Category Archives: restaurants

what we ate on our road trip.

We’ve been back for about two weeks from our epic road trip that lasted almost an entire month.  Here’s a screen cap of our trip à la Google Maps:

And here’s the play-by-play:

A. We left Kansas on May 25th and drove about eighteen hours to my brother’s place in Raleigh, North Carolina.
B. We stayed in Raleigh a couple of nights.
C. We drove up Route 17 and spent the next 15 days commuting back and forth between my mom’s place and my sister’s place in Norfolk and Ryan’s folks’ house in Chesapeake, VA.  During that time frame we made one trip to Salisbury, MD and one trip to Richmond.
D. We drove up the Eastern Shore, spent two nights and two-ish days in Baltimore and caught two Orioles games.
E. We drove from Baltimore to D.C. and spent a couple of days with our friend Tim.
F. We left D.C., saw F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grave in Rockville, stopped in Frederick, MD for a minor league game, and drove to Cumberland, MD, where we spent the night.
G. We stopped for a few days in Pittsburgh to stay with our friend Dezeree and her mom, and we caught a Pirates game there.
H. We headed home, drove for about fifteen hours straight from Pittsburgh, got caught in an epic thunderstorm on the outskirts of KC, arrived home around 3:30 in the morning on June 21st, slept for a few hours, unpacked, and then saw The Flaming Lips bring the house down at Liberty Hall’s 100-year anniversary.

Vacation was AWESOME.  We got to see a ton of friends, spend a bunch of time with family, and we ate SO MUCH AMAZING FOOD.  We were worried about how difficult it would be to eat vegetarian on the road, but I think we did pretty alright.  Here’s some of the food we ate back east:

1. Kosmic Karma pizza from Mellow Mushroom in Raleigh: Man, I wish we had a Mellow Mushroom out here.  This thing was amazing; it had spinach, roma tomatoes, feta cheese, and a pesto swirl—their crust is gluten-free (not that we care, but that’s great for some people) and it was this ooey-gooey-cheesy dream pizza.  SO GOOD.

We also grilled some Boca burgers at my brother’s place, which are always great.

2. We had to get Cook-Out milkshakes in NC, even though we couldn’t eat any of their food.  I’m pretty sure there’s nothing vegetarian on the menu there except for the milkshakes.  Sad face.  I miss their hush puppies.

 

3. We got bean tacos and jalapeno mac and cheese at Tortilla West on 75¢ taco night.  TW wins mega points for having an entire section of their menu dedicated to vegetarian and vegan food.  It all sounded pretty good and they have great beers on tap, so it’s a cool hangout (even though it’s full of hipsters!)  Like I said before, Norfolk is like a mini mecca for vegetarians and vegans, thanks to PETA’s presence in the city.  It’s so refreshing to have options.

4. I was SO EXCITED to introduce Ryan to one of my favorite little restaurants in Norfolk: The TEN TOP—and he fell in love with it too!  I used to eat here all the time when I lived in Norfolk; it’s a cute, tiny place with really cheap INCREDIBLE food.  The first food photo was Ryan’s dinner: the black bean and corn chili, which he’s still raving about (the box was SO HEAVY!  He could barely eat half of it!)  I got the warm goat cheese and caramelized walnut salad, and it was one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten.  It was also huge and I had to take some of it home.  Ryan loved The Ten Top so much that he went back again when he went out to lunch with his brother and sister-in-law.

5. There’s no place like this that I’ve found living in Kansas, and it’s a real shame, because we’ve pretty much quit eating Chinese food out here, but Dragon City in Norfolk has AN ENTIRE VEGETARIAN MENU to go along with their normal Chinese menu, and it’s full of not just tofu dishes, but real mock-meat entrees.  They have mock shrimp, chicken, and beef, and though I tend to stick with tofu (the first photo below is of my General Tsao’s tofu), Ryan tried the mock chicken (second photo) and really liked it.

6. Sadie and I have been BFFs since we met when I was eight years old, and even though we only get to catch up once or twice a year now, it’s like we never miss a beat.  This time we got a chance to meet up with her and her partner for two meals: first, lunch at The Jewish Mother in Norfolk, where Ryan and I ate the best black bean burgers we’ve ever had (and forgot to take pictures of!) and then before we left town we got dinner in Richmond at the amazing 821 Cafe, which has a ton of great vegetarian food on the menu.  Ryan got a veggie burger (top) and I had this absolutely INCREDIBLE buffalo tofu sandwich.

7. We were wandering around Fells Point in Baltimore killing some time before the second Orioles game we had tickets for, and we decided on Italian for lunch.  We walked over to Little Italy, I did a quick search on Yelp for cheap pizza, and it lead us to Isabella’s Brick Oven, where we split a small white pizza that was really great.  I loved walking through Little Italy because the whole neighborhood smells incredible; like oregano and simmering tomato sauce.  And of course, we couldn’t leave Fells Point without getting a Natty Boh (though we somehow mistakenly wandered into a Steelers bar…but the bartender was really nice!)

8. After hitting a couple of museums with our friend Tim (who very kindly put us up for a few nights) in ye olde District of Columbia, we were looking for something to eat for lunch and we stumbled upon this new place called Merzi, which is like a fast-casual concept (think Chipotle) but for Indian food.  You get to pick your base (naan, basmati rice, etc.), then add your protein (in our case, veggie: chickpeas and onions and tomatoes), and then choose a hot sauce or cold chutney to put on top.  My rice bowl was great—I got the spiciest sauce and a chutney too, but the samosa that Ryan and I split could have been better.  Still, I really wish we had a place like this nearby, because I pretty much always feel like eating Indian food, and I’d eat it every week if I could afford it and also had a convenient place like Merzi kicking around as an option.  The price wasn’t bad (again, comparable to Chipotle) and the food was flavorful and good.

So those are some of the food highlights from our trip back east—we also ate a bunch of great home-cooked meals and ballpark food (we had these french fries at PNC Park which were TO DIE FOR).  All in all, I guess it wasn’t terribly difficult eating vegetarian on the road/in any of the places we ended up, but there were times when we were really tempted to give it all up, like when we smelled the burgers at Cook-Out or drove by sign after sign advertising crab cakes on the Eastern Shore.  And right now I’m still kind of burned out on Taco Bell, but since we’ve been back I’ve been cooking at home a lot and I’ll post about that next.

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more food, and our love letter to moe’s

Dear Moe’s,
We love you.
Love, Ashley and Ryan

Man, we’ve had some really great food lately.  I mean, really great.  Two weeks ago we figured we’d make the drive out to Shawnee and give Moe’s Southwest Grill a try.  We had a Moe’s in Virginia that I vaguely remember eating at one or two times, but it had been quite a while (like 2005 or something? AT LEAST).  After checking their menu online and confirming they had tons of vegetarian options (including TOFU! Take that, Chipotle!) we checked it out.  Ryan ordered a veggie quesadilla:

I got a killer order of vegetarian nachos loaded with black beans and pico:

Let me just make it 100% clear why we loved Moe’s so much: first, their menu was INCREDIBLY CLEAR on what kinds of vegetarian options they had.  You could get any of their main menu options with tofu instead of meat, or you could leave the tofu off and still get an incredibly delicious and filling meal.  Second (and I’m super glad this was reflective of our first experience), the manager just happened to be working the line that night, and he was very patient and helpful with us when we fumbled through trying to order our meals (Moe’s does unfortunately have some weird names for their menu items).  We told him up front we came here looking for vegetarian options and he was nice in accommodating us when he didn’t even have to be.  When I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to put on my nachos, I asked him if anyone put tofu on theirs when they ordered them, and he answered honestly and said he thought it probably wouldn’t taste that great.  I appreciate that level of honesty.  He stopped by to check on us after we had eaten our meals and handed us a pamphlet copy of the Moe’s Food Mission statement (and a coupon! Awesome!)  The vegetarian page in the pamphlet mentions that you can substitute tofu for any protein and that the grilled onions, peppers, and mushrooms are prepared on a separate grill—all under the heading “Isn’t it Nice When You Aren’t an Afterthought?”  It sure is.  Their black beans AND their pinto beans are vegetarian and are listed as such in the same pamphlet.  The price was comparable to Chipotle and we both liked the food a lot better.  We’ve already been back to Moe’s once since then and despite having to deal with some idiot teenagers working the line a second time, we’re definitely Moe’s fans for life.

We also checked out Noodles and Company and had a similarly pleasant experience.  They’ve had one of these in Lawrence for a few years now and I had been a few times but not in a while; it’s another good fast-casual option with some pretty solid menu items.  You can get tofu as your protein with just about any menu item (or you can go protein-free, like I did), their menu is helpful in its clear indication of what’s vegetarian and what’s not, and they seem to be cool about customizing dishes (I was able to get a pasta dish without the mushrooms that the menu said it came with).  Ryan got the Indonesian Peanut Sauté and I got the Pesto Cavatappi (Sorry for the washed-out photos.  The lighting was kind of bad).

Ryan had President’s Day off from school and even though he had class and I had to teach that night, we figured lunch would be a good opportunity to make our way to the India Palace lunch buffet.  Though I was slightly disappointed with that day’s lack of Saag Paneer, they always have a few vegetarian items on the buffet and we chowed down on Chana Masala, vegetable Korma, vegetable Pakoras and a ton of rice and Naan.  The photo below is of my second, decidedly more conservative plate:

I like India Palace but even the lunch buffet is a bit pricey, so it’s not a great all-the-time option.  We want to make it out to Korma Sutra in Kansas City soon for more Indian food and we still have some more places to try around town (a few Thai places we haven’t checked out, as well at the Pho restaurant right across the street from us).

 

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motherfu&%er

McDonald’s fries aren’t vegetarian?!

Note the “natural beef flavor.”  But… why?

WHY?

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what we’ve been eating

Last week I sort of felt silly for all of the posts about the food that we’ve been eating so far; this is, after all, supposed to be a record of our entire year-long experiment in ethical living, and I’ve not said much about donating to charity or volunteering.  I will have a post about charity coming up soon, and as for volunteering I’m waiting on people to get back to me (and presumably I’m waiting on my references being checked), so there’s nothing really I can say on that front yet.  Recycling is pretty boring and we haven’t hit any major snags.  So I’m going to post about food again.  We do, after all, eat every single day, and so far the vegetarianism has been one of the more challenging aspects of our experiment.

On Friday night we were headed to Kansas City to go to a basketball game at Wash House; usually when we go out there we try to find somewhere to eat around KC since we’re not there for fun often, but on Friday we couldn’t think of anything that sounded good.  We had been wanting to try something vegetarian from our favorite Mexican joint in Lawrence, Tortas Jalisco, so we decided to give it a whirl.  In our recent meat-eating past we had both been huge fans of the chorizo torta on the menu, and we knew that they had a meat-free torta on the menu as well, so we both opted for that.  It’s listed on the menu as vegetarian, so we didn’t feel like we needed to ask about the beans.  Here is a photo of it:

The verdict: Eh, it was fine.  It had three kinds of cheese, which were all tasty but together were a bit over the top; the cheese was also cold so it made the sandwich, which is supposed to be served hot, a bit too cold for my taste.  As a substitute for what we used to order it’s not bad, but we’re definitely interested in trying something else vegetarian next time we go there.  The chips and salsa alone are worth going back.

We had some luck over the weekend when we grabbed lunch from Taco Bell.  I decided that we were going to go inside and ask the cashier some questions about vegetarian options on the menu, even though I hate doing it.  I just wanted to know what options are available for us at Taco Bell, which so far has been the most vegetarian-friendly fast food establishment we’ve encountered.  Their website is also really helpful, by the way: their food facts section mentions that “Several Taco Bell® items do not include meat as an ingredient. […] Of course you can also request that any item on the menu be prepared without meat or sour cream. The enzymes used in the production of our cheese, tortillas, and flatbread are not from an animal source.”  Their ingredient statement also seems really thorough and accessible.  Win for Taco Bell.  The cashier was really nice and recommended this thing that Ryan ended up getting: something rolled up with potatoes and cheese that only cost 99cents.  It usually comes with bacon in it, but the cashier told Ryan he could get it without bacon.  We both got meatless nachos (I got sour cream on mine, because I’m not worried about gelatin for this challenge; have I talked about my marshmallow addiction yet?) and I got a quesadilla with no chicken.  Witness the awesome:

We got some new veggie burgers that we’ll be reviewing soon and we’re going to try to make it out to a restaurant we haven’t been to yet, so stay tuned for all of that in the near future.

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mistake #2: why are there meat products in everything delicious?

So a week ago I came down with this pretty wicked sinus infection.  I’m not going to use that as an excuse here, because I am completely responsible for this screw-up, no matter how sick I was.  Lesson officially learned—if it’s not listed on a menu as explicitly ‘vegetarian’, ASK.  Because I didn’t ask, and I consumed something with fish sauce in it, and it was totally my fault.

Zen Zero has been one of my favorite restaurants since I’ve moved to Lawrence.  It’s cheap, and while it’s probably not terribly authentic and most likely falls into that murky “asian fusion” category of food, it’s damn delicious.  There are a couple of menu items I get there pretty regularly and I would always get them with tofu, because they manage to do a pretty good job of cooking their tofu, which is nice (a lot of places screw tofu up pretty badly).  The Massaman Curry dish is one of my favorites: it’s spicy if you ask for it to be, coconut milk and potatoes and tofu and peanuts; it’s just this giant bowl of awesome.  Last Saturday was the first day I started feeling pretty sick with this sinus infection, and I could barely breathe.  I felt pretty lousy, but I made Ryan take me to Zen Zero in hopes of getting a big bowl of spicy curry that might open up my sinuses a bit.  Not only did it not make me feel much better, but that trip accounted for my first accidental meat consumption this year that I’m aware of.

The trip was made of fail from the beginning, because of those damn delicious shrimp chips they bring to the table when you sit down.  I should have made the server take them away, so there was mistake #1.  Ryan and I had to stare at these things the whole time without being able to dip them in that delicious chili sauce and chow down.  Ugh.

 

Now here’s where I really screwed up.  Ryan was smart, and ordered the Thai Basil Tofu from the section of the menu that read ‘VEGETARIAN.’  I was afraid to try something new and sort of out of it AND I had been dreaming about that damn curry so I just went with it, EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT IN THE VEGETARIAN SECTION OF THE MENU.  Again, totally my fault.  I just figured, TOFU.  There’s no meat in this.  RIGHT?  Wrong.  DEAD WRONG.  I realized after I had eaten most of it that I might have made a mistake, and the server confirmed that there was fish sauce in it.  Fail.

Thai Basil Tofu: Vegetarian

Massaman Curry: NOT Vegetarian.

So that was my first conscious screw-up.  I learned my lesson and will force myself to ask any time something isn’t explicitly listed as ‘vegetarian.’  I hate having to ask about stuff like this because I hate bothering servers/food preparers (especially after my long history in food service).  They often don’t know off the top of their heads about specific menu items, and sometimes the information is hard for people to find.  Ryan has a story about another scenario where he tried to ask about ingredients in a menu item and the people couldn’t confirm whether or not it was vegetarian, but I’ll let him tell that story.  So here’s the first big lesson I’m learning from the vegetarian part of the challenge: meat products are in A LOT OF FOOD.  Stuff that appears to be meat-free often isn’t, and that is pretty counter-intuitive.  If vegetarianism means simply abstaining from eating animal flesh, it would be a hell of a lot easier.  But because of the presence of things like chicken stock and fish sauce in products, you’ve got to do your homework.

Dining out seems like it’s getting increasingly difficult, thanks to this revelation.  Cooking at home has been a lot easier.

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Taco Bell

I thank you.

chipotle: a belated review

A belated review of Chipotle–with pictures!

PROS: It was delicious.

Maybe I was just really hungry, but Jesus, the vegetarian bowl at Chipotle is damn good.  My bowl had: white rice, black beans (N.B. the pinto beans have fucking pork in them, I was NOT making that mistake again or at least not making it on my second before-class dinner attempt), all four of their salsas (I especially like the one with corn), cheese, and guacamole ($1.00 extra).  Again, I’m shilling for a corporate chain conglomerate here I realize, but this meal was, as my kids say, fire.  This was the result after a few minutes:

Finally, the meal was prepared extremely quickly, even compared to Panera Bread (who I believe use bacon grease or deer blood to speed up their preparations).

CONS: The price was, again, a bit much, clocking in at about $10.50.  (Why do restaurants charge so much for drinks these days?  Seriously, I would eat just about anything and pay just about any price if the restaurant featured $.50 refillable soda.)  Further, at this particular Chipotle, the music was pretty loud, which makes it difficult for me to get some last minute reading done before class.

The biggest con (for this location) was the lack of free wifi.  I just assumed every place in the world had free wifi these days.  I tried to straight huss some Burger King wifi to no avail.  This aspect, combined with the music, makes hanging out for a while a bit weird…if I can’t read or check the internet, I’m just kind of sitting there and thinking about the food.  Also I am a bit crazy about refillable soda and justifying two dollar drinks by consuming 75 oz. of soda as quickly as possible to stick it to some shady soda magnate character I’ve concocted in my head.  Moving on.

THE VERDICT: 3.5 stars.  I probably won’t make this an every-week destination due to the price (ed. note: I’m cheap), but if I’m interested in a quick meal before going to the UMKC library to hang out before class, this is the place.

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steak and/or shake

Admittedly, the smell of cheeseburgers in Steak ‘n Shake was somewhat difficult to bear.  As was the menu, which has a new feature wherein it actually screams the word STEAKBURGER at you:

That being said, cheese fries and a chocolate shake did not disappoint:

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more on sulzberger’s take on vegetarianism in the midwest

It seems that the rest of the internet is also pretty offended by A.G. Sulzberger’s tale of woe about finding vegetarian options in flyover country (see my original post here).  I stumbled across two good responses, both with some resources/suggestions for Mr. Sulzberger: I particularly like local journalist Sarah Henning’s response “Dead Meat: The New York Times’ Terrible Take on Vegetarianism in Kansas City;” Henning asks readers to share their favorite local veggie meals in the comment section, and there are some great responses there too.  There’s also this response from a KC “almost vegan” chef/blogger that is particularly impassioned and fun to read and also chock full of resources.  In a way, I’m glad for the publication of Sulzberger’s piece, since it’s now causing people to defend their city and in doing so name the best of the best in terms of local vegetarian options.  Ryan and I now have a whole new list of places to check out.

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