28 January 2015

orlando, florida : emeril's.

back in december, josh & i took a somewhat impromptu trip to orlando to visit harry potter world ... yup, you heard me. 

after a morning tasting of butterbeer (it's vegan!), i knew i needed something more legit for lunch. so we went for a little stroll and stumbled upon emeril's orlando.

emeril's is "a high-energy, creative environment for fine food & wine." two thumbs up, bam! (k, sorry. i had to.)

here's what i had ...

veggie & quinoa plate :
roasted veggies, salad, a quinoa-stuffed roasted tomato.
a great surprise! light, delicious ... basically perfect for lunch. also, so pretty!

some pros : 1. our server knew what a vegan was without me having to explain. (his wife used to be vegan.) 2. he told me that the "chef felt inspired & didn't want to give me just a roasted veggie plate." i can only imagine that the actual emeril was back there, cooking up some quinoa for lil old me. 

between this & my custom wand from ollivander's, it was a great trip.

emeril's orlando
6000 universal blvd.
orlando, florida 32819

25 January 2015

guest post #3 : three unexpected places + el nuevo mexicano.

going deeper ... more details from our vegan pal, vikki otero.

In my previous posts (#1 & #2), I talked about the struggles of simply trying to get into contact with the right person to speak with me about "veganizing" a restaurant’s menu. As I continued my exercise in futility, it occurred to me that perhaps I should ask some people who have done it. I’m not talking about Karyn’s or The Chicago Diner – I’m not looking for places that are already committed to the vegan mission – I want to transform places that are unlikely. Who better to advise me on this process than the very unlikely places where I eat many of my excellent vegan meals? 

In the end, I didn’t learn much about how to reach people that weren’t necessarily ready to be reached, but I did learn that I was right that expanding vegan is a good business decision, and that it doesn’t take a personal connection to make a great vegan menu. This post and the next two all focus on places where vegans can have a great meal and how they became vegan friendly.

El Nuevo Mexicano

El Nuevo Mexicano, on Clark and Oakdale in Lakeview, serves modern Mexican fare. My partner and I landed there quite by accident a couple of years ago. We can usually feed me at a Mexican restaurant as long as their beans are vegetarian, so one hungry day we popped in for dinner. We were surprised and delighted to find that I did not have to cobble together a bean-rice-guacamole something because El Nuevo Mexicano had multiple actual vegan options. They use Upton’s Naturals seitan chorizo, Daiya cheese, and, of course, lots of veggies. I believe they had three vegan options when we first went there; last time I was there a few weeks ago, they had eight.

example :
  sopes w/ vegan chorizo.

I interviewed El Nuevo Mexicano’s owner, Maria Rodriguez, via e-mail. They had always had vegetarian options on their menu, but Maria began to notice that vegans did not have any options. Fellow vegans know the drill – when you’re done taking off and subbing for all the stuff you can’t eat, all too often you end up with a pile of lettuce and salsa on a corn chip. As it happened, though, Maria came into contact with the Mercy For Animals organization and learned about Upton’s seitan products and Daiya cheese. She realized that she could make options for vegans that would be just as robust and delicious as anything on their menu. Now, their rotating menu contains eight to ten vegan options at any given time.

Vegan dishes at El Nuevo Mexicano incorporate their delicious homemade moles and salsas and include flautas, chimichangas, and enchiladas. I’ve had them all. They’re delicious. The margaritas are excellent, too!

 proof :
vikki enjoying a mango margarita ... mmm.

Maria echoed what I’d hoped to tell other restaurants that I wanted to encourage to veganize: it can only help your business, because vegans will actively go there – and bring friends – if they know there are a variety of dishes that everyone can enjoy.

2914 n. clark street
chicago, il 60657

21 January 2015

essence of india.

i've definitely got to be in the mood for it ... but when a hankering for indian food happens ... it's one that i absolutely must satisfy.

i stumbled upon essence of india a few months back when searching for some delivery indian food that would be tasty, vegan & whole30 compliant (or close to it) ... and since then, i've ordered it at least twice.

about : "our desire is to create a contemporary-yet-authentic indian restaurant ... from the tableware to the indian artifacts that surround you, we want you to experience both a culinary & cultural passage to india." sign me up!

here's what i had ...

vegan stuff! :
chana masala : chickpeas cooked in a curry sauces w/ onions, tomatoes & indian spices.
dal turka : yellow lentils sautéed w/ onion, garlic, ginger, tomato, indian spices & whole red chilies.
 basmati rice & roti.

okay, it's not my fault that indian food looks so unappetizing in photos. because it's so so so good! this dal turka is especially delicious & the chana masala is pretty spot on, too.

my favorite thing about essence of india really is that their menu labels which vegetarian dishes are vegan (!) ... they also denote that's gluten-free & what's not. really, very nice of them! check 'em out.

essence of india
4601 n. lincoln avenue
chicago, il 60625

18 January 2015

guest post #2 : lessons learned.

more from our friend, vikki otero...

If you read my post last week, you know all about me and what I’m trying to do. But there’s more to this assignment… Part of this project involves me offering advice to others who might choose to do this kind of outreach.

My first and most important suggestion is this: be more aggressive. I should have followed up more quickly and more frequently rather than once or twice with weeks between contacts. I need to make sure they know who I am, and I won’t let them ignore me. It’s necessary to be polite, of course, but there’s nothing wrong with making a phone call every single day.

I am also preparing a small information card for Mercy For Animals with lists of vegan protein sources, vegan substitutions, and other quick tips on how a restaurant can quickly become vegan-friendly and why it might choose to do so. I figure that leaving this at restaurants along with my contact information might pique an owner’s interest a little bit more than a cryptic phone call or e-mail from some unknown yahoo did.

this way, restaurants will KNOW how to go from this:
plain potatoes & sub-par guac.

and this:
dry toast.

to THIS:
a delicious tofu scramble. 

Since the holidays have now passed… What started as a school project is now no longer for credit, but just a labor of love. I intend to implement the above two suggestions in phase two, and undoubtedly I will learn some more about how to make this work more effectively. I really believe there is something to this; it’s so easy and so awesome to be vegan-friendly that it has to just be a matter of finding the best way to communicate it to restaurateurs. I’ll keep working on it.

coming next week … three different restaurants, three different reasons for becoming vegan-friendly. see you then!

14 January 2015

maoz vegetarian.

i don't normally do these kinds of restaurants (aka, fast food joints) ... but it's a new year. and we've all already broken all our new year's resolutions to be healthy, so why not??

maoz vegetarian might as well be called maoz vegan, as the majority of their offerings are vegan & ... more importantly, are labeled as such! you know nothing makes me happier.

i first became aware of maoz when i studied abroad in madrid. there were a few locations (sadly, all of which are now closed) scattered throughout the city. although i never went, every time i passed by one, i would ask myself why i wasn't stopping. (to be honest, it's because there was an amazing kebab place under my apartment that had the best freaking falafel, so i didn't need to try anywhere else. sadly, it's now closed, as well. damnit, madrid.)

anyway, i digress. some details about maoz : "maoz vegetarian is a fast service restaurant serving authentic falafel & freshly made vegetarian food. when it comes to falafel, we are world experts." welp, i'm sold.

here's what i had :

falafel sandwich w/ hummus :
side of babaganoush, side of fries, ketchup (obvi) & tahini.

guys, this was damn good. like real damn good ... the best falafel sandwich & fries i've had in a long time. besides the fact that it was generally delicious, you also get to pick out all different kinds of toppings & sauces for your sammie (or sallie -- salad). it's an interactive experience! 

here's the catch, if you will. maoz vegetarian is only located in one place in the chicagoland area ... and that one place is the fashion outlets of chicago. for me, this isn't a problem. i have a car & i like to shop ... so it's a win win. but for other peeps, i can see you wondering why i'm telling you to go to a food court in rosemont. but whatever. if you're out there, stop by. it's good!

maoz vegetarian
5220 fashion outlet way
rosemont, il 60018

11 January 2015

guest post #1 : trying to spread the vegan word.

a couple of weeks ago, vikki otero (fellow vegan & chicagoan, woo!) reached out to me about doing a few guest blog posts for a school assignment.

of course, i said yes … and off she went to start writing! we’ve got a few installments of vikki’s posts coming up … one per week for the next five weeks (holla!).

i’m sure she’d appreciate feedback (as would i!), so feel free to let us know what you think! enjoy!!

one activist's attempts...

I admit it: I thought my idea was so great that I just had to suggest it and my targets would fall over with glee, slapping their heads at how obviously extraordinary my suggestion was...  

I’d had the idea to be a vegan consultant about a year ago. The plan was to approach restaurants with an offer to, for a small fee, review their menus and inform them of good vegan dishes they could make with what they already had, and suggest a few changes they could make in order to service vegans even more effectively. Of course, this would be sold to restaurants as something they could and should do to expand their market, not as something they should do because of the ethical issues involved. Being in law school at the moment, I haven’t had a lot of time to actually contact anyone, though I had handed out my card once or twice to people in the industry, usually after several drinks.

This semester, I took a class regarding movements and change. One of the requirements of the class was to work with an organization or organizations, legal or non-legal, engaged in some kind of movement toward social change. In addition to one project I did with an organization working to provide earlier counsel to arrestees, I worked with a vegan organization called Mercy For Animals, who, it turns out, has a restaurant outreach effort. I was very excited to finally start doing some of the work I’d been hoping to do, and in furtherance of course credit to boot!

mercy for animals :

And here is where my misapprehension regarding the enthusiasm of my restaurant targets came into play. I really had thought that all I had to do was basically say, “Hey, you should have more vegan stuff! And I can help you!” and restaurant owners or managers would fall at my feet to accept the opportunity. By now surely you’ve figured out that that was not the case.

I’d decided to reach out primarily to breakfast and brunch places in the Lincoln Park area, since that’s where I live, and my partner and I have found that the options for vegan breakfast and brunch in the area are somewhat limited. 

(this is a vegan donut from fritz pastry in lincoln park ... the perfect example of a place that does cater to both vegan & non-vegan folk.)

I targeted places where I could cobble something together from the menu in a pinch, but where the addition of, say, tofu would transform their menu from something that I can make work as a vegan to something I would look forward to as a vegan. Moreover, I wanted to help restaurants understand that with a few simple tweaks, they could become someplace that I would actively take my friends, because I felt that it was a place that included me and cared about satisfying me.

I walked into one place, called two places, and electronically contacted three more places (since I still intend to try to work with these places, I won’t mention them so that there’s no appearance of throwing them under the bus).

I haven’t given up hope that outreach like this can be effective...

stand by for more in the coming weeks!!