Thursday, October 12, 2017

Taste of Thai - make that Taste of Tofu

Pad Thai.  It’s a passion of mine.  I’ve eaten it across the country during road trips, sought out favorite nooks in my home town of Chicago, actually purchased a box of it in the frozen food section (not recommended) and thought about attempting to create it myself, then went out to a restaurant instead.

And so it was that I found myself in Fayetteville’s Taste of Thai on East Central Street.

The room was decorated as you might expect - lots of red and gold, mirrors and elephants and tiny twinkle lights.  My server, Molly, reviewed the menu with me, which was extensive even for vegans. Many entrees and appetizers are already vegan, and those that aren’t can be easily adapted by the removal of eggs or the substitution of tofu.

Tofu.

This much maligned bean curd (think block cottage cheese) carries on despite rude jokes and barbs on the part of those who flirt with obesity and high blood pressure.  It’s actually quite a chameleon, adding heft and texture to everything from fruit smoothies to the Pad Thai I was about to order.


My luncheon came with Vegetable Soup. Maggie assured me the broth was fully veggie, so I enjoyed this little bowl of warmth before my entree arrived.  Diced celery, zucchini, cabbage and carrots swam around – yes, tofu.  The owners of Taste of Thai are at work in the kitchen, which means each order is handled with care and pride.  Special requests such as adding tofu or leaving out eggs are accommodated cheerfully.



The complimentary Summer Rolls which arrived at my table had little blocks of tofu among the bean sprouts, lettuce and carrots, all skillfully bundled in translucent rice paper.   The rolls were perfectly complimented by a sweet dipping sauce with crumbled peanuts.


Having swirled in my soup and nestled in my summer rolls, tofu then appeared in my Pod Thai.  This time it was a firm, fried version which took on the curry and the chili flavors amid the green onions, broccoli and the shredded red cabbage. It made a scrumptious lunch with plenty to take home for delicious left overs.


There are dozens of other dishes I’d like to try for several “next times” – garlic pepper, red and yellow curry, and even creative titles such as Evil Jungle Prince and Drunken Noodles.  There’s pages of dishes to explore!  Vegan Heaven.



Monday, October 2, 2017

Mangia at The Olive Garden

I’ve come to almost the year mark in this blog, and have yet to do Italian.  Amazing.  So, it’s time for a little Tuscan comfort food, and where do I end up?  Well…..

While I usually prefer to give my restaurant business to the Mom and Pop establishments, there comes a time in every vegan’s eating-out journey when they find themselves at a national chain restaurant.

I chose Olive Garden.  The restaurant itself was clean and atmosphere was good, what with big band American song book music crooning to me, helping me to forget I was surrounded by giant flat-screen TVs (but then, they did seat me in the bar, and one doesn’t want to lose track of the score, right?)

My server, Leah, was as helpful and understanding as a busy waitress at the start of the lunch rush could be, but the ingredients for bread and the ravioli stuffing remained a mystery that only corporate could solve.

Their Minestrone -
Mmm mmm vegan!
There’s not a vegan restaurant chain out there (yet), but I was pleased to discover Olive Garden actually touts a “vegan classic” with their minestrone soup.  I explored the bowl with my little soup spoon and discovered quite a vegetable family among the broth – tomatoes, onions, celery, carrots, green beans, and zucchini, as well as fava and kidney beans and cute little pasta shells.  The bowl also contained enough sodium for a week, but hey, let’s remember, it’s a “vegan classic”, although I’m not sure the concept of veganism has been around long enough to have anything connected with it be considered a classic.

I eschewed the breadsticks but later learned, online, that they too are vegan. 

I decided to try the portabello mushroom ravioli. Ravioli is the perfect example of an item I’ll order in a restaurant because I’m not industrious enough to attempt it from scratch at home alone.  The cream–based sauce that would have normally come with them could be substituted by marinara, and it made a real pretty plate.


I felt a little foolish when I did my research online later that same day, and discovered the ravioli contained both egg and dairy (for heaven’s sake, Diana!).  But I was pleased to find Olive Garden had dietary charts on their website which answered just about any ingredient question I had.  Next time, I’ll do the angel hair or whole grain linguine with the aforementioned marinara sauce, along with all the breadsticks I can eat, and I’ll be back in the vegan community’s good graces.



Monday, August 21, 2017

OPA! Greek cuisine goes vegan at KOSMOS GREEKAFE


A Greek friend of mine in Chicago took me out to dinner every so often.  We’d start with Saganaki – the famous Greek flaming cheese.  The pyrotechnics never failed to thrill me.  We’d both shout “Opa!” – that rallying cry of celebration – and I would almost break into a knee-slapping dance to the balalaika, That crusty, melted cheese was soooooo so good.  But alas, ‘twas not vegan (yet J).



Fast forward to Fayetteville circa 2017.  I stand at the counter of Kosmos Greekafe on north College Avenue, and I discover that Greek cuisine includes vegan options which aren’t set on fire.


I go to restaurants to get something I can’t easily make myself, such as falafel and stuffed grape leaves.

Falafel in a blanket - a savory bargain 


Falafel - patties of ground garbanzo or fava beans mixed with Middle Eastern spices including dill, cumin, and coriander, comes served on a bed of crunchy chilled lettuce for the Falafel Pita.  It's one of the best bangs for the buck on the Kosmos menu.  Traditionally served with tzatziki, a vegan will want to ask to have this yougurt-based dipping sauce left out, but  if you’re doing the to-go route, you can whip up a small dish of tzatziki with vegan mayo and a dash of lemon juice.
 Dolmades
It's a vegan's answer to cocktail weenies

Dolmades - stuffed grape leaves, rolled up like little sausages, are plump with rice and herbs, served cold on a bed of lettuce with the house Greek salad dressing (an olive oil-based vinaigrette) and slices of soft, warm pita bread.


The Portabella Mushroom Salad was a meal for two.  A suggestion for the persistent but diplomatic vegan diner: I didn’t realize this dish came sprinkled with feta cheese. Not wanting to be difficult and trying not to wastefood, I did not send it back.  The feta was a note of authenticity, but I don’t think I will miss the cheese when I order the portabella mushroom salad in future.  The dish is quite salty and that would have saved me some sodium intake.  No worries. I’ll get it right the next time.  The portabella slices, sautéed in olive oil, were meaty and filling - rather like a vegan answer to sardines.

I didn’t have room in my tummy for their vegan side dishes, but for snacks at your next football game – skip the processed meats and plastic cheese slices.  Consider trying pita triangles with a variety of freshly pureed hummus spreads – the roasted red pepper, Kalamata olive, and eggplant varieties meet the vegan requirement.  They’re are buffet treats that are both festive and healthy.

Didn’t have room for a dessert of sopa-petas either - crispy pita chips tossed in cinnamon-sugar.  But if you’re stopping by for a mid-morning or afternoon pick-up, try this treat with a demitasse of Greek coffee.  It might have you dancing and slapping your thigh..... 
OPA!
 

Kosmos Greekafe
2136 North College Avenue, Fayetteville, AR

Thursday, July 27, 2017

VEGAN VERSION OF THE HOUSE BREAD? - Just ask.....

In my lead blog, I mentioned I bend the rule of no dairy in my diet for a sumptuous sour dough that’s sold at the Roger’s Farmers’ Market.  It has that tang of sour dough with the soft, cake-like texture of Hawaiian rolls.

Heather Meis of Meissterbrew Bakery and I had a pleasant exchange over her tempting display, the aroma of fresh buttery bread seducing anyone within 20 yards.

I explained I loved her bread, but would she be able to make a vegan version?  She was most eager to rise to this challenge.  The regular bread has butter, but darned if I miss it.
Dessert for Breakfast


If I want a buttery taste, I spread a bit of Earth Balance on a fresh slice.  There’s also what I call “dessert –for-breakfast”, achieved by topping this bread with a generous dollop of orange marmalade.  But this manna passes the ultimate bread test – you can eat it naked.  (The bread that is, although how you dress for dinner is your business.)

Meissterbrew Farms

749-359-2061
heathermeis@yahoo.com

Monday, July 10, 2017

TJ's SANDWICH SHOP - Quick and Satisfying


Virtually any Sandwich place, from Subway to Jimmy John’s to this delightful find on north College Avenue in Fayetteville has a veggie number you can call lunch or dinner.  The trick is to get them to leave off the mayo and the cheese.  Most places I’ve visited have been very accommodating.

TJ’s gives an added twist in their Garden Guru – it’s hot.  Steam actually rose from inside the sandwich when I placed it open-face for the photo.  Adds a whole new dimension to the “veggie sandwich”.

Jules (but she goes by Julie) takes great pride in her work, having trained under Chef Todd over at the seafood emporium Mermaids. TJ’s was Todd’s brain child, further expanding his culinary contribution to Fayetteville.

The décor is ‘50s retro, with red plastic pedestal seating and lots of aluminum furniture – clean and sparkling and just ready for me to sit down and enjoy my meal.  So I get my warm bundle of foil over to a cozy table and unfurl a sandwich that can stack up to any deli creation in New York’s lower east side.

The Garden Guru - it'll warm your tummy and your heart
The roasted red and yellow bell peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms and – wait for it – artichoke hearts have been sautéed in extra virgin olive oil, and topped with a sun dried tomato black olive relish that pulls it all together.  This casserole for the soul is served on a crispy fresh Vie de France hoagie – but it’s one I could get my mouth around, unlike some insurmountable loaves that have arrived on my plate over the years, threatening to give me lock jaw.

Not much else on the menu comes in under the vegan flag, as the pre-made pasta salad already has feta cheese in the mix, and there’s cream and butter lurking in the tomato bisque, but hey, there’s always Lays potato chips and a big cup of sweet tea.  So if you find yourself out at TJ’s with friends who are ordering turkey and ham and roast beef, no need to feel like the poor relation.  The Garden Guru is sandwich royalty.

P.S. Sandwiches are half price on Wednesday!



Monday, July 3, 2017

A VEGAN CHUCK WAGON – NOT AN OXYMORON


I pass a chuck wagon every day on my way out of town. Bacon and eggs, biscuits and gravy, nothing for me, right?  Wrong.  How I dreamed of the day I’d see the “V” word on their menu chalkboard, and then it happened.  Jackfruit tacos.  Time to do a U turn and go back and be sure I didn’t read incorrectly while travelling at 30 miles an hour.

The Green Goat, found at the corner of Martin Luther King and Wood Streets in southern Fayetteville, offers Cuban-Florida cuisine with a nod toward Ozark cooking.  Owner Erin Walsh brings innovation to the menu, with the vegan tacos being a good example.

Jack fruit is a giant relative of the fig family.  It yields a starchy, fibrous pulp which carries a subtle sweet flavor which tends to blend well with sauces and spices, much like tofu.  Put a little BBQ sauce on it and you’ve got a vegan’s answer to pulled pork.  These tacos come with homemade mojo dipping sauce - cumin, garlic, olive oil and just the right amount of tangy lime.
Rice & Bean Empanada, Mojo Sauce and the Jackfruit Taco (open faced)

While I was there, my vegan exploration carried on to the empanadas.  They substitute rice and beans for the “meaty” filling.  There’s also vegan Thai coconut soup, fried avocado, and yuka fries.

It didn’t matter a bit that I was standing alongside the truck when the heavens opened and soaked me to the skin.  I was carrying a vegan feast to-go from….a chuck wagon.  Who knew?!

The Green Goat
583 S Wood Street
Fayetteville, AR

479-310-5444

Monday, June 19, 2017

HAMMONTREES - Fayetteville AND Rogers - and lots 'o vegan choices

Friends were visiting from out of town.  I picked a gourmet boutique restaurant that would impress them with local cuisine.  Only problem was, we were ready to eat at 4:30 and the fancy place didn’t open until 5:00.  We started to scope the area and came across Hammontrees.  It really could be called “Ham and Cheese” since its specialty is grilled cheese sandwiches.
Ah cheese.  Probably the most difficult hurdle I faced in shifting to the vegan diet.  And here I was in a place that served such temptations as smoked mozzarella, sharp white cheddar and wild mushroom goat cheese.  It just wasn’t fair.

But wait!

Turns out they can substitute Daiya vegan cheese at no extra charge.  So I ordered the vegan grilled cheese number called Where the Wild Things Are (ask them to grill in olive oil rather than butter).  These sandwiches are not the pathetic white bread slabs with a thin sheet of processed semi-melted American cheese that we’ve all gotten at the local diner.  Hammontrees takes the humble grilled cheese to a whole new level.  My choice included sautéed mushrooms and sun dried tomatoes incorporated with perfectly melted vegan pepper jack cheese.  Other sandwich creations include such mouth-watering avant guard additions such as caramelized onions, poblano peppers and artichoke hearts


No photo on this visit, as this happened in pre-blog days.  However, I returned recently to try the Hot Dog side of the menu.  
Cali Dog and trimmings - no take home this time....

They’ll substitute a veggie dog for the sausage or frankfurter at no extra charge.  I was envisioning a tiny tofu pup getting lost in a (vegan – I checked) scali roll, but no, this is a hearty veggie brat that is spicy and satisfying.  The Cali Dog came with slices of avocado and cherry tomatoes, complimented by a cup of chips, dill pickle, and a cherry pepper.  (Ask for the lime cilantro dressing to be left off, as it uses sour cream – you won’t miss it.)  It was a hot dog so plump I had to grab my knife and fork.  I’d planned on take home left overs.  Nope.  Just tooooo good.



Yummy vegan Cheese Sandwiches and "Dogs"
at  326 N West Avenue, Suite 8, in Fayetteville

and 113 W Walnut Street in Rogers, Arkansas