Ūlëlē — Tampa Heights

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

Pizza Fusion — Downtown Tampa

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

 

First Watch – Downtown Tampa

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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

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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 🙂

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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).

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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.