Toasted — Orlando, FL

Image

 

a face full of truffle fries

a face full of truffle fries

I found myself in Orlando with a hankering for some grilled cheese and tomato soup (the fat kid in me eating his way out), and so I took to Yelp to find where I might satisfy this craving. To my surprise, Yelp yielded this gem of an establishment pretty close to my location. With both my mom and my appetite as passengers, we loaded into the Spark Mobile (my car) and raced (meandered) the 7 miles to our cheesy destination.

IMG_4209

Yelp a brother out, why don’t you?! Take me to vegan cheese paradise!

I was smitten with the place the minute we barged in (entered quietly). The whole room was clean, spacious, inviting, and one of the walls was made to look as though it were made of cheese.  I asked the high-school-aged waitstaff for menus, and explained that mum and I have never dined there before. They pointed out the vegan options for me, which wasn’t hard to find; the V word was all over the place. #winning. Sadly, the tomato soup contains dairy, so I opted for the truffle fries with rosemary to accompany my Vegan Roasted Vegetable Grilled Cheese. Not sorry about it! No wonder pigs love that shit so much; truffle is life-changingly delightful.

FullSizeRender

Vegan Roasted Vegetable Grilled Cheese with Truffle Fries

My mom, the non-vegan, went with The 101, a classic grilled cheese sandwich with sliced tomato. She also got a dipper-size portion of their tomato soup. Now if only they can figure out a way to ditch the dairy in the soup! #itsnotrocketscience.

The 101 and Housemade Roasted Tomato Soup (not vegan)

The 101 and Housemade Roasted Tomato Soup (not vegan)

Fun things to know:

  • there are two Toasted locations, neither of which, sadly, are in Tampa.
  • Toasted makes their own vegan cheeses in-house, which is kinda neat.
  • if you fit your whole tray of truffle fries into your mouth, you win a prize. Okay, not really. But please attempt it anyway and send me a photo.
  • http://www.igettoasted.com
  • After your meal, take mom over to Ethos Vegan Kitchen, buy her some vegan snickerdoodles, then eat them together in the beautiful Mead Botanical Garden in Winter Park. Don’t forget your selfie stick.
Mead Botanical Garden, Winter Park, FL

Mead Botanical Garden, Winter Park, FL

 

Ūlëlē — Tampa Heights

Standard
ulele-outside-300x300

Ūlëlē all lit up beautifully and shit.

Just look at that, would ya? This place looks phenomenal all lit up at night.  I was never really that excited for Ūlëlē to open, though, if I’m being completely honest. I was mostly interested in the new Tampa Water Works Park, which is a complete dream. However, I found myself dining here for a friend’s birthday and it was a complete success. Ūlëlē doesn’t have a permanent home on the menu for the veg crowd. Rather, they offer an entrée that changes from time to time. The menu instructs us to “see server for today’s vegetarian meal,” which is fine by me. Having a surprise veg meal is what makes being vegan so much fun; you get to try things you wouldn’t have normally thought to try before.

ulele-2-IMG_0025_2

Okra fries with house-made ketchup.

To start, you’re gonna wanna get some of these Okra Fries down your throat hole. They’re kinda juicy, kinda crunchy, and super-wow-delicious. And get this: they come served with a ramekin filled with ketchup that they make themselves. This blew my mind brain wide open. What do you mean there’s no Heinz squeeze bottle?? Obviously I raced straight home and started looking up instructions on how to make my own ketchup. It was that tasty.

ulele-3-IMG_0029_3

The Leaning Tower of Hell Yeah

What you’re looking at here is The Leaning Tower of Hell Yeah. That is not the official name Ūlëlē has given this dish; it is just the rightful name it deserves. The vegetarian meal of the day was this pile of heaven you see above. On top of a bed of some sort of wild rice is a full slab of roasted tofu, onion, and zucchini. Then they thought it wise to have an avalanche of tomato purée come drizzling down the vegan mountain. Go ahead and send a search team, ’cause I got lost in flavor. I don’t remember if this dish came with cheese or not, but you seem smart enough to ask for it without to make it vegan and not just vegetarian.

ulele-4-IMG_0029_4

For your non-veg friends…

Of course I can’t leave out your non-veg friends. Pictured above is…. well I don’t really know. It used to be alive, and it probably had a killer personality. But as presentation goes, it made me wanna have a little taste. I didn’t. I took a photo instead.

I can’t speak highly enough of Tampa Water Works Park, and Ūlëlē is the icing on the vegan cake that is bringing the Tampa River Walk park to a lovely end.

Other fun facts:

  • Tampa Water Works Park has free wifi, a shaded dog park, and a water feature for children that makes a grown ass man want to knock those kids to the side and play in it himself (but I haven’t yet).
  • Ūlëlē is open for lunch now, I hear.
  • Parking situation: “find your own side-street parking” or “valet-that-shit, bro.”
  • Try to visit around sunset and see Tampa like you never have.
  • http://www.ulele.com

As always, you’re doing a good thing 😉

Hew

 

Row Boat — Ybor City

Standard

My friend, Nicole, recommended The Row Boat to me recently and scolded me for not knowing about it sooner. “How can you live in Ybor, be vegan, and still not have gone there yet!?” she demanded. I had to admit to her that I didn’t know that falafel, The Row Boat’s main dish, was meat-free. Embarrassing, I know; I always thought falafel was some sort of European gyro. Now I find myself eating here regularly, and my non-vegan friends enjoy it too.

ybor-city-1_1

My go-to choice on the menu at The Row Boat is the Super Falafel Wrap. It comes served on a folded pita, but I always ask for it rolled into a wrap, otherwise it’s difficult to eat (the photo above shows the pita option even though I swear I asked for it in a wrap–haha). Folded or wrapped up along with your falafel balls you will find eggplant, hummus, and even a couple french fries; this is why it’s called the Super Falafel Wrap.

ybor-city-2-tea

Of course you’ll want to get fries on the side because… they’re fries. Also, they serve a mint tea that’s pretty refreshing. I like it because it works better than soda when you need something to wash down the wrap that’s lodged in your gullet because you didn’t chew it well enough on account of it tasting so good. If you’re gonna spring for either the fries or a drink, you might as well go for both; you actually end up paying more money if you don’t make it a meal deal (welcome to America).

ybor-city-3-trolley

 

On a nice day it would be enjoyable to take advantage of their outside seating. The Row Boat recently upgraded their furniture and added some much-needed umbrellas. The streetcar passes by every half hour or so, giving you the chance to make silly faces at the children who are staring at you from the inside.

ybor-city-3-interior

 

The photo above shows some of the interior of the restaurant lit up in the evening. I dig the blue chairs.

As always, you’re doing a good thing 😉

Hew

Daily Eats — SoHo / Hyde Park District

Standard

I won’t lie; I’ve driven my vegan ass down South Howard Avenue  on a weekend before and have thrown a little jealousy at all of the brunch-goers waiting outside for a table at Daily Eats. I never thought to stop in and try my hand (or mouth) at vegan dining. Instead, I would just roll down the window and scream profanities. I just assumed it was all sausage, and omelets, and dairy (oh, my). That all changed today, though, when my best gal pal suggested we all try something out of our usual routine. I threw the dog a bone and complied.

Daily-Eats-1_1

 

If it wasn’t for my commitment to this website and finding great meals for other vegans, I probably never would have stopped in here. Well, hooray for you and me; it was a complete success. They have these breakfast bowls that can satisfy the largest of appetites (I think I have one of those). Basically it consists of a bed of home fries, then eggs, cheese, and whatever special toppings come with each particular bowl. I opted for The Tijuana (scrambled eggs, vegetable chili, jalapeño jack cheese, guacamole, all on top of home fries). I asked the waitress to donate my eggs and cheese to the poor (no, I didn’t), and asked for extra guacamole in place of those things. She praised me for my vegan efforts (no, she didn’t) and took my friends’ orders. This is the gem that came my way:

Daily-Eats-2_2

 

I didn’t see quinoa listed in the description for my breakfast bowl, so I assume it’s included with the vegetable chili. Either way, SCORE!  “Surprise protein” is how I’ll think of it. I loved this dish so much that I raced home and tried to recreate it. Only instead of vegetable chili I used salsa. And instead of home fries I used tater tots. And instead of guacamole I used sliced avocado. And instead of being delicious it was just okay. The lesson here: don’t ever try. I think my friends were happy with their meals too, even though their non-vegan happiness is irrelevant to this post (LOL).   Katrina had a pancake and William had some sort of benedictine mayhem.

Daily-Eats-3
 

I took a look at the lunch menu and now feel compelled to return to Daily Eats. Their lunch and dinner bowls (Shredder Bowls) sound incredible, and one of them is sans meat.  I used to eat here a lot when I worked across the street at what was once Xtreme Total Health & Fitness, and I remember going to chow town quite often on the New York Bleu Shredder Bowl. Your non-vegan friends will enjoy that very much.

Other noteworthy items:

  • Starbucks is a couple doors over; take a stroll up Howard and get yourself an iced coffee. Venti is plenty, as I like to say.
  • Bring some sunglasses in case you end up sitting outside on the porch. I forgot mine and squinted throughout my meal.
  • Expect to wait a bit if you’re part of the hangover crowd. We arrived at 8:30am and didn’t have to wait at all.

As always, you’re doing a good thing 😉

– Hew

Burrito Boarder — Downtown St. Petersburg

Standard

What does the ocean have in common with a burrito? Well, nothing unless you go on a paddle board trip with your best pals and then grab a burrito afterwards. That’s exactly what we did. Although I typically will post about eating vegan in Tampa (hence the name, Tampa Vegan), I couldn’t not write about Burrito Boarder in downtown St. Petersburg. This post will be considered an “Outliers” post. Burrito-Boarder-3_1

 

My gal pal, Alexandra, suggested Burrito Boarder and felt pretty certain that I could find some vegan options there. Not only did I build myself the mecca of all vegan burritos, but I also got to meet another young fellow vegan who works there (always a pleasant treat). The space is decked out in a total surf theme, which fit perfectly with our beach/paddle board extravaganza. The ordering system works pretty similarly with other burrito shacks; you choose the type of dish you want (burrito, tacos, salad, etc), then the meat (or lack thereof, in my case), and then the plethora of toppings and additions. My burrito, pictured below, was phenomenal. The veggies were sautéed beautifully, and the guacamole made for a welcomed indulgence. Luckily the vegan employee warned me that the bean sauce contained dairy (torture juice), so he saved me some embarrassment before I had it added to my burrito. burrito-boarder-2

 

My non-vegan friends (or, “non-enlightened ones” — however you like to think of them) made out pretty nicely, too. Alexandra made herself a gigantic salad, while Helen created some beautiful soft tacos. We were able to sit outside and do some people-watching (always entertaining in the downtown St. Pete region — think hipsters falling off their skateboards). We chowed down and thanked Alexandra endlessly for the stellar recommendation.

Burrito-Boarder-4

What I like most about Burrito Boarder is that they don’t just have vegan options, but they promote them as well. The menu is crawling with the V-word, and they even have it printed on their drink cups. With more and more people opting for a vegan lifestyle, other businesses would be wise to make their vegan options better known (even if bits of lettuce are the only option — tell us).

Burrito-Boarder-5

To give you an idea of how hip this place is, I saw a guy ride up to the store on his bike, hop off, and walk with it right into the restaurant. Furthermore, how many “hip points” did this place score when I walked in with two beautiful beach bunnies by my side? So many. If you find yourself in this area, it’s definitely worth stopping in.

As always, you’re doing a good thing 😉

-Hew

Pizza Fusion — Downtown Tampa

Standard

When someone finds out that you’re vegan and they ask “what do you eat?”, my all-time favorite response is, “PIZZA!” It’s not so much that I have a pizza obsession, but I love the look on their face that this response generates; you can actually see something click in their little head, almost as if they’re thinking “oh, this guy’s not so weird after all.” I might be vegan, but I’m still American; we love our pizza. Which is why I find myself at Pizza Fusion on the reg.

Pizza-Fusion-1
 

Pizza Fusion has a dedicated pizza for us called the Very Vegan (not the most clever of names, but we’ll take what we can get), which comes with soy cheese instead of cultured cruelty (regular cheese), as well as mushrooms, garlic, and tomato sauce. This pizza is fantastic just the way it comes, but I always ask them to add sautéed spinach to jazz up the way it looks (without that pop of green, it looks like a boring beige pie).Pizza-Fusion-2_2

 

If adding spinach isn’t enough to make your visual senses pop, Pizza Fusion makes it easy to turn any of their menu pizza options into a vegan pizza. Of course you won’t be ordering the Classic Pepperoni pizza because once you substitute the mozzarella for their soy cheese or Daiya brand options you’re just left with a cheese pizza. I’m not into that.Pizza-Fusion-3_3

In addition to making delicious pizzas for both vegans and non-vegans alike, Pizza Fusion touts their love for Earth. They claim to offer an all organic menu (I say “claim” because a disclaimer on their website says that initiatives vary by location), and they let you return your pizza boxes for a discount on your next order. This link will bring you to a long list of their Earthly initiatives: http://pizzafusion.com/saving-the-earth/

And here’s a greasy close-up for you:Pizza-Fusion-4_4

 

This is definitely one of the places to eat where I don’t have to make any real sacrifices in taste so that I can eat with my non-vegan friends. The BBQ Chicken pizza smells so damn good, and I’m thinking about getting that next time (in a vegan version, of course!).

Other fun facts:

  • they offer personal size pizzas, but get a large and save the extra for another meal. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
  • there’s a vegan brownie on the dessert menu. I haven’t tried it yet, so I’ll let you tell me what you think first.
  • You have the option of what kind of bread on which to make your pie: multi-grain, gluten-free, or original (each is vegan friendly).
  • If you dine here in the evening, walk across the street to Curtis Hixon park and enjoy the light show strobing across the Museum of Art.

As always, you’re doing a good thing 😉

-Hew

 

 

 

 

 

ēvōs – SoHo / Hyde Park District

Standard

I’m not sure what made me pop into ēvōs after a three-year hiatus, but I’m sure glad that I did! Back in the day, I used to eat here a few times each week. The Crispy Thai Chicken Wrap was phenomenal, and I would pair that with their Airfries (like any good American) then wash it down with a secret soda (shhhh…. don’t tell). A lot has changed at this particular location on South Howard Avenue (near Swann Avenue) since I was last in: the service is way better, they seemed to have done away with that annoying, loud timer sound, and they got rid of the megaphone on which they used to call out order numbers (let’s be serious – the place isn’t big enough to justify using something louder than your own voice).

evos-1_1

 

I alway knew they had a veggie burger, but now they’re calling it the ēvōs Vegan Championburger. *Gasp!* A local fast-food joint dedicating menu space specifically for the vegan community? Yes, friends. Yes. If anything, it helps vegans take the guesswork out of ordering. We no longer have to say, “no cheese, no mayo, no murder.” They get it. On the other hand, it also makes my blog kinda pointless. I want to be the one to tell you of these things!evos-2_2

 

If you’re looking at this photo of my Vegan Championburger and thinking, “heavens, that certainly is a lot of lettuce and tomato,” well calm down. My dining companion today hates these toppings, so I slopped ’em onto my burger. I’m not a calorie-counter by any stretch of the imagination, but you might rest easier knowing that the Vegan Championburger has 95 fewer calories than its fleshy counterpart (the evil stepsister, Original Steakburger), and probably tastes better, too.

evos-3_3Since you saved so many calories by opting for the lower-calorie, cruelty-free (better) choice, you might as well reward yourself with some Airfries. I like to dispense all four types of their flavored ketchup, switch the little serving cups around real quick like a street magician would do, and then let the flavor surprise begin. I also like to pretend that this is how everyone else does it.

Other tips:

-when you make your order a combo (you know you will), you can get a shake instead of a tea or soda. Be sure to ask about the ingredients; some, but not all, of them contain milk.

-you can get a tiny salad instead of Airfries (go ahead — one up me, why don’t you?)

As always, you’re doing a good thing 😉

-Hew

 

 

 

First Watch – Downtown Tampa

Video

One of the things I miss most since becoming vegan is breakfast. There was a time when I would have eaten an omelet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Those days are well behind me, but I still enjoy going out to eat for breakfast or brunch with those who have not yet adopted a cruelty-free way of eating. Luckily I can still dine at one of my favorite breakfast spots, First Watch, with my hungry companions by getting clever with some sweet substitutions.

First-Watch-1

The location we frequent the most is in downtown Tampa at the corner of Tampa and Twiggs. The scene here is mostly a younger crowd (the beautiful thirty-somethings like myself), unless you happen upon this place on a Sunday morning. In which case, you will find yourself mixed in with the fresh-out-of-church crowd and their hyped up toddlers (after all, they’ve been made to sit silent in their pew for the better part of an hour and now have the opportunity to unleash and irritate you). If you’re afraid of parking downtown and aren’t ashamed to admit that you suck at parallel parking (not like me – I’m a pro), there is another First Watch on Henderson Blvd near Dale Mabry. Same menu, different crowd (think young families and retirement home residents).

First-Watch-2_2

My go-to choice, now that eggs are off the (my) menu, is one of their Power Bowls. They have two to choose from: Cherry Chicken Quinoa Bowl and Pesto Chicken Quinoa Bowl. This is where creativity comes into play because obviously chicken is involved, and you know they add cheese to that shit too. The first couple of times you tell the waitress “no chicken and no cheese, please,” she looks up from her notepad to make sure you’re not yanking her chain (they don’t see many vegans, I take it). Once you’ve convinced her that this is serious business, she’ll be happy to substitute some sliced avocado in place of the chicken. I do this every time and it is fantastic. Pictured above is the Cherry Quinoa Bowl with the exclusions and substitutions that I mentioned. Below is the side of potatoes that I order in addition to my entrée (because I’m a fatty). Sometimes, instead of potatoes, I order an English muffin. Just make sure you ask for it “dry” or it will come served with butter (or torture spread, as I call it).

First-Watch-3_3

 

I haven’t dabbled much with their lunch menu, but I know they serve a veggie burger. I’ve had it once, and it’s not bad! You’ll have to ask for it without the mayonnaise, dummy.

Your non-vegan friends will love this place. The omelets are outrageous, and the pancakes will change their lives (i.e. shorten them — I jest).

Other tips for the vegan:

-They’ve just added iced coffee to the menu, but it only comes served with condensed milk; there is no black option. Bummer. I love iced coffee. The hot coffee is decent, though.

-They do not carry soy or nut milks, so you can’t very well enjoy their cereal options. I brought my own soy milk once, and it was more trouble than it was worth.

First-Watch-4_4

Let me know your thoughts on First Watch and the recommendations that I’ve made. I’m alway totally interested in learning new menu tricks if you know of any.

As always, you’re doing a good thing 😉

-Hew

Thai Cafe – Downtown Tampa

Standard

A brief preface as to why I’m blabbing about restaurants:

Let’s face it: Tampa is not the easiest place to be vegan. I have been vegan just over a year now, and I’ve been going it alone from the beginning. The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been dining out with friends who haven’t yet adopted a vegan lifestyle (I still have high hopes for them to do so –no pressure!). The challenge doesn’t come so much from difficulties in finding vegan options in predominantly carnivorous restaurants, rather, the challenge lies in convincing my dining companions that we can go anywhere they like and I’ll still be able to order something. After all, the dining experience, for me, is more about the socialization aspect, and less about stuffing my face. If you’re like me (a vegan with zero vegan friends), then you’re probably all too familiar with the ring-around-the-rosie routine when it comes time to decide where to eat; no one wants the responsibility of making the final decision, so the vegan (or “picky” one) of the bunch is typically assigned the task. That’s a lot of pressure!

With that said, this blog is dedicated to the Tampa vegan who often dines out with non-vegans. It is intended to help you choose a restaurant that will please both you and your meat-eating, dairy-gulping buddies (as disgusting as they are — heehee). Every other week I will post new restaurant ideas for you, as well as photos, my personal menu favorites, and other helpful tips about the featured restaurant.

-End preface 🙂

thai-cafe-storefront-1_1

For my first installment, I want to tell you about Thai Cafe in downtown Tampa. There’s no real reason I chose Thai Cafe for my “maiden voyage” blog post. It’s just where I happened to be this week (er…and remembered to take photos).

Now, I’m not particularly knowledgeable when it comes to distinguishing great Thai food from garbage Thai food, but I’ve always enjoyed my meals from Thai Cafe, and so have my non-vegan friends. Thai Cafe is near the corner of Twiggs and Franklin, which means the parking situation is like any downtown parking: park illegally and have your friend run inside to pick up the food (obviously, I won’t be helping out with your parking ticket – you’re on your own). I’ve only ever gotten take-out here, but the outside seating is charming, and I’m sure it fills up nicely with the lunch crowd (not like the photo above where it looks like a ghost town – it was taken well after the lunch crowd had left).

thai-cafe-food-2_2

I ordered the Panang Curry dish with the tofu option (duh), but your friends might like the chicken, shrimp, or even crispy duck option (those fools). When you place the order, they give you the option of how spicy you like your curry. I’ve never been a fan of mega-spicey food, so I demanded (asked nicely) for medium spiciness. It was perfection. The vegetables and crispy tofu are served over white rice, and then it’s all topped with a beautiful yellow curry sauce. This dish costs about $9, which is pretty decent. The helping is pretty substantial, and if I’m not a piggy that day I can usually have enough leftover to eat later (aka – that same night just before bed).

The Panang Curry dish is my favorite here so far, but you can easily make most of their entrées into a vegan one (if you need to know how to do that, you might need to find a starter blog for new vegans – LOL).

It’s probably worth mentioning that the staff here is quite friendly. It seems to be family owned and operated, which always makes me feel better about supporting them. It is also worth mentioning that I would never say if the service is less than perfect at any restaurant I suggest to you. If the service is bad, I just won’t bring it up. When it’s all said and done, I’d rather give positive support to a place that has options for the vegan community, as opposed to tearing them to shreds because of an employee who maybe just had a bad day and took it out on me.

I hope you enjoy Thai Cafe as much as I do. Check back soon for more vegan dining suggestions.