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.

Back-log: Portland Vegan Dining: Food Carts, Portobello Brunch, Hungry Tiger Too & even more Native Foods

Something crazy happened last month. I was fairly busy, fell off my budget a bit (which is ridiculous with my month off adventure fast approaching) and managed to participate in food cart regularity for the first time in what felt like years, not to mention sit down for brunch more than once.

Super Creamy Ota Tofu Frittata from the new brunch at Portobello

(Nothing has ever made me want a side of garlic bread more in my life)

From opening weekend: the Heirloom Blood Mary & Mimosa

See that locally made Picklopolois Green Jalapeno Sauce? It’s your new best friend.

Both times I’ve visited, my dining companions have ordered the Chanterelle Homefries with parsley pesto. How I’ve resisted, I have no idea.

Roasted Sweet Potato, Root beer & Rum Waffle with Maple Syrup- macerated Peaches

Pad Kee Mow with Tofu & Vegetables from Ploy Thai

Indeed, there’s a new Thai cart in my life (farewell, Just Thai), Ploy Thai: Ping Yang Kang Street Food. I quickly became a regular visitor telling myself I’m supposed to up my heat tolerance before arriving in Bangkok, okay? Plus, they’re hip to the definition of “vegan” while maintaining flavor. They add serranos to their noodles for heat!

Pad Eggplant with wonderful, freshly fried Ota tofu

Sometimes, you just want beans for lunch. Vegetarian Combo of saucey black beans, white rice, tostones & pineapple at El Cubo de Cuba on SW 5th & Oak. 

Here’s a story…..What lays below is a yellow curry, Pokemon-inspired unicorn horn from the fabled UniCart. I’m not incredibly sure how it’s been developing. As per the website, it’s now “vegan with meat options”, and I hear it’s half fried chicken now? Anyway, I’ll keep my eyes open and nose held in hope, because the proprietor’s cooking had style – and originality.

My friend Melissa and I enjoyed lunch-for-brunch at the Hungry Tiger Too this week, who recently “streamlined” their lengthy vegan and omni menus – and as I’ve seen with my own eyes, added glorious floats with Chicago Soy Dairy soft serve.

I ordered the BLTeaser with hand cut fries (oh tots, life’s not the same without you!)

While she went for the Nachos with house nutritional yeast sauce, which truly made this happy hour-for-brunch, in addition to my hot pint of Bloody Mary.

Lastly, my fellow Vida Vegan Con organizers and myself took a dinner-time field trip last night to Native Foods. Best. Night. Ever.

This marks my third visit to the Portland area’s Native Foods, and I’m now half-considering braving the far out bus route and being really, really nice to my friends with cars. Breaking Dawn is surely playing at the Bridgeport Theater, hint hint, Karla!

Janessa, keeping it real.

We shared an order of the Native Chicken Wings, because they’re flaky, tender and impossible NOT to order. We went with buffalo, ranch and chipotle cream (Janessa is so ordering savvy!) 

I had thinly sliced seitan on the brain (who doesn’t? the gluten-free? they totally do) and looking to try something new, asked myself, “What would my friend Katie in Bellingham order?”, and went with the Chicago Dip Aus Jus with pickled “giardiniera extraordinaire” with a side of the lemony lentil soup of the day. It was tasty, yet exhausting!

Speaking of ass-kicking sandwiches, Janessa ordered the special of the day: the Oklahoma Bacon Cheeseburger with FRIED PICKLE CHIPS. Holy moly.

Michele ordered something that’s been at the top of my to-try list: the Chicken Run (Ranch) Burger.

If your food take more than it seems 10-12 minutes at Native Foods, you get a comped dessert!

Here’s the Rose Petal Good Luck Cupcake and my immediate preference, the Peanut Butter Parfait.

Native Foods Weekend

The Flavorvegan contemplates the menu.

Earlier this week, after an enjoyable stint as a vegan trolley tour guide, I was out at a very vegan-friendly restaurant for dinner, and I couldn’t bring myself to order anything. It’s as if my entire menu-ordering mindset had shifted over the weekend at the soft opening for Native Foods Cafe. I’ve lived in Portland for years, was I only now…spoiled? I suddenly didn’t see the point in ordering a tempeh sandwich elsewhere. It’s as if the word Tofuffalo no longer meant anything to me. Where was my side of seasoned sweet potato fries? Why didn’t this restaurant have a crunchy kale salad when I wanted one? Where was my peanut butter parfait to conveniently take home and eat for lunch the next day? Which brings me to my main point: Why isn’t there a MAX line that leads directly to Native Foods’ front freaking door?

With the news of Native Foods’ expansion into the Pacific Northwest came ridiculous excitement (seriously, nearly every day from my friend Chelsea H, a former devotee of their Costa Mesa locale)

I believe they call this 'gushing' over a meal. In a good way.

and an almost as ridiculous upset as to why it wasn’t downtown. I mean, I get it – I certainly support suburbanites and westsiders eating vegan, and one time I went to a sneak preview of a Bridesmaids in that terrifying mall village and Native Foods would have been part of that wonderful evening had it existed, but my selfish, freckled fingers are crossed that one of their in-development locations will be a little more within the metro area! A little birdy says that one of the coming-for-us Veggie Grills sure is. Hint, hint, Tanya!

I’ve posted a bunch of photos from the soft opening here (and dude, I did not brazenly carry my little pink camera to the plating window – I’m not that type of blogger, but I will use my friend’s great photos), and while I returned last night for the official opening, I don’t have more to show besides Chelsea’s smile over a macrobiotic tempeh bowl and the confirmation that the Soul Bowl was as good as I remembered, circa 2009.

Soul Bowl, circa 2009. Costa Mesa, CA

During the soft opening visit, where all attendees’ meals were complimentary – and multi-course (!!!), my group spent our time waiting for a table stressing out over the menu, calling dibs, making certain that someone ordered the nachos, and working on our ordering arrangement. Ordering was just a tad easier last night, since we spent the car ride there distracting ourselves from the guilt of driving by reading the menu.

Some more photos from the soft opening…

The staff handed out samples of their steaming vegan chai for those in line. Liz was really, really grateful.

If I wasn't holding my Our Hen House bag, I simply could not have posed for this rare photo.

There was more than one point someone at my table moaned (myself included).

I know, right? Get the ranch for dipping. Now.

Native Cheese, I heart you. Possible cashew allergy be damned.

Again, full food porning from the soft opening over here on Stumptown Vegans. Now, can I get a sneak preview pass to a film I actually want to see already?

parking lot motivation & nachos in Costa Mesa

A few motivational parking space shots from The Camp in Costa Mesa, CA.

Appropriate, even if I arrived via public transportation (big high-five, google maps on a smartphone! you make life better) and as a stubbornly proud non-driver who fears cars, found myself cursing most vehicles on a regular basis throughout my trip. Really, that’s nothing new.

The first spot that touched my heart:

I would randomly park  here.

Right on.

I could nap here.

I have, I promise!

I do! If you don’t, I have a half hour rant about to begin that includes vomitting on you.

and then I remembered I have a short attention span, so onto the site….

The Camp:  home of sporting goods, alternative goods, hippie goods, and most importantly, the Native Foods yurt. I was hoping to pick up another pair of shoes at Humanitaire, but they’ve moved to Santa Monica since my last visit, and I didn’t make it there in LA.

I had gone last year with my friend Joni, fell head over heels for a ranch chicken & veggie bowl and fancypants rose petal cupcake, and returned for another visit on my OC adventures this past month.

Inside the Yurt.

Yep.

Behold! The Native Foods Nachos. I make a point to opt for dishes I wouldn’t typically order while on vacation, and this was one, since I can be so damn picky about Mexican food with my distaste for onion pieces and utter hatred of cilantro. They subbed parsley! More details on the SV travel piece soon.

And because I never actually posted it, last year’s Soul Bowl:

I know, right?

Coming Soon: more travel tales from Washington and California, Portland happenings (like the fact there is a food cart lot with a stupid name but exciting carts coming ten blocks from my apartment), Vida Vegan developments, VeganMoFo in November, Heartichoke, and —-  cooking! I learned that slow roasting tomatoes just may be the perfect way to welcome sad-season tomatoes, and myself, into the chillier months.