Food, Glorious Food

Well, I’m back from London and adjusted to East Coast time again. My trip already seems like a distant memory—isn’t it funny how quickly we fall back into the grind of everyday life?

One of my favorite parts of any trip is exploring the local food scene. As usual, London did not disappoint.

Picture of tofu cutlet and mash from Manna in London, UK

Tofu cutlet and mash from Manna

Picture of vegan sticky toffee pudding from Manna in London, UK

Vegan sticky toffee pudding from Manna

Picture of vegan English breakfast from inSpiral Lounge in Camden, London, UK

Full English breakfast–vegan, of course!–from inSpiral Lounge

Picture of peach cake with vegan cream from Amico Bio in London, UK

Peach cake with vegan cream from Amico Bio

Picture of Vegan fish and chips from The Coach and Horses in London, UK

And, finally, my favorite discovery of all—vegan fish and chips from The Coach and Horses

What’s the best dish you’ve had while traveling?

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Tuesday Tip: Native Foods Cafe

There are plenty of dining options in Washington, DC, but few that are fast, reasonably priced, and manage to be both healthy and delicious. Native Foods Cafe–locations at Navy Memorial, Farragut North, and Falls Church–miraculously hits that sweet spot.

The menu is entirely plant based, but with options ranging from Baja Blackened Tacos to Crispy Chicken, Bacon, and Avocado Club Sandwiches, you’d never know it. The DC locations also have a range of eco-friendly beers and wines from which to choose.

In addition to a plant-based and organic-when-possible menu, the restaurant itself also incorporates sustainable practices. Compostable packaging, repurposed fixtures and furniture, LEED-certified lighting…it feels good to eat here.

Of course, plenty of Washingtonians feel the same way, and the small space at Navy Memorial fills up very quickly during the weekday lunch rush. If it’s a nice day, get your meal to go and then dine on the nearby Memorial steps.

Native Foods Cafe started in Palm Springs, CA. It now has restaurants throughout California as well as in Colorado, Oregon, Chicago, and DC.

Farm Sanctuary

I used to work at Farm Sanctuary, and though the remoteness of upstate New York eventually got the best of me, I find myself missing the sanctuary as the days are growing shorter.

Picture of Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Farm Sanctuary in autumn

I came to know and love many animals during my years there. Some of them even loved me back.

Picture of a goat at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Dorothy, one of my favorite goats

Picture of turkey at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Apollo, my favorite turkey. He was deeply in love with me. (No joke!)

Picture of pigs at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Sebastian, Eric, and Jane curled up on a cool morning

Picture of cow at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Tweed, my bovine boyfriend

Picture of a cow at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Getting some love from Tweed

Picture of piglets at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Newborn piglets snuggled up in a cat bed

Picture of pig at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York

Julia, the piglets’ mommy and perhaps my favorite piggy

If you ever find yourself in the Finger Lakes, Los Angeles, or Sacramento, pack up the kids and go visit the Farm. Admission is $5, and you’ll get a guided tour that will go in with the animals. The three locations have different seasonal hours, so be sure to check the website before you go.

And if you do go, share your pics with me! I’m missing my old friends.

DC VegFest

Today was DC’s VegFest, hosted by Compassion Over Killing. Even though I’ve been veg for years and even used to volunteer for COK, somehow I’ve never made it to their big annual festival.

Picture of sign at the DC VegFest

The event draws about 10,000 people. There was already a long line by the time I got there, about 45 minutes before the gates opened.

Picture of line to get into the DC VegFest

The line to get in. I was at about the mid-way point.

In all honesty, the only thing I really wanted was the food from Vegan Treats. It’s by far the most popular booth at the festival, and I ended up just trading one line for another.

Picture of the DC VegFest

The line for Vegan Treats

I think you will agree it was worth the wait.

Picture of baked goods from Vegan Treats

Picture of baked goods from Vegan Treats

My friend and I walked around for a little while longer as we sampled food and enviously stared at the purchases of others.

And then we went to a brewery.

Picture of DC street life

At the brewery, for some reason

Annnnd then I went home to eat this:

Picture of baked goods from Vegan Treats

All in all, a good day.

Finding Fare at Belvedere Square

I’m probably the last person in Maryland to eat at Atwater’s. The bakery has locations throughout the Baltimore region, and it just received a reader’s award from Baltimore Magazine. I’ve been close to its Belvedere Square location multiple times, but I’m usually immediately taken in by the deliciousness at nearby Egyptian Pizza (they have koshari! but that’s a blog post for another day) or pints at Ryan’s Daughter. I figure it’s time to give the famous Atwater’s a shot.

It’s not even noon yet on a Saturday, and the Belvedere Square Marketis already hopping. I walk through crowds of people to look over Atwater’s offerings of the day. I imagine their food options are overwhelming for most people. For a vegan, though, I find selection to be limited. The daily menu has only salads and a gazpacho. I want something heartier. It’s pretty disappointing, although honestly it’s my own fault as Atwater’s is mostly known for their soups. I could get one of their vegetarian sandwiches and hold all the non-vegan parts (cheese, spreads, etc.), but I don’t feel as though that will be an accurate representation of the food’s quality. And so I end up not actually eating at Atwater’s.

I find a different stall, Neopol, in the market area. Its display case is loaded with fish and other meats, but it is also selling a smoked-tofu salad and raw kale. It’s typical vegan fare, but slightly better than Atwater’s salads and surprising to exist at all at a place specializing in smoked meats. I’m also a sucker for anything smoked. I’m told the tofu might have honey in it, so those who don’t want to take the chance will find their options even more limited. I risk it.

Picture of smoked-tofu salad at Neopol's in Belvedere Square Market in Baltimore

The spicy, smoky tofu

The tofu tastes of warm hickory and is loaded with black pepper. There are slivers of red and yellow pepper and onion, but the flavor is overwhelmingly smoke and spice. I don’t taste honey at all. Frankly, I’m initially more concerned there’s something meaty lending its juices to the smoky taste, but then I realize it’s just liquid smoke. The tofu is nice and firm, and it is steeped in warm flavors. Unlike some places that don’t know what to do with tofu, here the cubes aren’t just raw, slimy protein that have been dumped into the platter at the last second. It tastes good and quickly fills me up. Again, for a place selling smoked meats, the tasty tofu is a happy surprise. But if there really is honey in it, I hope Neopol considers dropping that ingredient. It adds nothing to the dish, as far as I can tell, and cuts out customers who abstain from the animal-produced item.

Picture of raw kale salad from Neopol's in Belvedere Square Market, Baltimore

The raw kale salad

The raw kale has an initial citrus flavor. I take a bite of something that I think is lemon and find out it is a giant hunk of ginger. Now all I taste in the spicy root; it’s not unpleasant but it does overwhelm the rest of the dish. The kale itself is pretty tender and easy to chew. I can’t taste it all now, though. I end up not finishing the side dish, more because of the filling tofu than the overwhelming ginger.

It’s a little over $9 for a helping of raw kale, the tasty tofu, and homemade cardamom lemonade. (The lemonade is very refreshing and not too sweet, but I can’t find the cardamom. Maybe I don’t know what cardamom tastes like.) I didn’t notice at the time, but Neopol also sells a vegetarian plate that appears to be entirely vegan (unless the tofu really does have honey): smoked hummus, tofu, olives, and seasonal vegetables. That sounds delicious, and I hope it’s still available the next time I go to Belvedere.

The tables are filled with people sipping wine and mimosas. I am pretentiously typing away on my laptop and see another lone individual on his computer. We give each other knowing nods. It’s a sunny, warm day; not humid and with a gentle breeze. I’m lucky to have snagged a spot outside, though I think I’m stealing it from Atwater’s. Whoops.

So, I guess I’m still the only person in Maryland who hasn’t tried Atwater’s. Maybe next time, if I can be lured away from the promise of smoked hummus and olives. Mmm. Don’t hold your breath.

Vietnamese Spice in Richmond, VA

I’m in Richmond for a wedding, so I immediately do a Happy Cow search of the area for vegan food. One restaurant looks particularly interesting – Phoenix Garden, a Vietnamese noodle house. It has many positive ratings. I’ve never had Vietnamese food before, so I head on over.

It’s late afternoon on a Saturday, and I’m the only car in the parking lot. I tentatively walk in, expecting the place to be closed until dinner. It’s a huge restaurant with a bar at the back where one customer is sitting, waiting for take out. Otherwise, it’s completely empty.

A very happy older woman emerges from the back to welcome me. They have several imported beer options. I order a Tsingtao—she seems impressed that I pronounce it correctly (or, you know, as correctly as I can muster)—and a few seconds later an older man brings me the beer with a giant smile on his face.

Phoenix Garden is entirely vegan, and I’m overwhelmed with choices. I settle on the spicy eggplant and tofu dish. It comes quickly and again with a giant smile. There is a bowl of soup with the tofu/eggplant dish and rice, and I’m not really sure what to do with it. It’s a thin ginger broth with onions, cilantro, and lemon. It tastes good, but I’m confused. The tofu/eggplant dish is incredibly spicy—just the way I like it, though perhaps not for everyone—and flavored with scallions, baby corn, and cilantro. I end up alternating the dish with the soup, and I think that’s the intention as the ginger and lemon seem to recharge my taste buds after the spicy food. It’s a wonderful combination. As I eat, I start posting to Facebook about what an exciting find this restaurant is. The food is layered with different flavors, the heat and acidity melding into one another. My only complaint is the number of carrots in the dish—I’m just not a fan of the squirrely little orange vegetable. Next time I’ll ask them to hold the offending item.

The older woman—one of the owners—comes over to my table, and we talk a bit about how great the food is. She notes the out-of-state plates on my car, so I explain I’m there for a wedding. When she finds out I’m single, she starts telling me about her son who lives in New York City, what a nice boy he is but he’s single, too… She’s very sweet and it’s great talking to her, but I’m sure her son would be mortified to learn his mom is trying to set him up with random strangers.

When I’m ready to leave, she and her husband both come out to thank me for coming and to wish me well on my drive back home. They are incredibly genuine people, so happy I liked the food and so excited that an out-of-towner had heard of them.

I notice later that many reviewers have commented on how few customers Phoenix Garden seems to have, and it’s a bit distressing. When I’m passing through Richmond again many months later, I ask my now-married friend to meet me there for lunch. He is a local, but has never heard of the place. When we get there, only one other table is taken. Again, the owners greet us with such pleased looks that we can’t help but smile ourselves. The food is still wonderful, and I think I drafted my friend onto the pro-Phoenix Garden team. But I do hope others start going there; it would be a shame if such a great place didn’t make it. If you’re ever on the Eastern Seaboard, make a special trip to Phoenix Garden. You won’t regret it.

Fine Dining in Baltimore

Tucked into a corner of the Baltimore Museum of Art is an undiscovered vegan oasis, though at first I don’t realize it.

My family is at Gertrude’s for my mother’s birthday, and even though I’ve been assured there will be vegan options, I’m not too excited. We have to park in the paid lot, which seems silly to me. The area is also under construction, so the bathrooms are in what appears to be a portable trailer detached from the main building. We have to walk passed it in a plastic-covered hallway to get to Gertrude’s front door. Not a wonderful first impression.

It’s 5:30 on a Tuesday. Although there are seats available in the outdoor sculpture garden, the 90-degrees-plus-humidity keeps us inside. There aren’t many other patrons.

I order an amaretto sour, panicking at the waitress’s arrival and blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. It takes a good ten minutes to arrive, which is odd given the lack of customers. It’s also pretty pricey and a little weak, but I do appreciate the restraint shown when adding syrup—definitely not too sweet.

There is a special reduced-price menu on Tuesdays. I’m pleasantly surprised to see that three of the 11 options are vegan: Moroccan Chickpea Couscous, “Can’t Believe It’s Not Crab” Cakes, and Southeast Asian Vegetable Curry. We are in Maryland, after all, so I order the faux-crab cakes. They arrive piping hot—two fried zucchini cakes blended with Old Bay and served with an orange-chipotle sauce. The sauce doesn’t add much to the cakes, to be honest, which are spicy and flavorful enough on their own. They’re moist and stay clumped together very well despite the lack of egg.

Also on the plate are (very) garlicky spinach and an udon noodle salad—I’m surprised to find the noodles are cold, but the temperature ends up perfectly complimenting the spicy cakes and spinach. The garlic and heat also play nicely off of the slight sweetness to the zucchini. Nothing tastes like crab, but the final flavor is anything but disappointing.  I was so very wrong to doubt Gertrude’s vegan options. I eat every last morsel.

The restaurant is filling up by the time we finish our meal. At a nearby table, a family is meeting with Gertrude’s staff to discuss a wedding reception. The room is filled with natural light, the tables decorated with candles and silver place settings. I’m a bit envious of the newlyweds who will have their celebration here.

We’re served the dessert menu, and I’m again pleasantly surprised at the vegan options: several homemade, uniquely flavored sorbets and a vegan banana split. We’re quite full and so order the banana split to share. I laugh as they bring us three new place settings. The banana arrives with several scoops of chocolate-chip-cookie-dough soy ice cream, homemade soy whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and cherries. The whipped cream looks so real that I’m hesitant at first to try it, thinking they’ve made a mistake. The ice cream tastes fresh—clearly homemade—and it’s chocolaty and not at all cloying. Once again, every morsel is devoured.

Nearly every table is full by the time we leave around 6:30. On the way out, I notice a vegan drinks meet-up schedule and take one for future reference. Gertrude’s in Baltimore…who knew?

Chimichanga Paradise

“I’ve never had a chimichanga before, but I love the idea.”

“Oh my god. They’re sooo good!”

And thus begins the adventure to Burrito Perdido in Chesapeake, Virginia. I’ve just driven from Baltimore to visit friends in Norfolk, and I am moderately delirious from lack of food. We hop back in the car, and ten achingly slow minutes later we pull up to a Shell gas station on a fairly deserted road. Bright red canopies line half the building, donkey logos lighting the way. This is where we’ll be eating.

Inside, the air conditioner is humming, and the flat-screen tv is broadcasting the World Cup in Spanish. Goooooooaaaaaaaaal, the announcer screams as we settle into a booth. The décor borders on kitsch, with bags of rice and photos of famous Spanish-speakers hanging on the wall. Pablo Picasso intently stares at me throughout my meal.

Picture of vegan chimichanga at Burrito Perdido

The loaded vegan chimichanga

Burrito Perdido’s mission is to use local, organic, and sustainable ingredients. They also have many vegan options, so we are right at home. We each get a reasonably priced sautéed vegetable chimichanga with the works. The manager sends us to our table with complimentary chips and salsa. Minutes later he brings us our food. The deep-fried tortilla is filled with piping hot pinto beans, sautéed vegetables, and vegan cheese, and it’s topped with guacamole, fresh salsa, and vegan sour cream. We are so giddy we take pictures.

I have never had a chimichanga before, but this is clearly a superior specimen. It’s bursting with garlic, chilies, and onions, wonderfully complimented by the sour cream and homemade guacamole. If everyone ate these chimichangas, there would be no more war.

I immediately like Burrito Perdido on Facebook. Might as well end the trip now – these chimichangas will not be topped.