Monthly Archives: June 2014

Chicago-grams: The Summer of Seitan

I’m pretty sure Chicago has the most meaty vegan food of any town in the Union. I love it. This time I was back for my sister’s wedding reception. In between getting ready for the Skup Svatova (our Serbian bridal pre-party) and catching up with tons of family I still managed to squeeze in tons of tasty vegan food. I started the trip on a rough note, there were storms at O’hare and my plane was 16 hours late getting there. After spending 8 hours on the plane I thought it couldn’t get worse, until I saw all the folks passed out and set up like a refugee camp in the terminal at 4 am. I’ve been there before. I was so happy I was able to sleep in a bed.

The next day I woke up starved and headed straight for Native Foods because my sister had told me that they had a muffalata on special. As a life-long olive fanatic the muffalata has long been my favorite sandwich and I was sad they didn’t have any vegan versions in New Orleans! It was great but probably not quite as good as the one you can get here in Austin at Unity Vegan Kitchen. The best part was when the waiter asked if I wanted ranch dressing for my fries, I used to love that and it was so nice to just say yes since Native Foods is 100% vegan. Their Italian seitan was delicious and thinly sliced, I think it just didn’t have the sheer number of olives that I require.

Later that night I had another Italian sandwich at Santullo’s that was really good too! Wicker Park has gotten ridiculously vegan friendly in the last 5 years or so. It’s such a big difference from when it was just Sultan’s Market, now you can eat just about anywhere and have several awesome vegan choices. When my friends Sandra and Adrian got in the next day Sandra wanted to go directly to Handlebar and so we did. I got the Pepita Tofu Scramble which had fried onions on top and actual green vegetables. I also had a beermosa!

The best part about this trip to Handlebar was that they had tons of amazing Star Trek Art up on the walls.

Later we went down to the Wormhole for coffee. I was sad that I missed the vegan doughnuts again but happy to show Adrian all their 80s memorabilia. 

For a wedding present, Sandra, Adrian, and I decided to make cupcakes for the reception. I don’t think I’ve ever even double batched cupcakes and this time I made 141! We made Golden Vanilla with a fresh blueberry topping and Pineapple Right-side Up Cupcakes, both from Vegan Cupcakes take over the World. They were a hit!

After a long night of baking I was so pleased that there were ton’s of places still open to eat. We set out for Dimo’s pizza since I read they had a vegan option. I had no idea though, that their vegan options were going to be so over the top! When I asked what slices were available and they told me BBQ chicken, Philly Cheesesteak, and several others I couldn’t believe it! Chicago is amazing! My BBQ pizza even had french fries on it!

We ended up getting a hotel in Greektown and I was surprised to find that Karen’s on Green was right around the corner. The next afternoon we headed there for brunch and I was pretty excited to order Belgian Waffle sliders that had tofu eggs, seitan bacon, and almond cheese. I wanted the waffle to be a little crispier and the home fries were too oily but other than that it was a great sandwich. Their tofu egg is amazing, it’s not at all like a scramble. I wonder how they make it.

The reception was crazy fun. We danced all night and Sandra learned how to do the traditional Serbian Kolo dance. I was up way too late and so hungry by the time we got to my all-time favorite restaurant, the Chicago Diner, for brunch. When I saw they had chicken and waffles on the menu, served with peaches, I couldn’t resist! In fact, I don’t think I considered resisting. It was so freaking fantastic. I did wonder if I could also have a milkshake and decided against it.

After that I don’t think I needed to eat again the rest of the day but I grabbed a Upton’s Sandwich at the Go Grocer for the trip home. The Leftover wasn’t as good as the Aurora but I was sure glad I had it! I wish some of our awesome Austin places would stock the grocery stores with sandwiches, mac & cheese, and BBQ like they do in Chicago. It’s so nice when you are in hurry.

I’ll be back up there next month for my cousin’s wedding so I think by the end of the summer I’ll get to try every single Upton’s sandwich. Maybe I’ll even make it to the breakroom, I have to try the Elvis which has Bacon Seitan with sunbutter and grilled banana on multigrain bread.

New vegan menu options at the Alamo Village!

The other day I was considering moving to a different part of the country. Obviously, there are so many horrible parts to moving. Like, I can’t imagine leaving my friends and family here, or selling my house. I started thinking about what I would miss the most about Austin itself like the shiny happy people and the anything goes anywhere dress code. But there are three things I just can’t even imagine how I would even live without. Tacos, Barton Springs, and the Alamo Drafthouse.

My partner and I are big movie/TV nerds since childhood and since our first days back at the original Alamo on 4th and Colorado the Alamo movie theater has been our favorite place. For Christmas we get Alamo giftcards and that’s where we go for birthdays and when we have friends in from out of town. I’ve gone from my first Mister Sinus theater experience of the Lost Boys, to wandering around the park between the four video screens for each of the four tracks of the Flaming Lips Zaireeka, to drinking Romulan Ale at the Star Trek premiere, every SXSW, Karaoke at the Highball, and seeing Leprechaun with Doug Benson every St. Patricks’s Day. I even got to see my friend chase James Franco down the alley behind the Alamo Ritz yelling “Mr. Franco”. It’s always just been a place that seemed meant for me.

Except for one gigantic problem.

While everyone around me is chowing down on movie themed specials and five dollar milkshakes I’m stuck with either the hummus plate, the veggie burger, the cheese-less pizza, the salad without half the stuff, or the plain popcorn. AKA the most boring vegan food in the world. Over the years they have added better vegan items like the Kick-Ass Tofu sandwich and the spaghetti squash pomodoro and then taken them away. The things is, when I go to the movie theater to laugh and drink beer I usually don’t want a meal. I want bar food. Snacks that go with beer. Things that are tasty and deep fried. Or if I’m having coffee and have already eaten I want something sweet. I look at their ice cream list every time, longingly, hoping that something has changed but alas, these snacks never come. Since the day I got twitter I feel like I’ve been harassing the Alamo to come up with something better for us. Once I even came up with a veganized menu that would be at my dream Alamo. It’s an obsession that I had pretty much given up on.

And then, last week, out of the aether I got the message I’ve been waiting for. “We heard you” and want “to extend an invitation to our first ever vegetarian and vegan food tasting and new menu reveal.”

It turns out that one of the kitchen workers at the Village is vegan and rode in the MS150 with Alamo owner Tim League. After a long and difficult training ride their team was scarfing up pizza and he couldn’t participate so Tim decided then and there to come up with some menu items! Finally! The best part, as a vegan blogger, is knowing there is a vegan at the kitchen and I can be certain that the bread and the tortillas are vegan without harassing the staff. And they have a little v for vegan on the menu. I couldn’t be happier. Well…unless they had deep fried olives and Sweet Ritual parfaits.

When I got to the Alamo Village last night there were already a million people there waiting to taste the food. That’s a good sign! We grabbed the four different items and found a seat. 

I think I started with the “Cherry Tomato & Avocado Bruscetta” served with basil, lemon vinaigrette, crostini, and a balsamic reduction.

I loved this dish, it’s like what I eat all summer when tomatoes are in season. The creamy avocado was a big yes for me. When they serve it at the theater you will get a big bowl of the topping and then slices of crostini. I love this idea and I am glad they are executing it so well.

I couldn’t believe the main dish was tacos, or in other words: my favorite food.

Even though they were called “Spiced Tofu Tacos” I was surprised by how spicy they were, definitely the spiciest tofu in town. The spice was balanced a bit with the avocado and I loved that the extra crunch was with fried tortilla strips instead of something like lettuce (I hate shredded lettuce) but I felt like these could have used another vegetable like baked squash or potatoes. They were a little understuffed but when you order them you get three. I wish there was a corn tortilla option because their flour one was just so-so. I really liked them regardless and I’m so happy to have a taco for when I’m there at breakfast!!!

Next I tried the Samosas that were served with a peach and mint chutney. Now, I’ve never met a samosa I didn’t like and this one was no exception.

They were pretty good sized and chock-full of filling. The crust was both soft and crunchy, just how it should be. I really liked the chutney too although I usually prefer some sort of tamarind sauce. You get three of these in an order and they are seven bucks so I can see myself getting these quite a bit and I’m sure they will go over especially well with the omni crowd.

Finally, I begrudgengly tried the Oatmeal Cherry Cookie, it didn’t look or sound like something I would like but hot damn, that was a great cookie! It was warm and soft with perfect texture and flavor. It might have been our favorite! That or the Bruschetta. The only thing about the cookies that they could improve is adding some ice cream.

And Jesus Christ get some nooch for the popcorn so I don’t have to sneak my own in. Where are we, North Dakota?

The new menu is available at the Alamo Village only right now, I beseech you to head over there and support it so that it spreads to the other locations. I think now I’ll finally be able to see Chef since I’ll have something to snack on during an entire movie about food.

PS. I’ve never beseeched anyone before and it was really fun. I’m going to start saying it all the time.

 

A review of A-OK Chinese

I hate writing bad reviews. I try to give a new place every chance. I don’t check out a restaurant until it’s been open a couple weeks (unless I just can’t help myself!) and then I try to go a couple of times with different people both vegan and omnivore. Even then in my review I always try and focus on the positive because I know not everyone likes the same kind of food and running a restaurant can be a real struggle. I was a waitress for many years and I know restaurants have bad days. But I can’t recommend A-OK Chinese at all, and judging from their yelp reviews I don’t think they will stay open that long unless they really retool their food.

At first I was really, really excited to have a Chinese restaurant in South Austin that focused on fresh local food, had craft beer, and was right between work and home, my favorite place for any new restaurant in Austin! When they told me that most of the dishes (with the exception of the Broccoli and Garlic) would be vegan if ordered with tofu I was sure it would become a go-to favorite. Currently, the only really vegan friendly Chinese that I eat at with any regularity in South Austin is Hao Hao which hits the spot for cornstarch heavy American Chinese food but isn’t a place I would recommend for a great meal but hey, they deliver. I thought A-OK would be the opposite with fresh Asian vegetables, light sauces, and then thick crusty tofu like you get at the best Chinese restaurants. Alas it wasn’t to be.

First, the interior is really cute, although it’s the fast-casual style where you wouldn’t want to linger. They have really nice decorative touches like stacked up cans from China and a giant photo from Nixon’s trip to China. You wait in line and order from the register. Or, in my case you order, then the cashier takes off to help someone else. Then you try and order again, and she stops you to give a to-go order to someone that just came in. Then you try to order a third time and she says “what” and you order again and then she repeats the order back to you all wrong. That it took four times for me to place my extremely simple order when it wasn’t busy at all (there was maybe three tables, no one behind me, and another cashier) was a bit dispiriting. If I was George Costanza I would have been sure she hated me.

Sesame Tofu looks better than it tasted.

I ordered the Sesame Tofu and it quickly came out. It looked pretty good, but it was utterly tasteless. After a couple of bites I got up and grabbed every condiment they offer in an attempt to make it tasty but the food really couldn’t be saved. The rice was mushy. The tofu was completely bland, dried out, and pointless. I didn’t notice any spices, just an abundance of carrots which doesn’t work in this dish at all. Then when researching this post and looking at the menu again I see that on the menu online it’s titled Honey Sesame. So it’s not even vegan. URGH.

at least they knew to serve a hefeweizen with an orange

On another trip a few weeks later I tried the Orange Sweet & Sour which is usually my favorite dish and it was even worse than the Sesame, the orange sauce was just like straight up orange juice except it was also really bitter. I couldn’t finish my meal and saved the leftovers and then I couldn’t bring myself to eat those. Dan ordered the Kung Pao and was really disappointed too, he said it wasn’t spicy at all even though the menu would have you believe it’s very spicy.  I really don’t know what is going on at this restaurant. All four of my different dining companions were just as unsatisfied as me. Oh and the worst part was that it was considerably more expensive than your standard Chinese restaurant. I spent 20 dollars for a bowl the bowl above plus a beer and tip. Yikes! I’ll be sticking to Hao Hao for now. A-OK? No way.