description containing sesame seeds and thought I was trying to get him to eat vegan furikake again, the carnie ultimately enjoyed the salad as well. I will note that although I’ve never eaten carnivorous Caesar salad, I would imagine the furikake might make a nice addition in lieu of the little fishies. Just sayin’. The vegetarian didn’t partake in this one because she too is afraid of furikake (!), as she avoids analogs of any kind (if furikake counts as an analog simply because it “tastes fishy”).

Black eyed pea & potato cakes: The vegetarian and I cannot go into either Blossom without ordering this tasty appetizer. In Blossom it’s served as a giant crispy cake with a hint of Indian seasoning, but in Café Blossom it’s served as a couple of smaller, softer cakes. Both versions come with a scrumptious dollop of chipotle aioli and are equally good in their own way.

I went for the Morrocan tempeh and it did not disappoint. There were so many textures and flavors going on that for a minute I thought I was in Horizons. It was truly exquisite and so too were the reheated leftovers the next day.

The vegetarian’s veggie grain burger was very good, but I was a little disappointed that it was served on toast (menu said bun). Also, it was an 8 on the mushy veggie burger scale: one being the perfect consistency of a Sunshine Burger and 10 being Candle 79’s ridiculously squishy black bean burger. She loved it, though, and the cole slaw was fresh, crisp, purple and out of this world. Note: the cole slaw did not fare so well as leftovers; eat this all at first sitting.

Finally, the carnie went for the fettucini alfredo. It was a huge bowl of what he tells me was authentic fettucini, filled with tons of portabello mushrooms and topped with a few strips of chicken cutlet and different colored cherry tomatoes. It was a little less creamy than I expected after enjoying the ravioli in cashew cream appetizer at Blossom, but he seemed to really enjoy.

Because we couldn’t stuff enough into our fat faces, we also had to do the 4 sides for $18 combo. I realize that some people do this as a dinner replacement: combining veggies and a grain, so don’t judge us. We went for the potato salad, French fries, Cajun sweet potato fries…and the brussel sprouts (we ran out of potato options). The potato salad was as fresh and delicious as the cole slaw, the fries were good, the sweet potato fries not nearly as spicy as I would have liked, and the sprouts were good but not anywhere as good as my Mom’s.

I initially thought I wouldn’t be able to squeeze in dessert, but there’s always room for a chocolate chip cookie and a hot chocolate. The cookie was a big, yummy sucker and the hot chocolate was good, but no where near the epitome of hot chocolates: Candle 79’s version.

Overall, it was another fine meal and evening at Café Blossom and I’m glad I gave the real food a try because it was great. The phyllo roulade dinner at Blossom is still my favorite, but I’d definitely come back to the Café to try out their bacon cheeseburger now that I hear they are using Daiya.

My only complaint is that the manager was a bit flaky about my Woodstock Farm Sanctuary member discount. I use it all the time, yet he tackily sent the waiter back to the table to question me about it. Not cool. Considering Blossom’s usual warm and enthusiastic handling of the discount, I emailed them about this slip-up and received no response. Very disappointing and even less cool; I hope they work this out.

Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce

Yes, a hot sauce this good deserves its own post. I hesitate to even call Secret Aardvark a hot sauce; it is a choice condiment. As explained in a previous post, this east coast vegan foodie traveled from EWK to PDX and headed straight for the Potato Champion food cart where 1) she enjoyed delicious fries and 2) she was introduced to her new favorite condiment: Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce.

It took me years to find my previous favorite: Melinda's XXX-hot Habanero hot sauce, and I still love it as a hot sauce. But again I have to emphasize that Secret Aardvark is more than a hot sauce. An accompaniment? Enhancement? Sauce for all occasions? Yum.

I'm back on my home coast now, telling all my fellow hot sauce fiends about Secret Aardvark and hoarding my own bottles. Buy yours now; you won't be sorry. This is not just another hot sauce. This is a hot sauce that you taste one day, and have Food Fight ship 4 bottles home the next. I'm already down to 3 and planning my meals around it. Get on it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Karma Road Cafe

The first time I visited the Karma Road Café in New Paltz I wasn’t all that impressed: thus, no post. Thankfully, I went a second time (on the way to the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary) and was proven wrong, wrong, wrong. So wrong, in fact, that my companion gave me the stink-eye and telepathically called me a liar. Repeatedly.

The server was cheerful and welcoming, immediately offering us generous tastes of their soup of the day: pumpkin. It was delicious: just the right thickness and with actual pumpkin chunks. But we’d just dropped by for a quick snack, so we had neither the soup nor the tempeh reuben that caught my eye on the menuboard. Instead, we went for the goodies (natch).

First up was the fresh baked pumpkin chocolate chip cake; no way I was passing that up since we’re halfway through fall and I seem to keep missing Vegan Treats pumpkin ice cream days (damn you, vanilla). It was sinfully moist and delicious with a perfect balance of the pumpkin flavor to the chocolate. Next was the blueberry chocolate chip muffin. While not nearly as moist or flavorful as the cake, you have to acknowledge the fine bakers at Karma Road for understanding that it is a rare recipe that can’t be improved by the addition of chocolate chips. Finally, two chocolate chip walnut biscotti (noticing a theme?). Not only were these biscotti much more crunchy than most vegan biscotti (and the one I tried on my first visit), but they happily emptied half of the jar so that I could make an informed decision, i.e., choose the ones with the most chocolate chips. Now how can you help but love that?

BONUS: 5% off for Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary members. Stop by on your way to or from, and leave some time to check out the shops across the street.

Apologies for the lack of pictures but the goods went pretty quickly.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My (in progress) Vegan Top 100 (75 for now) Eats: NY, NJ, PA…and even a few from the West Coast (in no particular order)

1. Anything from VeganTreats. Go to the shoppe in Bethlehem for the largest selection, or enjoy at area restaurants far and wide.
2. Fruity Pebbles: an oldie and goodie; eat a whole box at a time because you know you want to.
3. Turkey club from Teany (currently closed) with pasta salad.
4. Sinner bar from Sacred Chow. Bite into the ridiculously thick shell of dark chocolate and be prepared for the coconut and caramel goodness oozing inside.
5. Lilly’s Vegan Challah bread from various Whole Foods (spotted at Columbus Circle, Chelsea, and Bowery).
6. Klein’s mint chip ice cream. Carried by some area restaurants (Red Bamboo, Govinda’s, etc.), but save yourself the trouble and head over to the Klein’s shop & distribution center in Brooklyn for a buffet of choices to enjoy on the go or to take home.
7. Philly's Mi Lah Vegetarian’s weekend brunch. A great deal including a hot beverage, delicious juice combinations, fresh fruit, baked goods and, oh yeah, your actual brunch. I’d go for the combo plate that includes the incredible omelet: best “egg” breakfast in the tri-state area.
8. Order anything at Hangawi and prepare to enjoy the complimentary kimchi. Skip the “regular” and glom the spicy.
9. The biggest sundae you can fit into a bowl at Lula’s Sweet Apothecary. Go here now and often.
10. Pumpkin soup served in a fresh, edible squash at Millenium, San Francisco.
11. Black eyed pea and potato appetizer, Phyllo Roulade entrée, billberry juice from Blossom.
12. Hot chocolate from Candle 79. The creamiest, most milk chocolatey hot chocolate I’ve ever had…and I don’t even like milk chocolate.
13. Pumpkin whoopie pie from Back to Eden Bakery (or anything else for that matter) in Portland.
14. Veggie combination platter from Makeda in New Brunswick, NJ.
15. Puttanesca Spaghettini from Gargiulo’s, sans anchovies. Go near the holidays and enjoy freshly roasted chestnuts for dessert.
16. Nathan’s French fries
17. Portland's own Secret Aardvark Habanero Hot Sauce
18. Pumpkin chocolate chip cake from Karma Road Café in New Paltz. The best thing about Karma Road is that they understand that every baked good can benefit from a healthy dose of chocolate chips. And they will happily empty the jar of biscotti so you can have the piece with the most chips.
19. Blossoming Lotus Irvington: Best. Chai. Ever. Enjoy after the nicest and most delicious vegan meal you’ll enjoy in Portland.
20. Messy Marcy sundae from Maggie Mudd, San Francisco.
21. Corn dog from Hungry Tiger Too, Portland.
22. Just about anything Horizons, Philly can cook up.
23. Cheesecake from Franchia.
24. Chocolate covered macaroon from Peacefood Café.
25. Banana Latte smoothie from Garden Café on your way to the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary.
26. Stosh’s Kettle Corn. Can order online, or buy fresh from the Woodbury Commons kiosk where they offer fresh watermelon lemonade in the summer.
27. Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream.
28. Wise Onion Rings
29. Manner dark chocolate covered hazelnut wafer cookies (tastes like kit kats!).
30. Pommes Frites: love it.
31. Moroccan Tempeh from Café Blossom.
32. Sweet and Sara: my faves are the toasted coconut covered marshmallows and the incomparable Rocky Road bark.
33. Some combination of the Tim Curry, Baby Beluga, Shed potato cakes and potato salad from the Tin Shed Garden Café in Portland. Must be accompanied by a Hot Monkey Pepper Vodka Bloody Mary.
34. Fresh-baked, cinnamonny chocolate chip cookie from Basic 4 Vegetarian Snack Bar in Philly's Reading Terminal Market.
35. Just about everything marked vegetarian on the PF Chang’s menu.
36. Buffalo Wings and Fried Shrimp from Red Bamboo.
37. Vegan M&Ms from Economy Candy.
38. Frittata Florentine from Counter. I know it’s not on the menu anymore, but it should be.
39. Maoz falafel salad with double hummus, filled to the brim with fresh veggies from the almost all vegan “toppings” bar.
40. Amy’s soups. So good, so convenient; why aren’t they all vegan?
41. Chocolate Chip Scone from Whole Foods.
42. Herr’s ketchup potato chips.
43. Dr. Cow cheese; I get mine at the Westerly Market.
44. Love goldfish, cheez-its, but not all the crap? Stuff your face with Eco-Planet cheese crackers in the shapes of smileys and hybrid cars.
45. Daiya: ‘nuff said
46. Veggie Burrito Loco (hold the cheese, sauce, and sour cream) from Carlos O’Connors in Red Bank, NJ.
47. Loved the dessert at the now closed Down to Earth? Chances are it was Chef Adam Sobel’s chocolate ganache cake; order your own from Certified Orgasmic.
48. Sit outside and enjoy a croquette and any sandwich on coco bread- only at Red Bamboo Brooklyn.
49. Freddy Guy’s hazelnuts.
50. Hawaiian Chicken from Vegetarian’s Paradise 2.
51. Cinnamon Sugar or Choco Coco doughnut from Mighty O, based in Seattle.
52. Chipotle
53. The vegan entrée at the beautiful Four Seasons restaurant. They’re expensive and they’re snooty, but they deserve credit: it's about time they veganized their vegetarian plate!
54. Best thing at Babycakes: biscuit with cream and jam.
55. Starbucks soy Peppermint Mocha (boo to the non-vegan Pumpkin Spice)
56. Red Mango's red velvet cake at the T-Salon in the Chelsea Market.
57. Liz Lovely chocolate-covered pretzels, chocolate-covered Newmans, and Chocolate Moosedragon cookies. I’m sure they do other things well, but I’m all about their chocolate offerings.
58. Charlie Brown at Sweet Pea Bakery.
59. Milk shake made from dark chocolate sorbet and soy milk at the Bent Spoon, Princeton. They don’t advertise the term vegan, but will tell you what is if asked.
60. Uncle Eddie’s peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. They’re soft.
61. Rutherford, NJ's Sweet Avenue Bake Shop’s Old Skool cupcake. Seriously, make sure you go when they are on the menu: Tuesdays and Thursdays only.
62. The freshest, softest, most potatoey gnocchi ever: from Portobello Vegan Trattoria
63. Govinda’s Philly Chicken Cheesesteak, Philly: sauce is delicious, but beware; it’s messy and it might wind up in your lap.
64. So far, any contribution at Veggie Conquest.
65. Rose City Chocolates: online and in Boonton, NJ.
66. Chick-O-Stick donut from Voodoo Doughnuts
67. Sprookies from Dave’s Killer Bread
68. Go Max Go Jokerz bar (try it on ice cream).
69. Potato Champion: the west coast’s answer to our Pommes Frites.
70. Soy Delicious Purely Decadent chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.
71. Portland's Holy Kakow chocolate sauce.
72. Whatever they’ll prepare for you vegan at Vynl diner.
73. Soft serve at Kyotofu. It’s good, it’s in midtown, and it’s ice cream for YOU.
74. Chocolate chip Snackimals cookies; get ‘em and share them with your best friend.
75. Did I already mention Vegan Treats? Donuts, buns, cookies, ice cream, CAKES, brownies, crumbs, bars…

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

WFAS Thanksliving Banquet

This weekend I excitedly attended the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary Thanksliving Banquet; it surpassed any and all expectations I possibly could have had, and did so with an extraordinary event that seamlessly combined an unflinching respect for animals with seemingly limitless, delicious food.

The weather was on our side. Despite forecasts of snow, the sun shone into the windows of the ginormous, heated tent that housed the veritable ton of people that had come out to support the sanctuary at a time of year when most Americans are equating giving thanks with turkey genocide.

As did most attendees, we arrived early in order to visit with the sanctuary’s population of rescued farm animals until it was time for the banquet to begin. At that time, the gate that normally serves as the entrance to the goat pasture was flung open in hearty welcome and we all hurriedly entered the seasonally decorated tent, awestruck by the sights: from the beautifully set tables to the impressive and plentiful offerings on the auction and raffle tables, the tent had been converted into a cruelty-free, fall wonderland. The live band, Ida, enhanced the atmosphere.

Almost immediately the appetizers started flowing. Just when you thought they couldn’t be more selfless, those hardworking sanctuary volunteers transformed into waitstaff and began buzzing through the crowds, deftly offering up endless platters of assorted goodies. Our favorites were inevitably the black-eyed pea cakes from Blossom, and the Dr. Cow cheese spread onto fresh Bread Alone ciabatta and garnished with capers.

The generous assortment of appetizers continued their circulation as everyone placed silent bids on the auction items and chose which prizes they wanted to win with their raffle tickets. We had our fingers crossed for the Sweet & Sara assortment, the Vegan Essentials gift certificate, or the wine basket, but alas- we are not the type who are lucky in such raffles. No need, the event was spectacular on its own.

Onto dinner: the table was set with sparkling water and a heaping basket of assorted breads from Bread Alone and those delicious Karma Road Café sweet potato biscuits. We each enjoyed a glass of wine as the dinner was presented: assorted recipes from area restaurants that are not necessarily vegan or vegetarian. As we indulged, the speakers (Dan Piraro, Nathan Runkle, Jenny Brown, etc.) entertained and enlightened the crowd with stories, information, and even videos. Finally, what better way to end a delightful meal than with a choice of incomparable Vegan Treats cakes? Danielle Konya, the recognizable bakery queen herself, was in attendance, but may have been outshined in this animal loving crowd by her furry tablemate: the Discerning Brute's adorable dog, Enzo.

Because the weather was so nice, farm tours were given after the main event was over. With quite the drive ahead of us, we chose to wander around ourselves before picking up our goodie bags and hitting the road. Unfortunately, we find ourselves too full- days later- to even think of indulging in any of the delicious snacks that it contained; only the non-edible items have been enjoyed thus far. A great ending to an incredible day that was made possible by many generous, animal-hearted people.

If you’ve never been to the sanctuary, I implore you to go: enjoy and support it as frequently as possible. If you don’t live in the area you might be surprised that there are sanctuaries all over the country; do some searching and find one (or a few) that you can support. These special events are extraordinary, but sanctuaries need our help all year long.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Potato Champion and Whiffies

Let me start with literally our first stop from the airport (with luggage!): the much anticipated food carts: Potato Champion and Whiffies. If you've ever been to the Rutgers Campus in New Brunswick, imagine the parking lot that houses the infamous grease trucks...only much swankier and inherently more festive.

POTATO CHAMPION: Much like our beloved NYC Pommes Frites, Potato Champion serves Belgian Fries with assorted vegan and non-vegan sauces, only it’s a cart instead of a jam-packed, miniscule restaurant with an everlasting line out the door. Coincidentally, Potato Champion buys its paper fry cones from Pommes Frites, but they can only serve them that way if you are taking your fries to go. Reason being: while the seating is abundant (outdoor, covered, lit with fairy lights), they are no fry cone holes in the table! What’s up with that, Potato Champion? We regaled our Portland dining companions with stories of these heavenly, NY fry cone table holes while we dug into our fries from within a recycled to-go container a la Whole Foods. They seemed up for it, so get out your drill Potato Champion: your delicious contribution to the potato-loving world wants to be displayed in all it's glory whilst being devoured.

The verdict: I though the fries were fantabulous. I found them more potato-y than Pommes Frites. Although she thoroughly enjoyed the Potato Champion version and ate her fair share, my traveling partner decided that she ultimately prefers the more crispy Pommes Frites version. It is the classic dilemma between a latke and a tater-tot. Those who adore potatoes prefer the latke ratio of potato to crisp, while those who prefer the crisp adore the tater-tot over-proportion of crisp to potato. Simple tot logic if you will.

There are plenty of sauces to choose from at Potato Champion, but they were out of the horseradish ketchup that I was looking forward to (boo). When I lamented its crossed out existence, the gentleman in the cart asked me why I didn’t just make my own. Ouch. I defended myself with the fact that I’d just flown across the country and didn’t think of it; he seemed to accept that as a plausible excuse. So, instead we tried the Rosemary Ketchup (one vote for, one against) and the Hot Sweet Mustard (opposite opposing votes). We decided that if we made it back before the end of our trip we would be satisfied with plain ketchup and a truckload full of Portland’s own: Secret Aardvark Habanero sauce, which we discovered here. A word about Secret Aardvark sauce: GET IT! This is the best hot sauce I’ve ever had. Henceforth I will use Melinda’s XXX habanero as a hot sauce, but Secret Aardvark as a condiment. Oh, for the love of yum.

WHIFFIES: Whiffies is a cart that serves only fried pies. Yep, fried pies. Imagine a fried-to-order, giant, half-moon shaped pie boasting a thick, buttery (vegan) shell, tastewise: kind of like what I remember of the warm apple pies from McDonald’s, but infinitely better . So, they have all kinds of vegan, non-vegan, savory and sweet flavors to choose from and their menu board suggests you tell them if you’re vegan so they can cook your vegan pies in the vegan fryer (I guess if they’re busy they aren’t that picky unless asked). So, since the delicious Potato Champion served as our dinner, we decided to go for sweet pies as dessert. Portland Marionberry, Coconut Crème, and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip to be exact.

Here’s the thing about Whiffie’s pies. They look big enough, but once you start eating them they become insurmountable because the crust is so rich. I can eat a dozen Vegan Treats donuts at a clip, yet I couldn’t possibly have consumed much more than one whole Whiffies pie. Don’t get me wrong, they are delicious; but, pace yourself.
The ranking: Coconut Crème was a delicious, thick, coconut pudding. In an effort towards conserving stomach space, I split the pie open and ate it like pudding with the occasional accompaniment of the super crispy edge of the crust: the best part, IMHO. Marionberry was the quintessential Portland pie. A little less sweet and less mushy than blueberry, this is probably THE fried pie to get; pure fruity pie goodness in your tummy. And, finally, the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip: a delicious, fried ode to my favorite combination. A little more puddingy than I anticipated: this was the pie I chose to eat in its entirety and would again.

Note: Although I was very stuffed, I did intend to try a crepe from the Perierra Creperie. Unfortunately, I didn't find their menu very vegan-friendly and the options that were veganizable weren’t floating my boat. After I decided to eat my weight in pies instead of trying a crepe I saw a couple go by. Instead of soft, rolled crepes I’m used to, these were giant, stiff crepes that were folded for consumption. Like I said, I didn’t taste one, but it didn’t seem like my cup of tea.

Getting to Portland/Vegan Travel

Almost as punishment, the east coast’s parting gift to us was such ludicrous traffic that we ultimately missed our 9:30am flight. The next flight wasn’t until 6:00pm and we weren’t risking leaving the premises in between. So, one vegan and one vegetarian spent the day in Newark International Airport.

Once we had everything under control it was time for drinks. We found the swankiest place we could find, Caliente Cab Co. Apparently a franchise, I'd been only to the tasty, albeit not so vegan friendly fast-food americanized mexican restaurant in NYC. In EWK it's much, much worse. First, our drinks were hideous, sweet messes of ice, sugar, and the cheapest alcohol in existence. I barely drink and I knew these $14 cups were filled with junk. But, after missing the flight, having to pan our first day's itinerary, and looking at eight more hours in the airport, they did the trick. Then, we were told that we could not have the "made to order" guacamole without cilantro because it was not made to order that day. Okaaay.

The shopping in the terminal was sad. There was a Lacoste store, but it was the size of my bathroom and had about 9 shirts for sale. Everything else caused us to remark, "You can get that at Loehmann's", so we quickly tired of expecting an EWK Marshall's, or something of that ilk.

Eventually we decided my poorly tolerant body needed some coffee to counter the effects of the "alcohol", so we dipped into a Starbucks. With all of my requests (soy, no whip, no foam, extra hot) and my lingering drunkedness, I neglected to request decaf. Between the sugar and the caffeine I'm surprised my heart didn't pop right out of my ribcage. To add insult to self-injury, would you believe that they are some kind of "non-branded" establishment that does not honor the "free soy milk with registered giftcard"? What is that about? It said Starbucks, it looked like Starbucks, and they served Starbucks. Give me my 30 cents back!

And finally it was time to board. Of course we ordered the vegetarian, non-dairy meal option months in advance (vegan is no longer an option). But, true to Continental form, when they got to us they shrugged and said, “We had four vegetarian meals and we’ve already handed them out”, simultaneously thrusting carnie garbage in our faces as though our food choices depend solely upon the whim of the free offerings. So, what exactly is the deal? It doesn’t matter what you order as long as you’re at the end of the plane that they start serving meals from and declare your vegetarian craving? I say you should have to prove it. Because once the stink of the microwaved turkey dogs started wafting through the cabin I’ll bet it was the first four passengers that suddenly claimed vegetarian-ness. Even the kid sitting next to me munching on a combination of Swedish Fish and bona-fide beef jerky couldn’t choke down the turkey dog. Really? Worse than beef jerky? Might be time to stop bragging about how you still serve complimentary “meals” at mealtime, Continental.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Peacefood Cafe

We decided to go to the Peacefood Cafe on the way to Crafts on Columbus for a light breakfast, so that we could hit Cafe Blossom for dinner. I had read Peacefood's online menu, and although their lunch/dinner offerings looked tempting (chickpea fries!), I figured I'd check it out for a quick bite first, reserving the tried & true Cafe Blossom for a sure-fire meal with a carnie in tow.

Peacefood is spacious, clean, bright and pretty: very inviting, due in no small part to the baked goodies when you walk in that all look delectable. It is obvious that the place is already busy and popular; the staff is constantly buzzing around: juicing, chatting with customers, bringing out fresh platters of scones and cookies, etc. Unfortunately, their frazzledness (for lack of a better word) is quickly evident by the clueless stares of some of the more sedintary and unobservant waitstaff, and the lack of or mis-labeling of many of the bakery offerings. After finding out what everything was, we watched as our chosen biscuits and scones were delicately placed in individual, oven-safe, handled corningware- presumably for toasting. Yum. We seated ourselves and waited anxiously, all the while watching the steady stream of customers and the considerably varying level of deftness with which they were attended to, depending upon the server.

After quite some time we each received our beverages. The black coffee was fresh and hot, and served with a napkin between the cup and saucer to collect the drips; many fine restaurants don't know enough to do this. The almond milk hot chocolate was huge and chocolately, but disappointingly watery. The Brazilian Nut Chai was also huge, but unexpectedly watery as well and not as flavorful as I expected. Extra points for making their own nut milk, though.

Eventually we found that our beverages were cooling and we still hadn't received our eats. I asked the main man who seemed to have things under control and he said, "Oh yes, I put them somewhere. Let me think of where...oh yes, I know!", and returned shortly with the goods. Unfortunately, at first bite it was clear that the corningware was just a facade; these savory and sweet goodies had been nuked: ugh. Extremely disappointing since besides, the immistakable microwaved rubberiness, you could tell that goodies were good. The vegetable/rosemary scone was savory and flavorful, the cherry almond scone sweet and delicious, and the biscuit filled with chocolate, banana, and cherry was divine. Unfortunately, all suffered the cruel fate of having been microwaved. Most importantly though, I want you to know that we had purchased some scones to go and were shocked the next day to find that they were fresh and delicious: a day old and far superior to the nuked versions. I have since implored them to dispel with the nuking; they are doing themselves a severe disservice. Just in case, please make sure to request that your item is either served as-is or oven-warmed.

Next up was the requisite taste testing of the cookies and macaroons (we'll have to try the cakes another day; I wasn't in the mood to be disappointed by a cake not up to par with Vegan Treats). The chocolate chip cookie was good, but the one I got to go was even better because it was from the new platter; this is something to keep an eye on. We brought an assortment of choc chip and oatmeal raisin to omni friends we visited that day and they loved them. The chocolate covered macaroon was the best macaroon I've had in years. With a delicious, almondy taste, it had all of the good qualities of marzipan (flavor) without the bad (texture) in a perfectly moist, chewy, crispy outsided, half chocolate covered macaroon. We took six home.

Because it was a brunchy time of day on a Sunday we were able to see many of the lunch options go by: all looked very fresh, hearty, and delicious. Salads, sandwiches, and appetizers were equally inviting and I even heard someone describe the chickpea fries as "crispy on the outside, mashed potatoey on the inside". Eegads, that sounds good.

So, my only complaint besides the microwave business that is easily remedied, is that they seem a little disjointed. Some employees were completely welcoming, friendly, and in command, while others seemed a bit meek and not ready for the crowd. Meek is not good when it leads to an impatient woman grabbing her own scone (gross) from the covered platter when the staff is so careful to always use tongs and/or wax paper. This is especially bad when I wanted that same flavor scone and then had to fear being contaminated with rude cooties.

Overall it is an absolute wonderful place & I hope they continue to improve and succeed. The fact that their website doesn't list an email contact doesn't bode well for how heavily they weigh customer comments, but I hope not. I'm sure they are still working out the kinks and, judging by the steady stream of customers, they already have a following that will guarantee success.

So, go there, enjoy, and be sure to tell them you don't want your stuff microwaved. Also, get some treats for someone you like and ask them to tape a takeout menu to the unprinted box so that you can help to spread the vegan word. Meanwhile, I have my eye on those chickpea fries for my return visit.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I Have Seen Portland and It Is Good

So, it’s about time this east coaster started discussing her trip to the “Vegan Mecca” that we think of when we think of Portland. I'll just backtrack a minute to note that when I went to San Francisco a few years ago I thought I was going to step off the plane into a crunchy granola hippie land of vegan cookies and tie dye. This was not the case. Sure, I happily got to the well-known: Millennium, Herbivore, and Maggie Mudd (heart) and enjoyed immensely, but I was not prepared to have to work so hard to find other, non-mainstream, vegan happiness. I thought it would find me with blinking neon lights blazing, "Welcome Vegans!" and thusly I missed out on many gems. So, I was heading to Portland, my second visit to the west coast, certain it would be what San Francisco was not: a total and complete VeganLand.

To that end, I prepared for my trip with months of research under my vegan belt; I wasn't going to miss a bite, I mean, a thing. I had daily itineraries mapped out and my only concern was what I was going to do in the pockets of free time between meals and snacks. I stopped shopping for just about everything months in advance because I figured it would be easier to do so in a veritable vegan city where there'd be nary an animal product to be found. I had such high expectations that I began to think of Portland as a city populated predominantly by vegans, and that veganity would be beckoning my attention at every turn, vegan police monitoring every move. I feared that in a different state my supercool sneakers wouldn't be recognized as the faux leather they were and that I would be undeservedly ostracized by the masses. I worried that my vegetarian traveling companion would conspicuously unwrap a non-vegan mint, causing us to be turned away at PDX. Then on the way to the hotel, our first friendly Radio Cab driver asked why we were visiting and I answered, “I'm vegan”. The man turned around in his seat and asked, “WHAT is THAT?” Oy vey; wrong again!

Ultimately, there are certainly vegan options galore in Portland (posts to follow), but also plenty of places where: not so much. Perhaps the options just seem abundant because it’s a smaller and more condensed city than NY? But, it's not totally VeganLand. Don't get me wrong, the vegan mini-mall is entirely worth the price of admission (so too is the vegan corn dog), but, like New York, you still have to know where to look; vegan happiness isn't brimming over everywhere you turn (I'm talking to you, leather accessory booth at the Saturday Market). Overall, I’m still trying to piece together my thoughts on the city; hopefully the posts that follow will do it for me.

I do want to note that every time we told someone in Portland that we were vacationing, they asked us why. Every time. Maybe inquisitiveness is just part of being a Portlander, along with a laissez-faire attitude and the habit of ambiguously answering pointed questions requiring a simple yes or no. Or could it have been an Oregonian attempt at making polite conversation? Perhaps they thought us interlopers on their territory? Or, conversely, think their own city unexotic? If that's the case I should point out that even New York does not have a vegan mini-mall or a shopping mall with an ice rink inside. Sigh.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


So, Kyotofu is kind of a weird place. Confirming the general consensus on SuperVegan, it is odd for an eating establishment whose main ingredient is tofu not to have more vegan options. With tofu an advertised ingredient the battle is already won; why add dairy?
That aside, the reason I wound up at Kyotofu is because on October 9, Serious Eats NY sent out a specific bulletin indicating that until October 17, Kyotofu would be offering a pumpkin version of its consistently vegan offering: soft serve soy ice cream. UNTIL OCTOBER 17. I do want to note, though, that Serious Eats NY described the ice cream as "light, creamy, and completely inoffensive [!?], but I chose to ignore what I figured to be yet another vegan dig from meat-centric Serious Eats. Anyhoo, I went out of my way to head over there a mere two days after the bulletin on October 11, only to be told that they were out of it. Out of it? A week before October 17? "But," I was reassured, they would "have it again". I ask you, what good was that doing me as I was standing there staring at a bunch of non-vegan, tofu-based desserts with my tofu-hating companions craving pumpkin ice cream as advertised? Sigh.

Mostly because I doubted I'd ever bother heading over to this non-vegan, tofu "dessert bar" (and people think vegan is exclusionary) again, I admit that I refused to let the trip be a complete waste and decided to partake in the chocolate soft serve. The small is very reasonably-priced and includes a topping, but the offerings are slim and mostly non-vegan. Again, weird for a place whose main ingredient is tofu, the word vegan seems to incite major confusion. Two separate people were perplexed by my inquiry as to whether or not the whipped cream was vegan, and a third was simply exasperated by it. Really? If you're exasperated by vegan inquiries in your tofu bar maybe you should clearly indicated things that are vegan or, better yet, ADD MORE VEGAN OPTIONS. It's almost as if Kyotofu's invisible tagline is, "Everything's made of tofu, but don't worry; we're not vegan!" To add insult to injury, the girl who took my order also seemed unaware of my rule not to mix healthy stuff with dessert, and was rather insistent on putting some kind of mixed fruit garbage on my chocolate ice cream. Eventually my forceful refusal resonated and I was handed a generous to-go cup of plain chocolate (not pumpkin) ice cream that was actually very good.

Something else a bit confusing about Kyotofu is that it tauts itself as a dessert bar and bakery, yet they do serve real food and even sake. I think they should make this clearer because, had we realized, I could have convinced my tofu-avoiding companions to at least partake in sake and edamame (which one has yet to connect with the soybean). What with their misleading title (dessert bar & bakery), the foyer filled with baked goods on display, and the fact that we were only shown the dessert menu- I thought I had been previously misinformed about their lunch and dinner offerings. But, now that I've checked their website I see that I was not. Hmm, very perplexing little place indeed.

Overall, while I'm happy that Kyotofu's website uses the word vegan to describe it's ice cream, I wish the establishment would be a little more vegan-friendly. And, I wish they'd have pumpkin when tauted! But, admittedly, the chocolate was very good and it is nice to know that you can grab a vegan ice cream in Hell's Kitchen (if you're not picky about the flavor). But, let's be clear here: it's no Lula's.
added 11/2/09:
Please see my follow up post:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Blossom in Chelsea

Usually, I proudly visit the UWS cafe location for brunch (french toast, berry pancakes), shakes (butterfinger, chocolate peanut butter), muffins (banana chocolate chip) & cookies (giant chocolate chip), but Chelsea Blossom's more lunch oriented menu forced me to eat "real" food. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

The black eyed pea and potato appetizer was amazing; it reminded me of the delicious entree currently offered at Red Bamboo Brooklyn. Also delicious (but in 2nd place) was the ravioli in cashew cream sauce. There was a similar pasta entree on the menu that I'd definitely try for a main course next time; we snuck a peek at the order at the table next to us and it looked fresh, full of veggies, and basically divine. Though not my choice, the salad was fresh, light, and huge. But best was the Phyllo Roulade. It was almost beyond description: hearty, generous, and delicious.

It takes a lot for my sweet tooth/junk food addict self to admit, but clearly I have been missing out by not trying "real" food at Cafe Blossom. Blossom is not pretentious like Candle 79 and I found the dishes to be more inventive, better spiced, larger, and overall: infinitely better. They don't try too hard in an attempt at being considered avant garde, but they aren't afraid to play with spices and tastes (both the black eyed pea cake and phyllo roulade had a subtle and satisfying Indian flair). You leave feeling satisfyingly full of real, good food with flavors you couldn't duplicate at home. Finally, they are "...first and foremost animal caring"! If you are a member of the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (and why wouldn't you be?), they happily offer a 15% discount with a great big smile and a genuine thank you for helping the animals right along with them.

I will even admit that I was so full of good, real food that I skipped (!) dessert altogether. Yep, that's how good it was. Ok, I did have Vegan Treats cake at the T-Salon later that same day, but the point is that, at the time, I was fulfilled with real food.

So, how can you resist? Go here for a great meal. Only, don't make the mistake of going before Veggie Conquest as we did; there will be plenty of food there and your tummy will be full, full, full.

Friday, October 9, 2009

T-Salon in Chelsea

I went to see the High Line a few weeks ago (yawn) and stumbled into the Chelsea Market for the first time ever. The space is crazy; I'm going to have to do some research to figure out what it is because it looks like a renovated subway tunnel in a really cool & polished way. I don't know how to describe the collective establishments inside, though. Giant food court? (Non-vegan) cupcake overload? I mean seriously, how many cupcakes can non-vegans eat? On the healthier side, I should mention that there was a produce/spice/bulk market with the most incredible vegetables I've seen in the tri-state area. Great assortment and everything was fresh and reasonably priced; if I wasn't leaving for Portland in two days I would have stocked up. As it was I couldn't resist some cranberry beans from a youth farmstand on 9th...and was cramming them down the night before my flight.

But back to the matter at hand. Other than the produce market, I didn't see much vegan-friendliness in the Chelsea Market-- and the place is predominantly food. As a vegan, the only option seemed to be the T-Salon which I had read about on Supervegan. And T-Salon should thank them profusely because it it weren't for them I wouldn't have even bothered going in to check; they don't exactly advertise their vegan options. Which is a shame because with all of their vegan dessert offerings they should have a flashing "Welcome Vegans" sign. But, heaven forbid we scare away "normal" people with the frightening word. Instead we all seem to find these things through the Vegan Underground...tee hee.

The goal of the T salon seems to be to provide a calm oasis in the otherwise bustling Chelsea Market. This begins and ends with the meditative music.

The bad: the staff is horrendous- generally unpleasant, rude, curt, etc. They act like it is a chore to assist you and try their hardest to make you feel moronic. Also, there's lots of food, but the tables and chairs are not really conducive to eating. Worse, market shoppers with unruly, obnoxious children seem to think it's ok to utilize the seating area as a jungle gym, complete with ear-piercing shrieking. I should also note that there is only one tea menu (a binder), so if someone takes it to their table you're left to search for it on your own while the person behind the counter yells to no one in particular that "The menu is supposed to be looked at AT THE COUNTER!"

The good: lots and lots of Vegan Treats offerings (4 cookie choices, 5 cakes). After many eye rolls and exasperated sighs, the counterperson explained that ALL of the desserts were from Vegan Treats except for the red velvet cake. I should note that there (presumably) was a sign to this effect, but it had curled over in its holder. She could have simply propped up the sign, but then she wouldn't have had the pleasure of being a meanie.

Of course I had a VT lemon poppyseed cookie and three slices of VT cake: pumpkin cheesecake, raspberry cheesecake, and a chocolate bundt that the server told me was something that Vegan Treats "makes special for them". It was nowhere near as good as everything else VT, so I'm beginning to wonder what exactly is so special about them? Now that I think about it, it's more likely that the girl was annoyed at me for my vegan inquisitiveness and served me an egg-laden bundt. Ugh.

I did also tried the red velvet cake, which I suspect might be from Red Mango (per SuperVegan). The vegetarian I was with said it was the real deal and I found it surprisingly delicious since I don't usually go out of my way for red velvet, having never had the "regular" version. Red Mango, if it is yours you should make sure they share the info with the customers because you have turned me into a red velvet fan. *UPDATE* Red Mango has kindly confirmed that T-Salon does indeed carry their out-of-this-world red velvet cake. I urge everyone to try this and anything else from a bakery that can master the elusive red velvet!

So, overall, the service was very bad, but they have awesome vegan goodies! Other than that I didn't notice any vegan options in the actual food area (where everything looked pretty petrified). My advice: grab your (confirmed) Vegan Treats goodies and scram.

Update: the T-Salon is now closed.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Veggie Conquest II - Squashing the Non-Vegan Competition

A belated posting for my attendance at the incredible Veggie Conquest II. This event could not be improved upon unless the secret ingredient was a chocolate/peanut butter combo.

But seriously, I thought it was just going to be a nice evening with some yummy tastes. Instead, it was an event- literally and gastronomically.

The location in Chelsea was convenient and the space was decorated elegantly and appropriately for the seasonal secret ingredient (fall/squash). The hostess at the door was welcoming and friendly-- even when I almost stole two pins (they should put a sign there for those of us used to the adorable freebies at Vegan Treats)! There were plenty of friendly peeps to mingle with, including representatives from nearby NY state animal havens: Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen and the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties.

When things got underway, the inimitable Joshua Katcher (aka The Discerning Brute) took control of the evening: effortlessly entertaining and simultaneously moving the event along seamlessly. Three judges: the well-spoken and equally kind and candid Michael Parrish DuDell from Ecorazzi, creator of Indiana's The Bake Easy: Amy Lynn Herman, and an extremely quiet Deborah Gavito, owner of Counter. I had wanted to take my frittata florentine issue up with her, but she didn't seem to be in the mood to mingle with the crowd, let alone hear me lament the removal of the incredibly praiseworthy dish from her brunch menu. So, unfortunately, it is not looking good for my frittata.

In any event, everyone was presented with tastes of the entries and then had the opportunity to vote. There were 1st, 2nd, and 3rd chef prizes presented (one donated by the wonderful Lula's), and even door prizes were bestowed upon a couple of lucky tasters who got to choose between vegan mac & cheese or white chocolate chips from Cosmo's.

NEXT, the tasters were treated to a ginormous smorgasbord prepared and presented by the very talented volunteers of the evening. And, as if those delicious and varied creations weren't enough to satiate, the generous Sara- of the infamous Sweet & Sara marshmallow line- donated platters upon platters of all of her scrumptious creations (toasted coconut marshmallow and rocky road bark are still my household's favorites!). Apparently the modest Sara was even in attendance, but since she didn't introduce herself she wasn't able to receive the praise she so rightly deserves to have bestowed upon her. I'll take the opportunity here to give her a resounding handclap; if the vegan corn dog deserves one (and it does), so too does the vegan marshmallow.

Eventually, the evening wound down with most everyone chatting happily about just about everything vegan. A hardy thank you to everyone responsible for the terrific evening: from founder Jessica Mahady to all of the selfless volunteers. Not a single detail was overlooked; the care is obvious and appreciated. From the ambiance (lighting, music, room prep) to the entertainment, to the generosity of the goodies: this is an evening not to be missed.