Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stumptown, under snow

So, as those of you in PDX know (and those of you who may have had holiday travels that unfortunately put you through our airport) this place has gotten some heavy snow recently. Thanks to that, I arrived in Portland about 36 hours behind schedule. The snow also means that transportation within in the city is extremely difficult. So basically my plans of reviewing a Portland Vegan Reuben have been sadly dashed.

In the meantime, I think I can manage another blog round-up. But first, I just learned that Isa Moskowitz and her husband have come out with a seitan now available at Food Fight in Portland. I can assume a couple things, 1) it's probably much better than your typical grocery store seitan for those that don't make our own and 2) Probably makes a killer reuben. Buy local!




For those of you looking for a new tempeh reuben recipe to try, this one popped up online. Also check out a tutorial for DIY kraut on one of my favorite vegan blogs. The blog Vegetarianized! also offers us a recipe, creatively incorporating arugula (if you are the type that digs Reubens, you probably also dig this sometimes spicy, bitter green). Here's another recipe (from an online magazine called Glam, oddly enough), which incorporates seitan that you 'corn' ahead of time.

Anyone in the Boston area should check out this new restaurant that the PETA reported on this month. The idea of a maple-cured tempeh reuben with roasted tomatoes is just heightening my reuben craving...damn this weather!

And last but not least, 'Fixed gal' of the blog 'i like bikes' introduces me to the idea of a 'Georgia reuben.' I like that. I've often thought about different regional interpretations of the reuben calculus. I might do a post just on that someday.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Asheville, continued



B. and I had two vegan reuben experiences in Asheville, NC, back in mid-October. I posted a couple times about the trip, but then got a bit distracted by school, hence the lag in posting about the second of our two sandwiches.

The day after we visited Rosetta's Kitchen we had lunch at The Laughing Seed, which appears to be the restaurant everyone recommends to vegetarians and vegans visiting Asheville. And with good reason. The Laughing Seed kind of reminded me of the now-closed Veganopolis in Portland, because of its prices and careful food presentation, but also reminded me a lot of Blossoming Lotus, because of its eclectic menu, slightly fancy dining atmosphere and international flavor. At brunch-o'clock on a weekend there was bit of a long wait, but over all it was worthwhile.



The tempeh Reuben at the Laughing Seed isn't really a trueben, as it comes with actual Swiss cheese. However, the menu clearly marks it as having a vegan option, and the Russian dressing is already vegan, making the cheese the only necessary change. The waitress was very amiable and helpful with regards to substitutions. She suggested their "Havarti almond spread" to sub for cheese, and barely batted an eye when I requested Havarti almond spread for the Reuben and avocado for the other sandwich we veganized, a tasty "Havana Cuban" that also came with Swiss on the menu. I really appreciated that we weren't charged extra for the substitutions, despite the fact adding avocado would have run a couple bucks, according to their menu. Readers of this blog have probably picked up by now that in my mind, a good vegan meal really depends on how understanding and accommodating the restaurant is -- I hate to feel like I'm being penalized or paying extra simply because I want to be healthier and more ethical. The great treatment at The Laughing Seed came as no surprise, as they are a vegetarian restaurant and clearly set high standards for themselves.



I really enjoyed the Havarti almond spread, it was definitely the highlight of the sandwich for me. I also really enjoyed the side salad, and the vegan creamy apple horseradish dressing that came with it was memorable. We got the other option -- jalapeno onion fries -- with the other sandwich, and enjoyed those as well. B. still liked the chips at Rosetta's Kitchen more, though. With the two sandwiches at The Laughing Seed, and the samosa appetizer we'd been unable to resist, we had a good deal of food (sadly, again, no room for dessert). The bread had a nice, crispy crunchy texture -- but maybe a tiny bit too crunchy, and a little greasy, like maybe a tad too much oil was used when grilling. The caramelized onions were a nice touch. Again, the house-made purple kraut (alluringly made with juniper and caraway, according to the menu) seemed subdued by the other flavors. And though the Havarti had a full, pungent, delicious flavor, I didn't really notice the Russian dressing. Maybe it was because we'd just had a great reuben the day before to compare it against, but though I really enjoyed the options and service at the Laughing Seed, the sandwich itself was a little ho-hum. B. and I gave it a 3 out of 5 points.

In other news, I'll be back in Portland in about two weeks! I've been enjoying Chapel Hill a lot, but I'm looking forward to my Portland visit, including the opportunity to pick up where I left off with this blog and review another Portland Vegan Reuben or two (yes, there are a couple we never got to).

I also can't resist the opportunity to post this recent New York Times article. This blog is extremely focused on one thing, obviously, but I allude to climate change as a reason for veganism and I was heartened to see this article emphasizing the link between diet and carbon emissions, as well as to see that there are folks out there carefully considering this problem.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Finally, some local news!

The Sentinel, a neighborhood rag that serves the northern-most portions of Stumptown, gave PVR a nice mention in a recent article that describes the closure of both Veganopolis and Nutshell.

Nutshell was probably the closest thing Portland ever had to vegan 'fine dining.' I think its downfall began when it was discovered that a restaurant owned by the same guy in PDX persistently serves foie gras. Then Nutshell stopped being 100% vegan. When I did dine there once, way back when, I enjoyed the Jamaican platter that I got, but I wasn't dying to go back, despite having high expectations.

Thanks to the Sentinel for the mention! And go visit Proper Eats, probably the best vegan reuben in that part of town.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More reubens in the blogs


vegan deliciousness
gives the VWAV reuben, one of the first trueben recipes reviewed on this blog, a try.



Applause all around, of course.

Also, did you know that Brown University is an enclave for militant, tempeh reuben-eating vegans?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Veganization: Tempeh Reuben at Rosetta's Kitchen, Asheville



As I stated earlier, when B. and I visited Asheville last month, I had my sights set on the Laughing Seed reuben. My online poking-around led me to learn about Rosetta's Kitchen, and though they certainly looked like a candidate for tempeh reuben offerings, I was unable to find a menu online (or even confirmation they were still open), so I assumed we wouldn't be paying them a visit. However, in our wanderings around town we actually passed them (the back of the restaurant, in fact) and I caught sight of the menu above.

It sounded too good to pass up and I was in a quandary. I was already planning to try Laughing Seed for dinner, and we weren't planning to return to Asheville the next day. Then B. had the brilliant notion that we could split the sandwich at Rosetta's Kitchen and then head to Laughing Seed afterwards. So we walked around the block, found Rosetta's entrance and clambered up the stairs full of anticipation. We noted on our way up that they are open quite late, so seems like a great spot post show. They also have some good beers on tap, for a pretty reasonable price ($3.75 a pint).

Rosetta's has a very nice atmosphere, so much so that for the first time on this blog, I felt compelled to take a picture of the interior of the eating establishment. It seems like it would be great in the summer, as the main eating area is a sort of balcony, open to the elements.

The place reminded me sort of the Red and Black in Portland, but I hate to say it, kinda better. Now that I think about it, it also reminded me of the Naam in Vancouver, BC. But cheaper and better. I'm not sure what it is, but Portland doesn't seem to have nailed the comfy hippie eatery quite yet--places like Eugene seem to do it better, and Asheville reminded us of Eugene a great deal.



When I told the cashier we wanted to veganize the reuben, he suggested avocado or 'queso,' a house vegan nacho cheese. Since I like to sub vegan cheese when available, I went for the queso, though I had fears it might overwhelm the walnut sauce that was probably fairly rich already. Avocado would also be good on this sandwich, but no regrets. This sandwich was damn good, probably one of the best we've had. The queso was plentiful, and made a nice dip for the corn chips on the side. B. wanted me to note that the corn chips were so good, there's no need to pay more for fries, though I would guess their fries are good, too -- I saw many patrons snacking on what appeared to be the sweet potato variety.



This reuben is not only extremely tasty, but wins points for originality also. That's rye foccacia there, which gave the sandwich a great, almost crispy texture, and the nature of the bread was that it could absorb juiciness without passing it along to your hands. The texture also benefited from the tempeh, which had a nice, chewy exterior also. I'm not sure how they prepared it, whether they grilled or baked it (the menu says marinated, I would guess maybe they baked it), but the outside was quite dark and the overall effect was meatiness. Biting into it was very nice, especially offset by the unctuous queso and good, consistent warm temperature.

As for the flavors, Rosetta's is another one of those joints that, like the Red and Black in Portland, boasts 'raw kraut.' What I've taken this to mean is that raw cabbage is allowed to pickle in its own juices, maybe for not very long, as opposed to employing vinegar or other fermentation aids. I think this results sometimes in a milder kraut. One of the few drawbacks of this sandwich is one we've experienced with others as well, that the kraut is sort of hidden away and doesn't contribute too much to the sandwich experience. Usually this would just be solved by more kraut. Rosetta's Kitchen was also selling house chow chow, a regional specialty that seems like a spicy version of sauerkraut. Not a traditional reuben condiment, but could make a nice, more flavorful substitution. Speaking of non-traditional flavors, the queso was impressive -- 'noochy' but not overpowering, with a nice consistency, and nicely spicy.

Over all, if you can't tell, we were extremely satisfied with our meal. The only drawback really, if there could be said to be any, was we were too full after splitting the sandwich to hit Laughing Seed (so we returned the next day, instead) and I didn't have room for any of Rosetta's fabulous looking vegan desserts.

Even though we weren't in Portland for this one, we think Rosetta's Kitchen deserves a 4 for a tasty, affordable, filling sandwich, and hands down the best service we had in Asheville during our stay.

Rosetta's Kitchen
111 Broadway, Asheville, NC



The natural light made for some better than normal pictures, also!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Asheville Vegan Reubens?

B. and I just got back from an excursion to Western North Carolina, more specifically Asheville and Black Mountain. The excuse I told everyone (aside from the fact I was on fall break) was that we were 'leafing' -- which is apparently what people do around here when the foliage starts changing, head to the mountains, because that's where it is most beautiful. But secretly, I was pumped to visit this hippie-hipster mountain town because I knew I'd find some vegan reuben action.

I didn't quite account for how much vegan reuben action I would find. Seriously, this place rivals Portland for restaurants with vegan options. Tempeh in particular reigns supreme -- it seemed like every restaurant or pub had some kind of tempeh (or sometimes less frequently, tofu) sandwich. This, in the land of pulled pork bbq, where just a few miles out of town, the waitstaff at a side of the road restaurant can't comprehend the concept of someone not eating both meat and dairy.

I had my sights set on the Laughing Seed Cafe from the get-go, as it seems to be the place in town to go for good vegetarian eats. But we got sidetracked by Rosetta's Kitchen. And I really could spend two weeks there solely writing reviews for this blog. For example, I walked by this restaurant on Broadway.



Who would have guessed, but they advertised a Smoked Tempeh Reuben. Then, at Jack of the Woods, the Irish pub below The Laughing Seed, B. pointed out that they, too, served a tempeh reuben. Then, upon returning to Chapel Hill, a friend who had lived in Asheville admitted that her favorite tempeh reuben in town was served at the Dripelator, a cafe that we had actually had coffee at our first morning in town, and hadn't even thought to look at the menu. I don't know what's going on here, but this place has tempeh fever. You'd almost think you were in Eugene, not the American South.

I have to catch up with school work, but expect a couple Asheville Vegan Reuben reviews in the near future.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More on vegan dining - Candle 79

I couldn't resist posting a link to this audio/video 'interactive' from the New York Times which is essentially a review of Candle 79, another famous vegan foodie destination, this one in NYC. Candle 79 is an off-shoot of Candle Cafe--B. and I made the Candle Cafe reuben at home and it is hands-down our favorite recipe so far. The interactive is annoyingly snarky at times -- "Will I have to drink brown-rice tea?"-- but over all presents the revelation, that yes, vegan food can be gourmet and tasty! I'll forgive them for mispronouncing seitan.

There's also a review to accompany the interactive, which actually mentions a vegan Reuben at another joint in NYC, Angelica Kitchen.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Chicago Diner's Radical Reuben



Recently the lovely Melisser of The Urban Housewife paid a trip to Chicago, another great city for vegans. I'm a bit jealous, because she got to try out the Radical Reuben at the Chicago Diner, an establishment that is practically historical in the fame of its vegan menu. Of course she loved the sandwich (it sounds like her entire trip was pretty awesome). When she posted, she mentioned trying to recreate it. I don't want to spoil any of her attempts, and I guess I've been holding this close to my chest because I had thought maybe one day B. and I would test the recipe and post about it, but the Vegetarian Times actually published The Chicago Diner's reuben recipe as part of a feature on the best vegetarian dishes in America. (Note Portland's own Vita Cafe was recognized for their vegan mac and cheese).

The reuben recipe is very unique, and I think brilliant, in that it uses some very intuitive ingredients to simulate the meaty, brininess of a traditional reuben. I haven't had the sandwich, but I imagine it's success stems from these innovations which include marinating the seitan overnight in pickling spices (duh, right?) and including beet juice for some color.

You can find the recipe here; scroll down to the very bottom for the reuben recipe. If anyone actually tries it out, be sure to let me know!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

More on Veganopolis

The Portland Mercury website has an interesting article on the restaurant's final hours, full of interesting tidbits like this -- in their 3+ years of operation, they served 7,790 reubens! I'm sorry I never sampled their blue Sheese salad or had more chances to partake of the brunch bar. I will say that though Portland has so far lost a vegan pirate-themed restaurant, a vegan strip club (well, a later incarnation of the same place actually), and now a vegan cafeteria, I trust our restaurant scene will continue to see new permutations of the 100% vegan dining establishment. I'm holding out for vegan Korean (seriously, aside from maybe a vegan Southern food restaurant, what else are we lacking?).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Veganopolis closes!?!

Sorry to report, Portland is slightly less of a vegan mecca than it once was. The owners of Veganopolis have closed up shop and are moving back to Chicago. They seem to cite issues with crime at their downtown location and weird politics as their reasons for leaving. I don't really know enough about the owners themselves or the situation to comment on it (other than yeah, that part of downtown does seem to have more than its share of methheads), but I will say their food will certainly be missed. On the upside, they seem to have a plan to post recipes on their website, and to eventually release a cookbook, so maybe someday you'll be able to make their trueben at home.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Vegan Reubens are not dead!

In fact, they are still taking the nation by storm!

Though I have yet to encounter a vegan reuben here in the Triangle region of North Carolina, handy Google alerts have been keeping me appraised of vegan reuben-related activity in other parts of the country.

So far, I've learned of a vegetarian, mushroom and spinach reuben that could be easily veganized. The recipe comes from the Penny Cluse Cafe in Vermont, via the Food Network (which I've been watching way too much of lately, by the way --- my new roommate insisted on cable, and I seem to alternate between news, Comedy Central, and the Food Network, when I have a free moment from studying, that is).

In the blog world, Nikki of My New Vegetarian life posted last month about "Fauxstrami Reubens," made with Smart Bacon and certainly worthy of Paula Deen. Literally. She actually sautes the fake bacon in olive oil and Smart Balance (margarine) and seasons it with a spice mix invented by the lady herself. It sounds delectable and decadent.

I've been seeing a lot of seitan reuben recipes lately (Did I ever tell you about Vegan Dad's?), which seems like a natural progression from tempeh, especially with all the super-easy steamed seitan variations rocking the blogs. While I wait for someone to come up with a jack-fruit corned beef recipe, check out this seitan reuben from Uabashedly Vegan. That's certainly a mouthwatering photo, I'll say.

Moving on to the restaurant scene, there's been a bit of buzz surrounding a new joint in Los Angeles, that serves many a delicious-sounding vegan dish, and seems to specialize in diner-style, vegan comfort food -- with a reuben on the menu, of course. Keeping with the theme of Los Angeles and restaurant reviews, an L.A. vegan gives her perspective on the vegan Reuben at Portland's Veganopolis (which we reviewed on this blog as well). Check it out. Her photos are definitely better than mine.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's been fun, guys

Local vegan declares Portland "too perfect" and flees to North Carolina.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Veganization: Tempeh Reuben at the Paradox Palace Cafe

I have to admit it was with a little trepidation that I led my group to Paradox Palace Cafe for breakfast this morning (their whole menu is served all day). My past couple experiences at this little vegan/vegetarian friendly diner on Belmont had ranged from pleasant to somewhat mediocre, but I was familiar with the inconsistencies the Paradox is known for. The food can range from great to bland, the service from prompt and friendly to painfully slow. The menu also shares many similarities with the Vita Cafe (and I heard they once shared owners). After the disappointment of the reuben there, I wasn't sure what to expect. But the Paradox, since it serves a tempeh reuben that is easy to veganize, was on the list, and so it got paid a visit.



I'm very tempted to call this reuben a TRUEBEN. The Paradox has many vegan options, and I think their menu used to actually describe a vegan option for their tempeh reuben (leave off the cheese, sub lemon tahini dressing). Though my prompting of the waitress that I wanted my sandwich vegan, and to swap the dressing, seemed unnecessary based on her response, the menu now doesn't give you any hints. When reviewing other veganized reubens, it has crossed my mind that it could work well to sub a vegan salad dressing for the 1000 islands (instead of say, mustard) and it certainly worked here.

The lemon tahini dressing was great. After my initial bite, it was so creamy and tart I almost wanted to check that the waitress really had understood my order, but a few more bites revealed a distinct, pleasant lemony flavor that assuaged my fears. I was also very gratified by the very generous amount of kraut -- finally, a restaurant that isn't afraid to lay it on thick! The bread was also a bonus, though B. and I both thought it could have been toasted more. Though it was dark and pungent, and stood up fairly well, the thick slathering of dressing (on both pieces of bread) did soften it a bit, especially on the bottom. Over all the sandwich was warm, but not much warmer than room temperature (at least the sauerkraut wasn't cold, as we've experienced at other places).

I'm happy to report that this sandwich doesn't resemble the Vita Cafe reuben much at all. Probably the only similarity is that the tempeh seemed to be simply broiled or steamed and not marinated, but the copious amounts of sauerkraut and flavorful dressing caused that to work fine. The sandwich came with some simple pickle slices on the side which weren't fantastic, but a nice touch. Maybe it was just because it was early in the day, but I found the sandwich surprisingly filling, probably because there was plenty of tempeh, and because of the quantity and richness of the dressing. In fact, my only complaint was probably that there was a little too much dressing, which made the sandwich a bit difficult to eat without making a mess. But I was surprised that the tahini-based sauce didn't have an overwhelming sesame flavor, and how well it stood in for 1000 islands.

B. only had a few bites of the sandwich, opting instead for an Early Bird Breakfast special, but he agreed that this is one of the best sandwiches we've had, and even he, a regular consumer of dairy, was impressed at how well the dressing worked. Over all, our only improvements to the sandwich would probably be to toast the bread more and use a smidgen less dressing. It was even a good deal, $6.50 total for the sandwich (though fries or a side salad are extra).

I'm happy to give this sandwich 4 out of 5, and to report that this is yet another vegan reuben in Portland that's worth returning to (unless, knock on wood, the rumors of inconsistent food at the Paradox bear true...).

Paradox Palace Cafe

SE 34th and Belmont

$6.50, ask for the Tempeh Reuben vegan. Nice-sized sandwich comes with pickle chips on the side, fries, soup or salad are extra.

P.S. I've noticed just now that the menu on their website states that their 1000 islands dressing is vegan. I did take a look at the dressings on the physical menu when we were there, and certainly don't recall seeing this. I'm pretty sure we did end up with the tahini dressing, and the waitress didn't say anything about the 1000 islands already being vegan when I was placing my order, but it's probably worth asking about if you decide to try a vegan reuben there yourself.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

TRUEBEN: Papa G's Vegan Organic Deli

Papa G's opened several months ago, a few blocks east of Seven Corners. I lived nearby at the time, had just begun this blog, and was very excited about a new vegan dining option as well as the potential for a new reuben. It's a deli, right? And a reuben is a traditional deli standby.

I investigated Papa G's immediately after it finally opened, with somewhat sparse offerings, and sadly dismissed it as an unlikely reuben source. The centerpiece seemed to be their salad bar and hot, by the pound options like mashed potatoes and gravy and quinoa pilaf. Little besides their signature chewy, seasoned tofus graced the refrigerated deli case. I've returned a few times since, enjoying many of their offerings, but feeling a little bittersweet -- if only there were a reuben!

Since then, Papa G's has come into its own, expanding their offerings and instituting specials that make their per-pound options more attractive. A few weeks ago I was there enjoying the bowl special and a root beer float I'd made by combining a few scoops of their Temptation soy cream and a Virgil's root beer, when the word "reuben," like an ethereal whisper snagged my ear. I looked over to the deli case, where some employees were chatting, and was surprised to see that for who knows how long, Papa G's has indeed sold tempeh reubens. The plastic-wrapped sandwiches, almost indistinguishable from the tempeh burgers they rest beside, sit in the long, lower refrigerated case to the right of the hot offerings and cash register, above a variety of chilled salads and desserts I'd never paid much attention to.

B. and I opted to split one, supplementing our lunch with a few other dishes, and finding a seat at one of Papa G's outdoor tables.



Here it is after being unwrapped and warmed up. (Papa G's is sort of cafeteria style, you grab your own silverware and bus your own table, but the cashier/server was kind enough to bring it out to us after warming, which he recommended.)

It's sort of an unassuming sandwich, obviously not on rye but on some sort of savory bun that was a bit crispy around the edges and contained flecks of vegetable or seasoning, but of what my tastebuds couldn't detect. I took a closer look at the insides.



That appears to be a baby dill pickle sliced length-wise and a smattering of their house-made dill sauerkraut. Slicing it in half revealed a more interesting sandwich. The tempeh patty, which I assume is found on their tempeh burger as well, appeared to have seasonings mixed in. The tempeh was cushioned by a creamy layer of dressing. In fact, biting into it, my first thought was, "Wow, this is cheesy and creamy-tasting." If I didn't know Papa G's was 100% vegan, I might have been suspicious. The dressing softened the bun and I actually enjoyed the texture. B. wasn't positive warming up the sandwich had been a good idea, and wished we could compare.

As I expected, I was disappointed by the tiny amount of kraut. Is there a cabbage shortage in this town I'm not aware of? I didn't mind the pickles, but B. thought they were a strange touch. We both noticed a cheesy flavor, at first I thought it was the bread, B. thought maybe it was the tempeh itself, but I'm thinking it was probably the sauce, or a hard-to-see layer of cheesy spread next to the sauce.

I think B. was disappointed by this sandwich, not because it wasn't tasty, but because it didn't seem much like a reuben. The sauce lacked something "reubeny," obviously the bread wasn't rye, and there wasn't much kraut at all. Though I enjoyed the sandwich, I had to agree. It basically seemed like they took a tempeh burger and put some kraut, and maybe a different sauce, on it. I did like that creamy, cheesy taste, even though it wasn't really even reminiscent of a reuben.



I think B. was leaning even lower, but I give this sandwich a 3 out of 5. It's a TRUEBEN, it has some unique flavors and textures going on, everything is made on the premises, and hey, I thought it tasted good. It might be better with more kraut, a tangier sauce maybe in addition to whatever was making it cheesy, and the pickle on the side. All in all, I'm still glad Papa G's delivered on my expectations -- grab one sometime if you are passing through SE and need some quick wholesome vegan grub to go.

Papa G's Vegan Organic Deli
23rd and SE Division

$5.99 gets you a little burger-like tempeh reuben with the pickle on the inside. There are plenty of by the pound options to supplement your meal. Yes, it's pricey, but it's vegan, organic and pretty healthy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Veganization: Reuben at Belmont Station Bier Cafe



If you don't know Belmont Station by now, it's definitely worth a visit, though the most obvious reason to go is beer, not food. This beer store on SE 45th and Stark (formerly located next to the Horse Brass over on Belmont, hence the name) has basically any beer you could want, in the bottle. With their new location, they added a cafe that serves a few hearty sandwiches as well as pub staples such as pita and hummus, and some choice beers on tap. You essentially have the option of drinking any beer on location, though I would probably stick to the draught microbrews or whatever the special is, as the "corking" fee for opening any bottle makes it much more expensive, understandably, than drinking it at home.

I enjoy the convenience of Belmont Station for one-stop beer shopping, especially recently, when I wanted to make a gift of several local microbrew 22s but didn't have the time to visit various individual breweries in town. But I never would have considered the Bier Cafe as a location for this blog, except that I found out, very much by accident, that they have a reuben on the menu that you can order with tempeh. So B. and I tried out a couple sandwiches before stocking up on the aforementioned bottles of beer.

The Belmont Station vegan reuben is a pretty simple sandwich, and this sandwich is actually two steps away from what was originally intended. First you swap the meat on the regular reuben out for tempeh, an option which used to be stated on the menu. I couldn't find it this time, but the guy working was more than happy to make it happen. Then of course you have to omit the dressing and cheese. You're left with a tempeh sandwich with sauerkraut on rye. The bartender/server/cook threw me for a loop by offering to put any assortment of veggies on my vegan reuben, I guess to make up for the austerity of the sandwich. I asked for mustard, and when pressed, allowed him to add roasted red pepper, though it threatened to mess with the equation. What resulted was still simple, but a surprisingly enjoyable sandwich.

For $8 I ended up with a panini-grilled tempeh sandwich with sauerkraut, juicy roasted red pepper, stoneground mustard with a couple pickle spears and some Beer Chips on the side. (Warning to strict vegans: Beer Chips come with all sandwiches at Belmont Station, but I checked one of the bags they sell inside and the chips have both honey and simply 'sugar' as ingredients, so if you don't eat honey or worry about bonechar refined sugar, you might want to skip these.)

I liked the crispiness the panini press lent the sandwich, and it was toasty hot when it arrived. The tempeh, though not marinated or seasoned, appeared to have been sliced crosswise, resulting in a number of smaller pieces that perhaps gave the sandwich a more even flavor. B. was not a fan of the pickle, but I didn't mind it, and over all I was surprised at how satisfying this sandwich was, both in flavor and hunger satisfaction. I wouldn't go out of my way to order it again, but for a simple sandwich, not weighed down with dressing, it was pretty good. The roasted red pepper was unusual, but a nice deviation from the standard mushroom or onion you would normally slap on a reuben. A little veganaise might have brought out the flavor a bit more strongly.



I would give this sandwich a 2.5 out of 5, and kudos to our host who went out of his way to make my sandwich more interesting, even though that wasn't the point. It was extremely edible, and I liked the panini-press effect, but still not anything I would return for, I think. The beer, of course, is the real reason to visit. I had an interesting dark IPA brewed in Gresham, and the lager that was the $3 a pint special wasn't bad at all.

Belmont Station does have some other tasty looking vegetarian sandwiches that could be veganized pretty easily, and they have nice outdoor tables that aren't in too high demand, if you find yourself on upper Stark on a summer afternoon.



So I'm actually writing from Cincinnati, though we visited Belmont Station much earlier this month. I doubt I'll find a tempeh reuben here to write about, even if I had the time (I'm flying out tomorrow before dinner), but B. and I did drive down the Oregon and California coast this past week, and there was a little restaurant we ended up having breakfast at that I feel the need to write about that. In the interest of increasing the vegan pit-stop canon and all that.

If you are ever in Crescent City, CA, looking for a decent vegan breakfast, by all means stop at the Good Harvest Cafe. I don't know the exact address, but it's on the thoroughfare if you are passing through town, on a weird little intersection with a Home Depot behind it. They don't have soy milk lattes or anything, and I don't think anything is straight vegan, but I had a little dish called Tofu Rancheros that I fell in love with. As you might guess, it's basically huevos rancheros with a few little portions of tofu in place of the eggs -- so tofu, black beans, red sauce on a tortilla, with toast (order it dry) and some great potatoes on the side to boot. It usually comes with sour cream and cheese, but I asked for some of their housemade salsa instead, which they subbed happily, and it was delicious. The smaller portion, for 7.95 (versus a 'large' for a buck more), was the perfect amount of food. The only thing that could have made it better was some Stumptown coffee and homemade jam instead of the Knott's stuff. So take that for what it's worth, if you ever find yourself driving south along the water, and you run out of trail mix.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Vegan Baked Goods Ride Epilogue

Jonathan Maus, of BikePortland.org, did a brief recap of our Vegan Baked Goods Ride, which was part of a nearly month long event here in Portland called Pedalpalooza. The Black Sheep Bakery location we visited is right below where Jonathan has his studio/office, so he caught sight of us Tuesday afternoon and came down to snap a few shots. Jonathan is a great photographer -- check out his post on my ride, then I encourage you to explore his site some more.

Thanks Jonathan!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In the Kitchen: Candle Cafe Reuben

B. and I have developed a pretty deep affection for tempeh reubens. This recipe came well recommended by Swell Vegan. This week it seemed it would be hard to get a reuben in at a restaurant, so we opted to try to make another at home. I'm happy to give you the recipe below, gleaned from this website. We halved it, but a bit roughly, so I'll just put what we ended up putting in. I'll note that there were many ingredients here I sort of resented buying, simply because I never use them any other time. Mostly the apple juice. But really blame is due to Trader Joe's, for having things like apple juice and vegan mayonaise only in gigantic containers, not the recipe, which turned out pretty awesome. I made a commitment to follow the recipe as much as possible, and I stuck to it -- even when it meant sending B. to the neighbor's for an eighth of a cup of ketchup.

Adapted Candle Cafe Tempeh Reubens (makes 2 sandwiches)

1/2 cup apple juice
1 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I used more garlic than the original recipe, because I love garlic)
4 slices of fresh ginger (I never know what recipes mean by "slices," I just shaved off a generous amount)
8 ounces of tempeh, cut into two sandwich-sized pieces
4 slices of rye bread
Approximately 1/4 cup sauerkraut
Approximately 1/2 cup caramelized onions

Russian Dressing:
1/4 cup of vegan mayo
1/8 cup ketchup
1/8 cup stone-ground mustard
1/8 cup finely chopped onion (We used dried minced onion we had in the cupboard).

You can follow her steps in the recipe. We pretty much did what she said, flipping halfway through during the marinating and also again when it was baking in the oven. B. was in charge of caramelizing the onions, though truthfully, neither of us were quite sure what that meant. I feel like all the times I've caramelized onions have been by accident.



I have to say he did a pretty good job, despite the fact I kept ignoring the timing of the recipe, and told him to start the caramelizing while the tempeh was still marinating, realized we didn't need over half an hour to caramelize onions, then made the same mistake again right when the tempeh went into the oven.



I did most of our shopping at Trader Joe's, so our mayo was Trader Joe's Reduced Fat version, and our bread was this Black Sour Rye, basically a cross between sourdough and rye. We assembled the dressing at about the same time we prepared the tempeh for marinating, so both got about half an hour in the fridge.



The tempeh baked for another 30 minutes, and were we ready for it. The recipe didn't say to toast or grill the bread, but we decided to toast it in B's toaster oven. It couldn't accommodate all four pieces, so we did the two bottom pieces first, and started assembling the sandwich while the top pieces of bread toasted. We slathered a bit of dressing on (it turned out quite thick, maybe because we used dehydrated onion instead of fresh), placed the tempeh slabs, added sauerkraut 'til it looked about right, then divided the onions between the two. When the top pieces came out, they got the dressing treatment also. We ended up with a couple tablespoons of extra dressing.



We were definitely ready to dig in (with our Apple Blossom cocktails, an attempt to use up a bunch of the apple juice) but I found my sandwich to be so pretty I had to go outside and try to get a good picture.



Let me just say that B.'s first words were, "Wow, this is really good." I was having my mind sort of blown as well. Later he stated that if we had ordered this in a restaurant, he would have come away very pleased.

I for one was very gratified that we'd actually followed the recipe. Because it was one frickin' tasty sandwich. I don't know if it was the combination of apple and maple flavors, the caramelized onions, or the McMenamin's Terminator Stout mustard we used in the dressing, but there was a delicious, smoky flavor to the sandwich. I almost would have sworn we'd put some liquid smoke in there. The bread was pretty good, too. Even though it threatened to fragment a little when I sliced the sandwiches, it held up quite well and I thought complimented the other flavors. It wasn't as pungent as other ryes, but there were so many other good flavors, it was good to have a bread that didn't overpower the sandwich. We might have toasted it more in the future. We were so eager to eat, and didn't want the tempeh to get cold, so each piece only got lightly toasted in the toaster oven. We were also too lazy to warm up the sauerkraut, but because the onions were warm, the tempeh was hot out of the oven, and the bread was toasted, we thought the over all temperature of the sandwich was good.

The only other improvement we could think of was that we should have tried to slice the tempeh lengthwise, to make it thinner, as the lovely author of "i eat food" does with her reubens. I had considered this at the start of the recipe, but this particular tempeh seemed a bit fragile and I didn't trust my knife skills, despite the fact that this was a lesson we'd learned long ago, when attempting other reuben recipes.

Over all, we give this sandwich a big hand all around. The recipe is so simple, yet in our experience, yields very tasty and complex results. Though apple juice is never really found in my fridge, and I almost didn't purchase it to use a scant half cup, I think it was definitely worthwhile, and I appreciated a marinade that didn't assume oil was necessary. All in all, I think the only real source of fat in this recipe was the dressing, which had a hefty amount of mayonnaise. The sandwich ultimately felt as light and healthy as it came out on paper.

I think we have to give this sandwich, a TRUEBEN, by the way, a 4.5 out of 5. This sandwich is so good...maybe our quest is over and we don't need to eat out anymore. Gasp!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Vegan Baked Goods Ride Recap

So, call me a Pedalpalooza newbie, but yet again I was pleased and amazed by the turn out and success of the vegan-themed ride I led this afternoon. Similar to the Vegan Cyclist Pub Crawl, we had over 25 folks at our largest, and every venue we visited made us feel more than welcome.

As planned, we started out at Papa G's Organic Vegan Deli, where many riders sampled their cinnamon walnut scones, cornbread and cookies, as well as had some more substantial food to prepare for the ride. Next stop was Cellar Door Coffee on SE 11th and Harrison. We had warned each business that we were planning to attend, but still, I was blown away by the preparations at Cellar Door. Jeremy, one of the awesome owners, had actually collaborated with the baking skills of Dovetail Bakery to create a small buffet of baked good samples -- completely free. Lucky riders tasted earl gray cupcakes, chocolate orange cupcakes, tart cherry muffins, the famous pecan sticky buns, and some delicious scones. All along the ride it was gratifying to hear riders express excitement at discovering a new location or a new variety of baked goods, and it was especially nice to win Cellar Door some new fans, as this little coffee roasting enterprise, tucked away in the SE industrial district just west of Ladd's Addition, is one of my favorite coffee shops in Portland.

Next stop was Black Sheep Bakery at SE 8th and Main, famous for its bike-through window, though there were definitely too many of us to take advantage of that. Again, we were treated to an amazing variety of baked goods, another buffet of free samples, from peanut butter brownies to raisin studded muffins, to even a wonderfully inventive savory breakfast treat of biscuit and vegan breakfast sausage and red pepper baked into muffin form. I swear, I couldn't have planned it this well. I had no idea that so many free samples would be in store, but we all certainly appreciated it a great deal.

After a trip across the Hawthorne Bridge, we arrived at Veganopolis, which does a fair amount of baking in-house, including cookies, muffins, brownies and even carrot cake squares. I was a bit full, so I didn't sample anything, but the goods seemed to go over well. A few riders also opted for vegan root beer floats, as it was getting a bit hot at this point.

Because of the heat, it seemed good timing to hit Blossoming Lotus at NW 10th and Davis next. The restaurant/yoga studio lobby is open and airy, and my chilled live fudge certainly hit the spot. The restaurant was only moderately busy, about to hit the lull between lunch and dinner, so they were tolerant of us lingering and drinking lots of water. The vegan soft serve machine was in the middle of creating a new batch, so I don't know if anyone took advantage of that, but I would recommend Blossoming Lotus as a wonderful and refreshing summer afternoon stop to anyone, whether you're into vegan and/or raw food, or not.

Eventually we rallied and made it to our last stop, Sweetpea Baking at SE 12th and Stark. After all the unanticipated free samples, I was essentially overloading on sugar at this point, but many riders were still game to try some of Sweetpea's awesome cupcakes and cookies. I give special thanks to Sweetpea for the fact that, when we warned them the week before the event of our arrival, they responded by taking special requests for certain goods. As such they had a lot of great cupcakes ready for us, as well as my favorite phenomenon, the vegan cream cheese danish. I wished I had room for one, but I managed to convince others in the group to try it -- because really, where else can you get something like this?

Now that I'm coming down from all the riding and sugar, I'm about ready for bed. But soon I'll post about a trueben recipe B. and I are dying to tell you about.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Another vegan Pedalpalooza ride and a trick for TJ's

We'll be posting a trueben soon, but I wanted to do a quick post on the Vegan Baked Goods Ride I'm helping lead tomorrow afternoon.

The ride meets at 1:45 at Papa G's Vegan Deli, where there are a variety of options baked in-house, including scones, cookies and cornbread. Next we'll head to Cellar Door, where we should find a few different goods baked by Dovetail, and possibly some St. Cupcake vegan offerings. The drive-through bike window at Black Sheep Bakery and Cawfee Shop is next, followed by a trip across the Hawthorne Bridge to Veganopolis, Coffee Plant (which bakes their own vegan pumpkin muffins) and Blossoming Lotus. Then we'll head back east to Sweetpea and the vegan mini-mall at 12th and Stark. At this point some may head up to Laughing Planet on Belmont to sample from their smorgasbord of sweets (all their baked desserts are vegan!) and some may head to the new, extremely bike-friendly Voo Doo Donuts location near 10th and Sandy. (By the way, Black Sheep Bakery also has a second retail location at 19th just past Sandy now -- no bike-through window but there is bike parking, and they are apparently open a little later than their SE counterpart).

Anyway, this itinerary is of course subject to change. It should be a beautiful, sunny day and a lot of fun. You should bring cash, but don't worry, not everyone has to buy something at every stop. Though hopefully at least one person will buy something at each place (I'm not having lunch in case I have to do the heroic thing and take a cupcake for the team).

Have you ever wondered if Trader Joe's sold something, but couldn't find a product list on their website? I've had this problem before, but discovered a solution of sorts last night. Trader Joe's doesn't list all their products on their website, but they do have listings of specially labeled items, like vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. So you can see a PDF file of all their vegan products here. Though for some reason the vegan list doesn't include any bakery items, which is lame, because I know TJ's has vegan bread, but probably this is something that varies a lot from store to store.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Updates

Just so you know, despite a lack of posting this week, we have not lost sight of our mission. The other night we went to Valentine's, a cute little cafe and bar in Southwest, because I'd read online they had a vegan tempeh reuben. It turns out they've revamped their menu and now serve Japanese-type food, with many vegan options. We didn't sample any, but it looked like they had some nice happy hour deals until 9, FYI.

Despite that obstacle, expect a post soon, as we still have a few more truebens to try. A fellow vegan pub crawler let me know last week that the Cup and Saucer has a tofu reuben, so that is now on the list. I love leads and recommendations, so keep them coming! We also hope to get back into the kitchen sometime next month, if not sooner, so we'll be posting a recipe or two for you to try at home.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

B.'s Veganventure: Days 7 and 8 of Try Vegan Week

Friday

Because he had still had a gigantic bowl of it in his fridge, B. had three bean salad and pita for breakfast.

For lunch he had intended to bring more bean salad but accidentally left it behind, so it was Subway, and the Veggie Delight on the Italian roll, which is the only vegan bread option at Subway, again.

For dinner, on the Vegan Pub Crawl, B. and I split a plate of Squash Wontons at the Hungry Tiger, Too, and then at the very end of the night we split a Vegan Vavoom (basically a falafel sandwich -- huge and tasty with a small side of hummus) at Dots.

Saturday

Keeping with the theme of comfort food and leftovers, B. did black bean tacos with spinach again for breakfast on Saturday.

For lunch, he enjoyed The Red and Black's mushroom tempeh reuben again. I know B. must really like this sandwich, as this is the third time since our review we've gone back to the Red and Black and he's ordered it (one of those times they didn't have the tempeh mix and he ended up, happily, with the Tempeh Lettuce Tomato sandwich instead).

My house was having a party Saturday night, so for dinner B. ended up with a Boca chicken patty on a vegan bun from Trader Joe's, a couple of lettuce, carrot and green onion salad rolls with peanut sauce (made by yours truly), and a few Melba toasts with red pepper spread. He also sampled some tahini shortbread I had made for the event.

And that wraps up Try Vegan Week (8 Days) for B!

In B's words, "I thought it was interesting how much easier it is to be vegan in Portland than in Vancouver when eating out. There are more vegan-oriented restaurants in Portland than in Vancouver. At my work, the only vegan thing that Sodexho serves is salad with maybe one vegan dressing, so there were no vegan options." But over all, B. found the experiment interesting. "It was fun, I had a good time."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Vegan Cyclist Pub Crawl Recap



This is the only picture I took all night -- the remaining half of the last vegan squash wonton on the plate B. and I shared at the Hungry Tiger, Too. Best bar food ever. (P.S. I tried a bite of my friend's vegan mac and cheese and it is EVERYTHING raved about and more.).

Over all, the ride was, to my surprise, a resounding success. At our largest, probably around when we left the Bye and Bye, I think we had over 30 people! This was an extremely pleasant surprise for me, as I had fully expected to spend the evening with only three or four of my closest friends, wishing we were in line for Bike Porn 2 instead. Instead I met a bunch of cool new people, of all stripes, vegan and non-vegan but united by a love of bikes, and possibly booze. Some even suggested making this a regular event -- maybe if I wasn't leaving town in less than two months.

So a big thanks to everyone who made it possible! I especially appreciate the patience of the riders (not to mention the servers and bartenders at the Bye and Bye, Mash Tun, Hungry Tiger, Too and Dots)...Since I didn't expect to have such a large group, I didn't plan our route too carefully or warn any of the destinations ahead of time. Luckily, the only real hiccup was arriving at the Plan B to find that some kind of electronic show was going on, and charging a cover. B. tried to negotiate with the doorman to get us in for free or much less, but ultimately we weren't compelled to stay. Oh well, sorry Plan B. Everything worked out okay, as we ended up at Dots, which was convenient for those who wanted to catch the Midnight Mystery Ride.

I think we'll submit a ride recap to BikePortland.org eventually, I'll link there when we do in case you'd like to hear more details.

Thanks again to everyone!

Friday, June 13, 2008

B.'s Veganventure: Days 5 and 6 of Try Vegan Week

Wednesday

For breakfast B. enjoyed a toasted raisin bagel spread with apple butter. He hadn't had much previous experience with apple butter and reported finding it an enjoyable topping.

At lunch, the trials and tribulations of trying to be vegan in suburban Vancouver, WA continue. During his single week of being vegan, B. encountered a situation that has undoubtedly frustrated many. His work threw a company party with copious amounts of free food. This event began at noon and was held at a bowling alley. I think he said it was called Big Al's? Needless to say, nothing on the menu was vegan. While everyone else scarfed pizza, B. of course, partook robustly of the free beer for the next few hours. When we met before dinner, he was feelin' fine but obviously the three bean salad he had suggested we make was not going to be ready fast enough, especially because it is ideally supposed to rest for at least a few hours before consumption. On our way to Safeway to pick up a few more ingredients, I noticed that the Vietnamese sandwich joint I had been dying to try had actually reopened after a few weeks of remodeling. I suggested just taking a peek inside, but we quickly realized that B. needed food fast, and couldn't pass the opportunity up.



The restaurant, at about NE 70th and Sandy, was previously called Cafe Be Van and is now Eddy's. Eddy served us, and we found him very personable and accommodating. He was even familiar with Try Vegan Week! The tofu sandwich, which I enjoyed with a $2 pint of Coors Light (I think the remodel was to install a bar and kegs), is vegan if you just leave off the traditional aioli. Eddy commented that the tofu sandwich, sans mayo, is a pretty popular order. B., who is not normally a fan of tofu, agreed with me that it was quite delicious. I detected a sweet and savory sauce on the bread, and Eddy let me know that it was a sugar, sesame oil and vinegar marinade that the shredded carrots and cucumber experience before becoming part of the sandwich (I think cilantro and/or green onion completes the package). I also noticed hoisin sauce and Siracha behind the counter, if you need an extra shot of flavor. But we found it quite satisfying as is, and the $3.50 each price tag can't really be beat.



B. apparently had fond memories of picnic three bean salad and realized it was probably vegan. We followed this recipe, except we objected to the substantial amount of sugar. We just used balsamic vinegar instead of cider vinegar and sugar, and I thought we got the same sweet and sour effect the author intended. We also, um, doubled it, so we could have ample leftovers.



Understandably, B. also snacked on some pita and hummus later in the night as he recovered from the several pitchers of microbrew he helped dispatch. (I should note that B. is both responsible and possesses forethought, and thus biked and bussed to and from work on Wednesday).

Thursday

Breakfast for B. was a bagel and roasted red pepper hummus picked up on our trip to Safeway the evening before.

For lunch, he had the three bean salad featured earlier, which B. packed into warmed pita bread, and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. I should also give B. credit for passing on the Russell's Bread jalapeno cheese biscuit he usually purchases at work on Thursdays, from Russell's wife, who is a co-worker.

Dinner for B. was another leftover round-up, polishing off dishes created over the past week, which included pita and hummus again, more three bean salad, and a bit of the black bean tacos.

B. agreed that even though the week technically ends tonight, because Try Vegan Week PDX events are extending into Saturday, he will continue to be vegan through Saturday, making this -- Try Vegan Eight Days? What will B. consume tonight on the Vegan Cyclist Pub Crawl? Meatballs at the Bye and Bye? A BLT or Mac and Cheese at the Hungry Tiger, Too? Or maybe the Phoney Island -- a Tofurkey brat smothered in vegan chili and onions -- at Plan B?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Vegan Cyclist Pub Crawl tomorrow!

I didn't really realize the Pedalpalooza calendar would be published verbatim in the Mercury. But cool!

If you're thinking of joining us tomorrow, we officially start at 6 pm at the Bye and Bye but I will probably be there at least a little sooner. I think I will wear my Westside Invite cap, all the better to resemble a hipster cyclist, and maybe help collect the group. I'm not expecting a huge turnout, so we'll be playing it by ear, probably moving south after an hour or so.

Bye and Bye
NE 10th and Alberta
100% vegan!

If we're not there, try the Hungry Tiger, Too or Plan B.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

B.'s Veganventure: Days 3 and 4 of Try Vegan Week

Monday

Today I had black bean soup for breakfast. That was pretty good but it was small and I was kind of hungry afterward. When I got out of my meeting at 11:45 I was online right away trying to decide what to eat.

This website tells what foods are vegan at a bunch of different places [Mostly national fast food chains. B. works in a suburban area of Vancouver, WA, so doesn't have too many lunchtime options]. I tried the Veggie Delight that comes from Subway so I could walk to lunch because there is one just down the street. I wish they gave you a little more extra stuff since it costs around the same as one with the same veggies and meat and cheese, but it was a pretty filling sandwich. The website was definitely nice because I didn't have to go in and try to ask the right questions, plus I bet the employees wouldn't have known which breads were honey free.

[Dinner on Monday was the "spanikopitas" filled with what would have been koftas -- basically just mashed carrots, potatoes and cauliflower with some spices as an afterthought.]



This is what happens when you assume that "you can freeze some for later" means its alright to stack them all in a tupperware and call it good. We decided baking this in a tower was easier than trying to pry it apart further -- it's like an inside-out casserole! (This is before baking).



Luckily I'd also made tamarind chickpeas, which ended up as the main course -- just chickpeas, chopped Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes with juice, a couple tablespoons of tamarind concentrate (watery, not the paste kind) and a variety of Indian spices. This was the more successful of the two experiments.


Tuesday

B. was in a hurry on Tuesday morning and so skipped breakfast. For lunch, he had intentions to go to Taco del Mar, which is close to his work. The fact that every menu item seemed to have both meat and some type of dairy product, cheese or sour cream, made it difficult. There were also very few vegetable options, so nothing really seemed appealing. Ultimately, he felt like paying for a veganized meat and cheese burrito would not be worthwhile. Since he was nearby, he went back to Subway and had the Veggie Delight again, because he knew he liked it.

For dinner on Tuesday, he ate some French bread and hummus from Safeway he had purchased the day before. He ate this bread and hummus with some olives and pickles he already had in his fridge. This was another dish he felt like he would eat any time, whether or not he was trying to be vegan. Basically he was looking to graze on stuff he already had --- he may have also finished off a left over black bean taco.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Help for the shy vegan

For some, the hardest thing about trying to be vegan is not giving up certain foods per se, but the hassle of having to inquire about the ingredients in a dish when eating out. B. reminded me of this last night as we were chatting about his attempts to eat vegan at fast food chains, which make up the bulk of the lunch options near his work. I personally find it a luxury to dine at all-vegan joints in Portland, because I greatly dislike having to pick a server's brain about what's in their bread or salad dressing, or wonder if they really know what they are talking about, or care. I even had an experience at a restaurant in Portland where I ordered something clearly marked the "Vegan Scramble" but at the end, after sending the server back many times with questions, I still wasn't sure if that had been real butter on my toast or not. Many of us have heard unpleasant tales of people being assured a dish is vegan and then discovering evidence to the contrary.

I think new vegans may be even more reluctant and self-conscious about bugging the help about what's in their food. To help them avoid this, I thought it would be nice to compile a list of recommended restaurants in Portland where vegans can dine worry-free, without feeling like a pest.

Since this is intended for new vegans, I think this list should favor restaurants that are perhaps less adventurous -- some new vegans may like meat or cheese analogs, but some may find it a sorry substitute, or still haven't established comfortable relationships with tofu, nutritional yeast and rubbery, otherworldly-looking seitan from Taiwan.

I started making this list then realized it was getting too long -- lucky Portlanders! So instead I decided to divide it into categories. These categories reflect my limited knowledge. I'm sure there are great Middle-Eastern and Indian restaurants in towns that cater to vegans, but I don't know too much about them. As always, you can check out local resources Stumptown Vegans and VeganFabulous in the right hand link sidebar -- they also have reviews of most of the places on this list. Of course there are numerous vegan dining guides online, but I think it's nice to hear some first hand anecdotes. These restaurants are either all-vegan or make it easy to veganize.

Mexican

Los Gorditos is, of course, the king of vegan Mexican food in Portland. I had the greatest of luck to visit them for the first time when they were having a Cinco de Mayo celebration with free food, so I was able to sample a variety of items. Their tofu is delicious, and doesn't really taste like tofu. God, everything is delicious. They use Soyrizo in a variety of dishes, but despite the fact that Soyrizo is a pricey fake meat, you don't feel the burn on your wallet (only in your mouth!). It's a good place whether you want to go the fake meat route or just get some traditional beans and rice -- at taco truck prices (did I mention it's a taco truck?). They also have vegetarian and meat options, but I think I heard that Sundays are all vegan. They are located at 50th and SE Division, and keep pretty good hours, though we were disappointed to try them twice on a Saturday, only to arrive too early, before they opened at 11:30, and then too late, around 7 pm. Honorable mention goes to Ole Ole, with various locations around town, because their veggie burrito is dirt cheap and vegan if you leave off the cheese and guacamole. And it's like three meals. Cha Cha Cha also has a decent vegetable burrito. If you are super worried about cross contamination, I would probably stick with Los Gorditos. They are super nice and obviously conscientious of their vegan patrons.

Soup, Salad and Sandwich

Most of these places go above and beyond this category, but I had to find some way to organize. The Red and Black Cafe has a 100% vegan menu, reasonable prices and big portions. Basically, you can't go wrong. And it seems virtually everything, from their tofu cilantro sour cream to their peanut sauce and the mushroom tempeh on their reuben, is made in house (with love), which scores them huge points. I have to admit I've never tried the food at Backspace, but I love the atmosphere -- Korean PC Bang meets art gallery meets hip coffee shop in Old Town. It seems to be overflowing with vegan friendliness and fake-meaty sandwich options, including the upscale and ever-popular Field Roast. Proper Eats and Veganopolis are obvious contenders, and I mention Grand Central Baking not because they have vegan options on the menu as is, but because an ingredient list behind the counter makes it easy to inquire about all their breads. Though a few contain honey, many of their breads are vegan.

Pub Grub

The Bye and Bye, a bar at 10th and NE Alberta, is an obvious first choice with their tasty all vegan menu. I tried the Weeping Tiger Sandwich once and was not disappointed, though I didn't find it as spicy as warned. The meatballs seem to have a legion of fans, though I've heard mixed reviews. This is probably the only bar in Portland you can go to and be assured that all the booze you are drinking is vegan, without having to ask. Hungry Tiger, Too, at SE 12th and Ash has a helpful and informative menu, which allows you to veganize some standard greasy bar fare, including mac and cheese! Dots Cafe has a vegan section on their menu, and Plan B also advertises a few vegan options, including a tasty chili. They have some of the better fries I think I've had, too. Sort of a new comer to the bunch, Edge of Belmont at SE 34th and Morrison is worth mentioning for their happy hour alone. The vegan/vegetarian portion on their menu needs a little help because it doesn't clearly specify which is which, but the fried tofu sticks are awesome, the staff are helpful, and I learned that they use a simple beer batter on their onion rings, which are delicious and super cheap, along with a few other food items, before 6:30 on weekdays. I mention the LaurelThirst Pub almost hesitantly -- B. and I love their house-made spicy veggie burger (which is vegan) and they do have vegan pancakes and a scramble option. I like their food a lot, the only reason I hesitate is that to truly veganize an entire meal you sometimes have to sub (for example, a cup of veggie beans instead of their garlic toast) and they have a policy of charging extra for any substitutions. I feel this alone makes them a little vegan unfriendly, even though they have some tasty vegan menu items. But a good place for a new vegan, none the less.

Breakfast and Baked Goods

The list of options in this category is ridiculously large. As long as you are okay with tofu scramble, it's pretty easy to get a vegan breakfast in Portland --- most menus list the scramble components, so you can easily omit cheese without further inquiry. Stuff like toast gets more complicated. Which is why Sweet Pea Baking and Veganopolis are awesome options to have, as they are %100 vegan. Both have breakfast buffets, Sweet Pea with an all-you-can-eat extravaganza for $10 on Sundays, Veganopolis on the other days of the week, but pay by the pound. Jam on Hawthorne gets special mention for having vegan oatmeal chai pancakes, and being a favorite breakfast destination for many vegans in town -- they are also open early if you want to go before work. Juniors also has clearly vegan options. I'm not even going to start on all the vegan baked goods in Portland. If you really want to know, join us for our Vegan Baked Goods Ride as part of Pedalpalooza, on June 24th. I think Sweet Pea takes the cake (sorry) for best vegan bakery in town simply because they have a spacious coffee shop/retail area and an incredible variety. Black Sheep Bakery is a close second -- though I heard a rumor that they moved from their SE coffee shop with bike-thru window to a location in NE, though this has yet to be reflected on their website. Good chances your favorite coffee shop already stocks some kind of local vegan baked good, and New Seasons and Whole Foods carry many as well. Of course, there's always Voo Doo Donuts.

Asian

It may seem like Asian food should be a no-brainer -- just get tofu, right? Unfortunately, while typically free of dairy, many Asian cuisines incorporate fish sauce even into apparently "vegetarian" dishes. If you really want to be on the safe side, you can visit places like VegeThai on Hawthorne (I've never been there, but they claim to be 100% vegetarian) or the Chinese restaurant on upper Division, Bay Leaf. I was a little underwhelmed by Bay Leaf the one time I went -- definitely tasty and high-quality but kind of expensive with small portions. Vegetarian House in Chinatown is another restaurant that guarantees vegetarian purity. Pho Green Papaya, an off-shoot of the somewhat fancier Green Papaya downtown, has a vegan section on their menu and while their vegan pho lacks the depth of flavor of other variations I have had, it definitely hits the spot at times, and their portions are generous. There are also two 100% vegetarian Vietnamese restaurants in town -- Nhut Quang on NE 82nd and Couch, and Van Hanh near 82nd and SE Division. I think it's amazing and awesome they exist, but I would reserve these for the more adventurous new vegans due both to their far-out locations and less classy atmospheres, and the fact that many menu items utilize wheat-meat.

Pizza

Some people think you can simply order a pizza without cheese and it will be vegan. While this is true of many pizza places, you can't assume it across the board. Luckily, again we have an abundance of vegan options. I think Bella Faccia is our favorite so far, though Pizza A Go Go has the luxury of delivery if you live in inner NE or N. Portland. Hammy's, which I haven't had a chance to try yet, also caters to the vegan crowd, and delivers, though only in inner SE until after midnight, when they expand across the Metro area. Dove Vivi is my favorite for a more upscale, non-New York style slice. Their crunchy cornmeal deep dish with homemade tofu ricotta is a much appreciated labor of love. And of course we can't forget Hot Lips, where you can get an ample, chewy focaccia-like slice topped with an always-delicious rotating seasonal selection of veggies (you can also order a pie for delivery). I want to advise Hot Lips: You know what would really hit the spot after a vegan slice? A vegan cookie. Too often I find myself eying your cookies by the register and feeling neglected. I hear A Beautiful Pizza rocks the soy cheese but my instinct is not to offer a recent vegan fake cheese unless they are really craving it. Truthfully, with few exceptions, I think most fake meat or fake cheese is best eaten by those who have forgotten what the originals taste like.

Miscellaneous

There are a few restaurants that need to be mentioned but don't quite fit a category. Both the Vita Cafe on NE Alberta and Papa G's Organic Vegan Deli on SE Division open relatively early and offer breakfast, such as biscuits and gravy, but have much more to offer a vegan. Both have some tasty comfort food, like Chicken Fried Tempeh at Vita or mushroom stroganoff at Papa G's, and both can be a little pricey, but a great deal if you get the right thing. Papa G's is 100% vegan while Vita offers both vegetarian and meat dishes. Blossoming Lotus on NW Davis is the only place in town to get a vegan icy dessert that doesn't come in a carton -- and their soft serve is addictive. They are also famous for their raw menu. It's a great destination whether you are craving a hearty chili and corn bread or raw fudge.

Whew, that was long! And there are many more. But this proves there are a variety of options in Portland that make being vegan easy, even if you aren't willing to interrogate your waitress.

Monday, June 9, 2008

B.'s Veganventure: Days 1 and 2 of Try Vegan Week

The kick-off of Try Vegan Week, in B's words, with my additions.

I started off with tacos Saturday for brunch. I used corn tortillas grilled on a cast iron skillet, and filled them with black beans, rice, fresh spinach from my garden, Emerald Valley Medium Salsa, and red onion. They were pretty good, and are actually something that I often eat even during omnivore times. I didn't have any cabbage which is my favorite topping, but the fresh spinach definitely made up for it and they tasted great.



Saturday night we explored the spanocan'tspellthisacha together. I liked that so much that I ate it for brunch on Sunday too. Hopefully we will get a chance to try some of the non-spinach ones soon. [We made phyllo triangles (I kept calling them spanikopitas) filled with spinach, mushrooms, onions, canned artichoke hearts and slivered almonds. On the side was lettuce topped with Susan's Cucumber Soy Yogurt Sauce. We had intended to make koftas to go with the sauce, but that turned into more fillings, since we seemed to have an endless amount of phyllo dough. It was good on the lettuce though, I liked the combination of lime juice, soy yogurt and fresh mint from B.'s garden.]



Sunday night we got pizza from Pizza A Go Go [He let me order, and I got us a medium build-your-own with chipotle tomato sauce, pineapple, red bell peppers and roasted garlic--it was definitely enough for two people, and didn't hurt the wallet too much], and actually I've been kind of enjoying these cheeseless pizzas. I preferred the cashew sauce from the other pizza place [Bella Faccia Pizzeria, which has a red pepper cashew base, but unfortunately doesn't deliver]. I used to eat soy cheese pizzas with my friend Nick because he is allergic to lactose, but after having some good no-cheese pizzas I can say for sure that I prefer no cheese to soy cheese.

This is T. again. I had hoped to post more this week but a concussion sustained Friday night due to a unpleasant bike-car interaction put a kink in those plans. But stay tuned for more updates from Bjorn, and any interesting tidbits I might be able to come up with, despite my addled state.

Friday, June 6, 2008

TRUEBEN: The Hungry Tiger, Too

UPDATE 1/3/2010: B. and I were back in town briefly and stopped by the Hungry Tiger for dinner. They certainly have upgraded the vegan menu, but we noted that the reuben is still served with Tofurky slices. Maybe they've improved their technique, but I wasn't willing to risk it. We went with the tempeh BLT (yum!), the basket of corn-dogs (yes, they are battered in house and totally worth it) and of course, the squash wontons.


I think I can call this a trueben, though it really is a veganization of a traditional reuben that the Hungry Tiger, Too offers. As you may have heard, The Hungry Tiger, Too, a reincarnation of the divalicious Hungry Tiger that was leveled a year or so ago to make room for condos at 28th and Burnside, has an extensive menu with many vegan options. The menu states that certain items can be made vegan, and denotes those items with a little heart/diamond type symbol. They seem very open to substitutions, and the menu lists a variety of vegan sandwich components including a Boca patty and a portobello mushroom. Maybe I should have taken that to heart, a mushroom or even Boca patty may have improved this sad, dry, vacuous reuben (spelled Ruben on the menu for some reason).

First, I am of course obligated to commend the Hungry Tiger, Too, for being so vegan friendly. And their food is often very good. I had the squash wontons once and they were awesome, and a pretty good deal. Their portions are typically very generous. Like any bar, the food is going to be uneven. Even though it's a bit out of the scope of this blog, I feel compelled to warn you that the polenta fries we had as a starter were very disappointing -- approximately 5 or 6 overfried, greasy, crunchy rectangles resting on a sea of mayonnaise. It made me wish I'd ponied up less and gotten a basket of sweet potato fries instead. The Hungry Tiger has daily drink deals, usually a dollar off something from 7 pm on, which are a good deal, but I had to remind the bartender of it when closing out, and ultimately still got overcharged. All that aside, I have a warm spot in my heart for the Hungry Tiger, Too, and will undoubtedly return. But I will certainly not get the reuben.



B. declared it the worst reuben we've had. I would say it's certainly the worst trueben. But it wasn't a horrible sandwich, and I might choose it over a vegan Rachel's Reuben, and maybe attempt to improve it with extra condiments. When it came out, I was surprised it wasn't tempeh. I'm not sure why I was expecting this, as most of the vegan sandwiches on the menu utilize Tofurkey deli slices and/or store-bought tempeh bacon. I guess I expected to see the tempeh that tops some of their salads. I was actually intrigued and kind of excited to review a trueben that isn't tempeh for a change.

Though the Hungry Tiger does employ vegan cheese in some offerings, this sandwich contained just Thousand Islands, sauerkraut and deli slices. I think the sauce was pretty good, with bits of pickle relish, but I think I was too distracted by the other perplexing aspects of the sandwich to pay attention to it. Cheese might have helped, or more sauce, as the most disappointing thing about the sandwich was how dry it was.

The bread, a marble rye, was grilled to dryness. The deli slices had all the moisture grilled out of them as well, and were sort of crunchy and seared even, which wasn't that bad on its own, but with the dry bread and small amount of sauerkraut, seemed to simulate the texture experience of eating a bunch of bark or twigs.

Though our bellies were full enough at the end, mostly thanks to the large vegan greek salad that we paid extra to sub, the sandwich fillings didn't reach the edges of the bread, so you got a few bites that were just dry bread. The dryness meant it wasn't a messy sandwich, at least, but at a cost. B. actually described it as "begging for moisture." There was a pickle spear.

I think this "Ruben" could be up there with other great vegan reubens in town, and maybe even as renowned as the vegan Club or vegan Mac and Cheese the Hungry Tiger offers. Don't grill the deli slices. Or better yet, replace the deli slices with a portobello mushroom cap or burger (or, god forbid, tempeh). Add more sauce. Add more sauerkraut. Maybe add some fake cheese, though I can't say whether the brand the Hungry Tiger usually uses is any good. When eating out, I will probably always prefer a reuben made with tempeh or mushrooms over one that uses fake meat that you would buy in the deli case at New Seasons, but this could be seriously good pub grub if someone put some extra thought into it. As it stands, I think we have to give this a 1.5 out of 5.



Hungry Tiger, Too
SE 12th and Ash
Vegan Ruben. $8. Sauerkraut, Thousand Islands and Tofurkey deli slices on marble rye. Fries, tots or coleslaw, or side salad or cup of soup for $2.

In other news, Try Vegan Week starts tomorrow! I hope to treat you to frequent posts, perhaps even on topics other than reubens! Shocking! One of those threads will feature B. as he actually TRIES BEING VEGAN FOR A WEEK. That's right, folks, the week is not just about activities like Vegan Prom and primers on vegan shopping at People's. B. eats meat. You have probably noticed he eats cheese, as he usually opts for the original version when we go out to veganize vegetarian reubens around town. I hope that this blog will chronicle this experiment over the next week.

Speaking of Try Vegan Week events, you may wonder why the Vegan Pub Crawl I've mentioned on this blog isn't on the Try Vegan Week schedule of events. To be honest, I'm wondering that, too. When I contacted the organizers about helping put something together, I was invited to take over the happy hour event at the Bye and Bye which was originally scheduled for Friday, with the Prom on Saturday. I put the pub crawl into the Pedalpalooza calendar, to make it a bike event as well and doubly cool. Then, without notice to me, the Vegan Prom got moved to Friday and the Bye and Bye happy hour to Saturday on the Try Vegan Week schedule, and the folks there haven't responded to my e-mails. Ah well, I know they're busy. Anyway, the purpose of this explanation is that I am keeping the pub crawl on Friday night -- I guess it will just be a Pedalpalooza event in honor of Try Vegan Week. Maybe this will be good, it can serve as an alternative to the Prom, or hey, come out and have a few drinks before you get dressed up.

The Vegan Cyclist Pub Crawl will be Friday, June 13th, at 6 pm at the Bye and Bye, a 100% vegan bar at 10th and NE Alberta, though I might start right at 5 somewhere like the Mash Tun, which is higher up on Alberta, and has a few inventive vegan options, though I don't know the low down on all their beers. The itinerary is not set in stone, but we plan to continue to the Hungry Tiger, Too, and probably end at Plan B.

Hope you'll join us for some drinking and tasty vegan pub grub! If you're vegan, encourage someone to try it out for just a week to see how easy and delicious it can be. If you aren't, try it! Why are you reading this blog anyway?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

An honorary TRUEBEN?

Dots Cafe, a restaurant/kitschy little hipster dive on SE 26th and Clinton, is almost as well known for its food as its black velvet paintings and shockingly dim interior. Often raved about is the "Gentle Ben," a traditional reuben that subs a Gardenburger for the meat. Like the Rachel's Reuben at Goose Hollow, the popularity of this vegetarian sandwich put Dots high on my list of places to visit for this blog.

I had a plan. Dots is also famous for their spicy tofu sauce, most commonly employed in the dipping of fries or veggies, or on their vegan falafel sandwich, the Vegan Vavoom. I would omit the cheese, sub this tofu sauce for the Thousand Islands. Just maybe it could result in a great vegan reuben. However, inquiries revealed that the Gardenburger used by Dots is not of the vegan variety (I think egg whites make this the case). Sure, I guess I could have tried to swap the patty out for something else, maybe the marinated tofu that is available as a side on their menu. But truthfully, I'm already having a love affair with a certain sandwich at Dots. This sandwich is vegan already, is juicy and delectable, and comes on grilled dark rye. It's practically a reuben, right?

I present to you, the Vegan Deluxe!



Yes, I am in love with this simple sandwich, which is hummus, enveloping a slice of tomato, sauteed spinach and mushrooms, on a nice dark rye bread. At $6.50, it's one of the cheaper items on the Dots menu, and one of three or four expressedly vegan options.

I like to think of it as a healthier doppelganger to the TRUEBEN; mushrooms for protein, sumptuous hummus instead of cheese or sauce, and hearty, vitamin-rich spinach instead of pickled cabbage. But I realized I definitely needed a second opinion. B. missed the toothsome texture tempeh or tofu might have given it. Granted, he had just polished off the Vegan Vavoom when I entreated him to take a bite. He said the flavor was good, though he did find it a bit watery with a "spinachy" aftertaste.

But I suspect one reason this sandwich scores so high with me is actually because it defies expectation. Hummus, spinach, mushrooms, tomato...The fillings seem sort of like the makings of a messy disaster. But somehow the bread is still nice and crunchy, the spinach is moist but not runny, and I think the slice of tomato lends a firmness that pulls it all together. Dots typically serves herbed cream cheese and a few crudites and pickles as a garnish, but with the Deluxe you get the tofu dipping sauce for dunking your carrot, celery stick and cucumber slice. Truthfully, I haven't been that impressed with the sauce, and I don't know if it would have been a good sub for Thousand Islands after all. It has a sort of chalky tofu taste and isn't really spicy.

I admit, despite being on grilled rye, and an easy vegan option, I can't really argue that this sandwich is a certifiable TRUEBEN. But it is a sandwich worth mentioning. In fact, I love this sandwich so much I submitted it to the neighborhood rag, the Southeast Examiner, for their Favorite Dish column. Inevitably perhaps, my interview with the newspaper regarding the sandwich ended up covering the fact that I'm vegan, obsessed with reubens, have a low carbon foot print, among other things my neighbors never needed to know about me. I haven't seen the blurb yet but I think it hits your doorstep (if you live in SE PDX) early next month.