Three Days, Five Things, Chicago

Back in January, the busy month that was, I went with team VVC to scout Chicago as a potential location for Spring 2013’s conference.

Did we want the conference to take a leap east to a bigger city? Or did we want one more year of celebrating the vegan grandeur of our own home turf? We’ve now been discussing the pros and cons of both locations for 2 months, and as of last week, came to a decision. I won’t spill the beans here – you can check out the Vida blog for the official news.

Oh, we did.

As for the windy city, I had never been before, and had 3 items on my to do list:

1) Location scouting
Verdict: Check! Plenty of possibilities in multiple neighborhoods, and really great, really reliable public transit options – one stop even told us the weather, which bring me to…

Perfect day.

2)Winter
Verdict: We arrived the morning after the first real storm of the season – check! I used to joke that I suffered from reverse seasonal depression since moving from New York and Boston to Portland, where it rarely snows for more than a few minutes within the city and 40F is a low. I miss the chills. To be fair, I do loathe humidity, as well.

No deep dish, but they have multiple Upton's seitan options so....

3)Vegan deep dish pizza
Verdict: According to our friend Snarky Vegan, there was a pizzeria in Chicago that was serving vegan deep dish until it closed a couple of years ago. These days, you can request a deep dish pie without cheese, making sure to ask about butter in the crust, or you can go to other pizza parlours for Daiya or Teese (hometown pride, y’all) topped pies. Michele and Janessa did have a chance to hit up one local shop for a cheese-less slice after I headed back to Portland for work (d’oh!), but overall, I did enjoy our pie at The Boiler Room. More on that follow below.

Three Days, Five Things, Chicago

With three full days, I had a taste for Chicago, and longing for more Upton’s under my belt. It’s a huge city with spread out vegan options, including the classic Chicago Diner (which we dined at twice, rest assure).

Since I’ve been a major procrastinator (see: December travels) and Janessa and Michele are covering the same trip, in addition to our joint contributions, for the VVC blog, I wanted to break down my brief stay in Chicagoland with my five favorite food experiences. Plus, it’s an internet blogging list rule, or something.  

Regrettably, in my five days, there was more I tried that I wasn’t a fan of (I’m still trying to get the thought of a hybrid cheese sauce off my tongue) vs. what I could rave about, so the list was easier to put together than I planned on.

The tops include my inaugural torta experience at Quesadilla, a stand-in for deep dish pizza at The Boiler Room, classic milkshakes, caffeination, a surprise turn with cake balls, and more swooning over Upton’s products.

First up, Quesadilla:

Quesadilla La Reyna del Sur
2235 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

Complimentary chips & salsa at the all-vegetarian Quesadilla

Ordering a Soy Curl-stuffed torta from Los Gorditos – either the truck or the restaurant – has been on my to-do list for years now.  I’ve simply been so easily distracted by burritos and mulitas and the quick journey home to my apartment. Now that I’ve experienced the tremendous satisfaction that was my meal at Quesadilla’s, as pictured below, it could actually happen?!

Vegan Cubana torta with Mexican sausage, soy bacon, soy chicken, lettuce, avocado and beans on crusty bread. It was intense and did not disappoint.

One of the soy meat-sensational tacos on our table.

Counter-style ordering with Michele at Quesadilla.

Next stop, The Boiler Room:

The Boiler Room
2210 N California Ave
Chicago, IL 60647

Pizza with Daiya, Upton's seitan bacon, some shredded basil and marinara.

We held a small VVC reunion at The Boiler Room once we learned that deep dish pizza with vegan cheese,  our original intent, was currently nowhere to be found in the city.  The crust was surprisingly thin with an element of flop,  something that saddens my inner New Yorker. I will, however, give kudos to the high quality ingredients and availability of Upton’s seitan products. It takes something special overshadow the d-cheese, in my humble option.

Intelligentsia Coffee
Millennium Park Coffee Bar
53 East Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60601

Let’s just say that while it was not my first visit to an Intelligentsia location, coffee on a warm day in Silver Lake does not compare to a soy latte on a brisk day in Chicago. I quickly went through the smokey Diablo Dark Roast I brought back home with me.

Soy Latte, Intelligentsia

Cake Balls at Bleeding Heart Bakery

Bleeding Heart Bakery
1916 W. Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60622

So, I’ve yet to take an official stance on cake balls. Part of me thinks they’re dumb, part of me really enjoyed the moist cake balls at the evidently-starred-on-a-Food-Network-special Bleeding Heart Bakery, part of me wants to throw every round piece of sprinkle-coated cake I see out of a window, and my heart says I should really give Dovetail’s a chance in Portland before I roll my eyes some more.

Yeah, I'd pop more of these into my mouth.

Bleeding Heart: proudly offering preservative-free Srichacha for all your preservative-free spicing needs.

Vegan Milkshakes!  I experienced the joy of two creamy vegan milkshakes in the windy city. I want more.

Chicago Diner
3411 N Halsted
Chicago, IL

&

Whole Foods Lincoln Park’s Diner
1550 N. Kingsbury Street
Chicago, IL 60642

Peanut butter cookie dough milkshake sharing with Janessa at Chicago Diner.

Chicago Diner: Like we went to Chicago without dining here twice! I often suffer from bad-ordering luck, and it happened here with a few plates, despite small plate sharing optimism with Janessa. Over all, I think brunch had the most potential, regret not ordering the Titanic BLT or more with Upton’s seitan (a reoccurring theme of the trip) and have to give my props to their milkshake…and they were out of whipped cream at the time. It was an awesome welcome.

Whole Foods: Team VVC had a momentous shopping excursion at Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, where we sipped sparkling wine as we strolled the aisles picking up goodies and stopping at the Diner. I’m not one of veggie dogs, but my cohorts dug in, while I opted for a different classic:

Cookies and Cream milkshake & hand-cut fries at the Diner. What of it?

I’ll spare the details, but I would not order these appetizers again:

Special: Potato Skins at Chicago Diner. Pass. That ubiquitous hybrid cheese sauce may have seeped into my brain.

BBQ Seitan Wingz and Ranch at Chicago Diner. Pass #2, and #3.

Honorable mentions:

Ebel's Weiss Hefeweizen from Two Brothers Brewing Company at Native Foods. This was light and lovely.

Coming across two Native Foods in Chicago = delightful. I picked up a Twister wrap with blackened chickin’ for dinner on my Denver layover on my way out-of-town.

Dinner with our friend Kelly Peloza, the Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, at Native Foods on West Belmont. I ordered a tasty deconstructed Scorpion Burger over quinoa, proving to myself that ordering faux gluten-free is indeed, pretty amusing.

Official VVC cocktail hour at the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Tower.

If only there was a vegan option...

Long live Upton's.

Steamed Soy

I remain a broken record these last few posts.  Reflections on my Southeast Asian travels, this past week’s VVC scouting trip to Chicago, and a Portland vegan nacho report (East End, Veggie Grill, etc.) are bound to come. I’m slowly compiling a list of my most memorable travel meals, and have been trying to recreate a few, as well. Khao Soi Noodles, Young Coconut Curry, Tom Yam, Tofu Larb and a ‘Wedding Dip’ in Siem Reap are all encouraging visits to Fubonn and eyerolls to food cart options.  I’m now back in town for a few weeks solid, at the least, and caffeination has been at my side once I was able to stomach it in Portland once more…

From this weekend: cup of coffee, Chicago Diner 

Equal Exchange beans & sugar

This past Autumn: Soy Cappucino, Cloud Seven Cafe 

Intelligentsia

Just yesterday: Soy Cappucino [f] & Soy Latte [r], Fresh Pot downtown 

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

The we’re-waiting-for-Sizzle Pie-to-open-for-brunch-pizza Soy Cappucino, Grendel’s Coffee House

Hilltribe coffee & steamed soy milk, Blue Diamond in Chiang Mai

The post Montavilla Farmers Market stop: Soy Latte, Bipartisan Cafe

Soy Latte, Public Domain Coffee 

PD/Coffee Bean International

 Soy Latte, Aliviar Coffeehouse

Maeve and I stopped here before the screening of My Own Private River with Gus Van Sandt and James Franco at the Hollywood Theater. Jitters. Swooning.

Soy Latte, Coffee Division 

Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Lastly: more caffeination in Chicago. I picked up a pound of El Diablo Dark Roast from Intelligentsia’s Millennium Park Coffeebar on Monday.

Soy Latte, Intelligentsia in Millennium Park


A Few Days in the Life; Last Month: The Vegan Vacation in LA

First time. Los Angeles. Vacation. Tourist Sights. Vegan Foodz.

Every time I start to tell the stories of my short vacation in Los Angeles, I start squealing about catching up with an old friend, or dramatically demonstrating how I threw out my back on the morning of the last day – so, I’ll let the photos do the talking.

The Top 5 Highlights:

1) The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater.

I find myself telling my friend and co-organizer on a couple different projects, Michele, “Thank You!” on an average of 3 times a week, it not daily, and this recommendation deserved a big one.  Casual vegan sushi at Taiyo and big laughs at UCB made for a fun evening.

2) Flore Cafe. A small part of me wanted to wake up and brunch outside this  cafe every day.  If only I were that cool…  Photos below. More coming.

3) Intelligentsia Cofffeebar. Located at the Silver Lake junction, the Chicago-based roaster clearly boasts great coffee (vacation = lattes), endless hipster eye candy and a shaded patio to enjoy both with their wireless, where I often planned my next stop.

4) Sunglasses and simultaneous young coconut consumption. If I had glimpsed cool kids sipping other tropical fruits walking down the street, I’m sure I would have tried that, too. I know, it happens elsewhere, but this was like 3 girls, 3 blocks.

5) Late night vegan pizza delivery. What do you do when you’ve already deemed the vegan restaurant attached to your hotel inedible and you’re beat? Thank you, Cruzer Pizza delivery!

Runner Up: Seeing people reading scripts in public. I only saw this twice, once on the subway (which was handy!) and once on the bus (again, handy and easy?!?), but it cracked me up, both times. No offense. I love television.

The Photos & Foodz

Obligatory Sight-seeing.

Necessary star power. Not the one I posed with.

Graffiti-orientated sight-seeing.

There’s always been something eerie about Mickey Mouse.

Schoolyard Graffiti!

Is this a real landmark? I don’t know. Palm trees and a dinosaur were enough for me.

Vegan-friendly Silverlake: where I didn’t go…

As much as it pains me not to visit a cafe that shares a name with one of my favorite friends, there just wasn’t enough time…

Options, options, options.

Yup.

Aforementioned pizza delivery:

Ordering was a bit odd, but quick. I’m glad I went for the “extra crispy” (Italians use quotes) crust. Not sure why that meant overcooked seitan sausage bits, but the rest was tasty — and delivered to my door! in 20-something minutes!!

Again, this one can be filed under the worst vegan food in LA &  a dumb reason to book an adjoined (but quite cheap & decent) hotel: Vegan House.

My first meal..or should I say..bites of a meal, really blew, even for $4.99 “Happy Hour” fair. The order was bland, messed up, most of the vegetables were worrisome, the ‘chicken’ was mushy, and there were multiple pieces of hair. Negativity over.

In Silverlake, but sadly, encountered closed up:

Down West Sunset Blvd:

That whole Flore brunch thing I was talking about: buckwheat pancakes, blueberry sauce, tempeh bacon.

Inside Flore:

I was terrified of how under-toasted this bread appeared – and somehow, some noochy tofu, tempeh and avocado combining way, this was a kick ass BLT – with a side of fresh fruit, to boot. Kudos, Flore.

And kudos, sprouts.

Flore Deli Case:

I had just visited a Veggie Grill days before in Irvine, and was happy to come across one again. If this is the future of mainstream veganism, we’re gonna be all right*.

*Which is, admittedly, a much longer conversation about mainstream veganism and society.

It’s so…normal. And refreshing. And fast. Throw some of these into America, STAT.

Cajun Tempeh Burger. I don’t normally find myself saying such things, but I even really liked the citrusy slaw!

Inside the V to the G

I almost bought half price tickets to see Tim Allen and grunt the night away, but somehow, I resisted…

Instead, UCB! And here’s their neighbor – a freaking conscious convenience store.

Locali

Back to Silverlake – pictured because I really liked that they advertise their guacamole like so. How inviting.

Oh look, another vegetarian restaurant. This is getting exhausting.

And another that I actually visited: Pure Luck. Sweet service and pickle chips. Boring wrap. Why talk about anything else?

Half pickles/Half fries plate

Spring Rolls. Served fresh.

Scoops = mini vegan ice cream mecca = vacant shoppe = who cares, I was coaxed into sampling every flavor (okay, 4? 5?).

Vegan selections of the day included Salted Chocolate, Pomegranate Blueberry, Coconut Mocha and Banana Oreo.

Light & Creamy Banana Oreo with some fixin’s

I clearly caught this employee shirtless ?!? and dancing in the back…Sorry!

Fairly befuddling.

If I hadn’t come across Bar Keeper on my last day of vacation, lamenting that I’d already spent too much, I would have spent even more at this kitschy cocktail supplies store.

Be still, my heart. Be still, my nose. New spices and Coconut Bali Smoked salt  won out over vintage cocktail stirrers and exotic bitters.  Not that shocking.

Inside Spice Station:

Now, this is vacationing.

And back to reality…