Tag Archives: chicago

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.

Vegan Chicago – Puffs of Doom and a Trip to Green Zebra

On May 10th my family and I threw a beautiful bridal shower my one and only sister. When we were planning the food the one thing I was sure of was to have Puffs of Doom which are the most amazing vegan cream puffs ever. Really, if you are ever in Chicago go out of your way to find these, they are so light and delicious it doesn’t even seem possible. The ones pictured about were strawberry basil but the strawberry champagne ones were incredible too. Here’s another whole post about my Puffs of Doom obsession.

The shower was champagne themed and I was really excited about the favors that we made.

The next day was my birthday and my family took me out to the Green Zebra, an elegant vegetarian restaurant in Chicago that I have been dying to go to for years. They really focus on seasonal vegetables and when I first saw the menu I was a little disappointed. All the hearty protein heavy options had eggs or cheese and they don’t substitute tofu or anything for vegans, they just remove the cheese or eggs. In reality, it turned out to be a non issue and I was very well-fed. Even though the restaurant is small plates style the portions were ample and I ordered more than enough food.  I started with the “Chilled Somen Noodles, Hawaiian heart of palm, edamame, shiso, ginger-soy” which also had an avocado mouse. 

It actually reminded me quite a bit of soba noodle dish with seaweed and sesame oil that I make often at home. Obviously, it was a bit more refined and everyone at the table loved.

Next I had the  “Acorn Squash Potstickers, soy caramel, carrot sesame purée, shaved radish

I was a little less wiling to share these with anybody because they were amazing. The potsticker wrappers were more like fried raviloi than typical potstickers and just delightful. The squash inside kind of exploded with flavor when you bit into it and the caramelized soy was just delicious.

Next I had the “Salt Roasted Yukon Potato Hash, jalapeño relish, fried egg, pistachio chimichurri ” with no egg.

Although I loved the potatoes and the fresh green and chimichurri I did feel like this dish was lacking without a replacement for the creamy egg which would have balanced the salty potatoes. It ended up tasting like a damn good breakfast side.

We also tried the maitake mushroom dish that had lots of orange citrus and fresh scallions. They were delightful and perfectly prepared.

Finally, since it was my birthday, we shared the “Malted Banana Ice Cream, banana bread, salted caramel, macadamia nut tuile” for dessert. 

I loved the crispy wafers, what can I saw I’m a total wafer girl. The banana ice cream was so rich and banana-y I was wondering if it was just frozen bananas processed with a bit of cream. The whole thing was delicious.

I’m thrilled that I finally got to try the Green Zebra and would highly recommend it even if the vegan selections are a wee bit lacking for an all veg restaurant. Everything that I had was very well prepared, they had a great wine list, and it’s right down the street from my brother-in-law’s awesome wine store The Noble Grape. I’ll be back in Chicago for more wedding this summer and I am excited to go back to the Chicago Diner and other favorites next time.

Drove to Chicago…

The dogs love summering in Illinois and now that I have a functional vehicle we decided it was high time they get a vacation away from their hard life of snoozing and standing at open doors deciding if they want to go in our out.

After the long car ride filled beagle antics we finally got to the city late and went to Handlebar for some nachos and fried pickles to share and I got the buffalo po’boy.

I think the garlic mashed potatoes were my favorite part, The next day after discussing where to brunch FOREVER I finally said the words “Chicago Diner” enough times to make it happen. Once I got there I was a like a vegan at the Chicago Diner and my sister kept telling me to calm down. We went to the new location in Logan Square and I was thrilled by the new digs, plus it was easy to get to and no wait!

The first thing I did was order a shamrock shake because HEAVEN!

Then I tried to decide if we needed poutine and wings. I am glad we got both cause they were so freaking good. The wings at the Chicago Diner are the best I’ve ever had, everyone loved them.

It was my first time trying poutine and I was so excited that I just took a blurry picture that I will only link too and dug right in. Your imagination will be enough anyway, french fries, cheese sauce, gravy, and bacon will either sound disgustingly awful or disgustingly awesome depending on where you fall on the spectrum but I loved it! When I found out a food truck in Austin called Potato.A just just opened I even wrote them and asked for a vegan version so we can have it all the time. It turns out they are super nice and are going to look into it! Poutine for everyone! I think I had a chicken sandwich too but I couldn’t eat more than a bite at that point before wrapping it up to taking it home. We went shopping on Milwaukee and I picked up some new galaxy leggings only to find out that my Star Trek wine had simultaneously arrived to match my outfit!

The next day I was so tired that the most I could do was Native Foods takeout. Lucky for us Lana lives just a couple blocks away so I got the soul bowl again. It’s totally become my go to after partying too hard in Chicago. It’s the perfect take out! Rice and beans, lots of veggies, and ranch, barbecue, and chicken skewers to make the whole thing exciting.

The next morning we went out to Hash Chicago and I asked for the Humboldt veganized-  hashbrowns, hominy, black beans, soyrizo, salsa, fried plantains, and avocado. I have to make this combo into a tofu scramble at home because it was great. I love hominy and I think I only ever use it in posole.

Later that day we had the thrill of taking the dogs to Dog Beach! I had been telling them about it for ages but they are dogs so they didn’t know what I was talking about. It took forever  for us to find parking but when we did and Dinger got on that sand and started running my heart melted. He loved it!

He ran right up to the water to get a drink and then the wave came at him and he JUMPED BACK. He was not happy about that at all it was so funny.

Dog beach is pretty much the most hilarious place on earth. I think it’s the most dogs I have ever seen at one place and they are all having a blast. Unfortunately so many people were enjoying food on the beach that there was no way I could let the beagles off leash even though it is fenced off. If there is a scrap of food my dogs will find it, even if they have to go through your bags to get it.

On our last morning in the city I walked down with Dan to get coffee at Wormhole– where he had gotten coffee every single day- and snapped the requisite smurf & succulent instagram which then someone later informed me on that Wormhole has vegan doughnuts! I didn’t know, they aren’t labeled!!!! What a complete and total nightmare, to have doughnuts that close and not even know, it kills me.

I stopped at Native Foods one last time before hitting the skyway to Indiana and tried the Indo Bowl, I really liked the seasoned tempeh, fresh vegetables, peanuts and rice noodles. I wish Native Foods were along every interstate in the country.

Dinger and I stopped to visit my Dad and we took a little trip to the Indiana Sand Dunes where Dinger was no longer impressed by the beach- been there done that. My Dad showed off by climbing on the lifeguard chair.

They took us to a cute restaurant in Valparaiso, Meditrina Market Cafe where I got a really nice Mediterranean pita pizza.

I learned that Valpariaso is also the home of Orville Redenbacher 

Dinger and I drove to Merrillville to visit more family and then down to Springfield to reunite with Willow and Dan and stop at our favorite Thai Restaurant.

The next day we were off again headed west.

In a couple of weeks I’m flying back to California so if it’s quiet around here that’s why. I really want to bring Dinger on the plane, I hope I can figure out how to make it happen!

Summer Vacation: a stop in Chicago

After a week in the Pacific Northwest I arrived in Chicago and was directly whisked away to Mexican food and then the beach by my sister.

It has been literally days since I had Mexican food and I was starting to feel a minor urge to freak the hell out from being on the plane all day. I expressed to Lana that all I wanted was something vegan friendly where I could get a margarita. When we walked up to El Nuevo Mexicano I knew we made the right choice.

Wouldn’t it be nice if that vegetarian friendly sign became ubiquitous? It sure would make me stop walking down the street. The menu had quite a few well marked vegan options so it was tough to narrow down. I really wanted something kind of healthy… and then read the insane description of the chimichangas and I had to get them. These were decribed as “Flour Tortillas stuffed with Upton’s chorizo, mango, plantain banana, red & yellow peppers, onions, almonds & raisins. Flash Fried. Chipotle Peach salsa, spring mix salad with mango & jicama. Yams roasted with agave nectar, dusted with chile powder”. In other words they had a lot of sweet stuff going on with all those tropical fruits but I am a lover of the tropics and the sweet and savory combo. I enjoyed them quite a bit even though a bit sweet even for me. On it’s own I liked the peach salsa but I think a nice verde would have worked better. They were fried perfectly and were nice and crisp without being a bit greasy. My agave sweetened margarita was fantastic.

The next day we were meeting my dad for lunch down in the loop. I was excited to pick out a place but since my family did not want to go to the all vegan Native Foods I had a tough time finding a spot that sounded interesting. And my phone wasn’t working which for someone like me is basically being exposed to kryptonite. How did I ever get by without a smartphone? Was I just blindly walking down streets asking directions and restaurant reviews? We tried a couple of Thai places that were closed because it was late in the day and finally settled on The French Market which is both a green market and an international themed food court nestled underground. It was the perfect spot to get away from the heat and the speedy well dressed office workers all around.

They even had a raw vegan place. Instead I chose the bahn mi from the Saigon Sisters and some delicious dumplings from Bowl Square. 

The baguette was crisp and delicious and I got to catch up with my Dad who has finally moved out of New York City and back to Chicagoland. Both of my parents are undergoing some big moves; my Mom is moving to California in August after spending my entire life in central Illinois. So it was also my last trip down to Springfield to gather up all of my childhood things that have been in boxes for the last 15 years. I couldn’t believe how much Star Trek gear I had/have, including 5,000 next generation trading cards. Dan was thrilled that I brought home such CD’s as Color Me Badd’s single of “I wanna sex you up”. That’s right, the single! It has six different versions! I also started going through a million photos, here is my on the playground showing some serious attitude.

Are you impressed by how my shorts match the panda’s hat? You should be!

We also spent a lot of time in my mom’s pool, and that my dear reader, is what I will miss the most of all.


Native Foods, Chicago Diner, and a trip to Greektown

In Austin there isn’t really a first day of Spring. You just start to notice fewer days of winter. Then the pink trees come out and the masses move in for SXSW and it is just one big party. I kind of miss that first excitement though, like in the Northwest when it finally stops raining and everyone kind of looks up for the first time in months. In Chicago, the first day that you don’t really have to wear a coat anymore is the happiest day ever. Everyone starts wearing their brightest colors and every dog in the city is panting from their first long walk of the year. I was so excited that this year I got to experience it since they happened to have the first nice day while I was visiting. I even got to ride a bike on the lake trail which was super exciting because I haven’t been able to walk since last June without assistance and being on a bike made me feel so active. 

I loved all the shiny happy people and listening to Sufjan Stevens rock out on my headphones.

They opened up a Native Foods in Wicker Park a few months ago two blocks from my sister’s place which is so freaking convenient. You can even order on the internet and they have it waiting for you! I wish we’d get one here. I love that you can get relatively healthy bowls (I loved the Gahndi bowl with blackened tempeh, vegetables and curry sauce but not as much as the soul bowl I had last time), salads, or the incredibly decadent Oklahoma bacon cheeseburger.

The fried pickles were totally awesome but it still didn’t match the tastieness of the fast food-style bacon cheesburger from Arlo’s in Austin. The Ensalada Azteca which was surprisingly not fresh tasting though it was the dead of winter, at least theoretically. 

Since it was near St. Patrick’s day I kept seeing giant billboards for the Shamrock shake which made me really nostalgic, until I went to the Chicago Diner and got the vegan version! It was a million times better and went perfectly with my monte cristo sandwich. 

I have the hardest time ordering there! Every single thing I try is a new favorite.

Another night we went to Athena in Greektown to celebrate my friend’s upcoming wedding and I was surprised that there were so many vegan options on the menu. Our waiter was named Socrates. It would have worked a lot better if I had ordered a combination plate but I really wanted to try the gigante beans. 

They were, in fact, enormous. My friend’s dad really wanted me to put a quarter on the plate for reference and I wish I would have so you could see! They were really good, flavored with lots of oregano and tomatoes,  but I felt pretty silly just eating beans.

While visiting my uncle I took the required shots of slivovitz. Then I had to take a picture, I just love this character on the bottle, I don’t know if it is because the mustache that make him look so shady or that those plums are so so large they resemble maracas but it is definitely better than the homemade stuff in back. 

Back home now and the countdown begins to Texas Veg Fest!

Milwaukee -it’s pronounced “mill-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for “the good land.”

I am just back from a whirlwind trip through the midwest where the weather was in the cool 80s and I got to see some of my most favorite people, band, and restaurants. I was in Chicago very breifly on the way to Alpine Valley but had enough time to stop for some Costa Rican breakfast at Irazu. I had to go with the gallo pinto and fried plantains because it is a meal you just cannot get in Austin Texas unless you make it yourself. The guacamole was a huge portion and almost luxurious with its creaminess and the chips were homeade. The gallo pinto was a little dry but still filled me with happiness and fiber. The best thing about Irazu on a sunny day is that it almost feels like you are in Costa Rica   After my tasty food I parted ways with my special lady in the purple skirt.and was reunited with the mustache baby
and my sister and friends and we headed for the borderwhere we were quickly inundated with Cheese shops. We soon stopped at the Brat Stop. I bought olives (not pictured) for the road. At the counter the guy said “are you sure you don’t want a brat” I think he was worried.We headed to the show This guy pictured above is my good friend Ryan who I found on Craigslist years ago and I luckily end up on a lot of trips with. Just a few weeks ago I turned him onto the tofu scramble at Bouldin Creek; always and egg hater he was so stoked to learn about this vegan alternative that he is now willing to go to any vegetarian place I can look up! Hooray! There is nothing better than having support for these kinds of missions since usually people just want to eat at whatever is the most convenient, especially when you have a big crew. I talked the group into the Comet Cafe which almost everyone really liked. My sister was sold IMMEDIATLY by the fact that they had awesome bloody mary’s which is the only thing she really cares about when it comes to breakfast. And they come with the cutest Milwaukee High Life chasers in the world. And pickled brussels sprouts!I loved the Comet Cafe, they have a vegan scramble topped with gravy with a side of hashbrowns.I think hashbrowns must be a northern thing because here in Austin homefries are more ubiquitos but god I love hashbrowns. And gravy on a scramble was such a great idea even though mine sat a little to long. I loved the whole thing and could eat it every day. In fact, I loved Milwaukee over all! It is like a Chicago junior or maybe even an alternative Chicago.  I wish I had time to try more places. We went to the little convenience store across the street and they had an old Atari all set upWe didn’t have time for Atari because Team Mustache Baby 2.0 is faster and more streamlined than ever before and we had another show to get to.Good times were had!

A quick trip back to Chicago where I convinced my sister to stop at the Chicago Diner even though it meant that we had to leave the city during rush hour was made and totally worth it. I had my first beer floatI kind wish I never had one though because now it is all I can think about and believe you me beer floats are the LAST thing that I need added to my diet- creamy and delicious plus fattening and alcoholic. I had a Avocadonnaise Cheezeburger with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy because gravy is key and I was on vacation… it was fabulous. Best veggie burger that I can remember having! I loved the luscious avocado mayonnaise and the burger with visible and tasteable vegetables. Sure tastable isn’t really a word but it should be! God I wish we had a Chicago Diner here in Austin!

My sister had the ReubenShe liked it but said it didn’t compare to Le Voyer in Olympia, I thought it looked great (marble rye!) but I am not a sauerkraut fan so Reubens are not for me.

After that I went down to Central Illinois and ate a lot of sweet corn and tomatoes but didn’t take any pictures because Springfield turns me into the world’s laziest person sitting at my mom’s house watching Star Trek and drinking wine. It was the much needed relaxation portion of the trip, I headed to Indiana to see my family and on the way back to the airport I passed Jedi’s GardenI must go there next trip! I miss the midwest already! I won’t be missing it in the winter though.

Vegan Drinks is tonight at Counter Culture, it is going to be a wine and cheeze party BYOW! Also there is the full moon tonight so full moon yoga and full moon party at Barton Springs are all happening at once! Too bad it is five thousand degrees!

The Polaco Taco

This recipe was an experiment that didn’t turn out perfect but I am going to try and develop a better Kielbasa. The texture was really great, lately I have been using lentils in the sausages and I think they work better than beans. I read about the Polaco taco right before super bowl Sunday and I became obsessed with the idea since I love non-traditional tacos.  I am not a big sauerkraut fan though so I thought I would go in a more traditional Polish route and make a surowka of shredded carrots, apples, and lemon. The salad was really delicious once I added some sugar but the fat sausage was a little overwhelming and had too much caraway, even though I used just a half a teaspoon. I will continue to work on it though so we can have polaco tacos in time for baseball season or basketball season or whatever else you Chicago sports fan are so into.