Tag Archives: vegetarianism

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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what we’ve been eating

I feel like this photo-heavy post should be subtitled “How to eat vegetarian in the Lawrence/KC Metro.”  It’s a huge post not because we’ve been dining out more often, really, but because I’ve been lazy and busy and bad at updating.  Hopefully once the semester ends (SO SOON) and our farm share starts up again I’ll have more to talk about in terms of cooking at home.  But for now, feast your eyes.  We’ve been eating a ton of great food.

I don’t remember when we made this trip to Zen Zero, but we both ordered vegetarian dishes this time (after my fail mistake a few months ago—screw you, fish sauce!) and aside from having to stare at the delicious shrimp chips while our friend chowed down, our food was good.  I ordered an old stand-by, the Vietnamese Spring Roll salad, pictured first (vegetarian when you sub tofu for the chicken and shrimp AND ditch the wontons, according to our server) and Ryan ordered the Green Curry.

We’d been dying to try Mexquisito since it opened a while ago—it’s owned by the same great guys who own Tortas Jalisco, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.  They have a clearly-labeled vegetarian section of their menu with several options.  I ordered black bean tacquitos, pictured first (UH-MAZING) and Ryan got the tacos de papa (potato tacos of some sort) which were SO GOOD.  Drool.  We can’t wait to go back.

We’ve also been to Moe’s…more times than we probably want to admit.  I’m obsessed with their black bean quesadillas.

We’ve hit up the India Palace lunch buffet, and this time they had my favorite on the buffet—Saag Paneer (bottom right in the photo directly below).  Chow down time!  I also love their Samosas.  This time, they didn’t have the Vegetable Korma, which is Ryan’s favorite.  Oh well, there’s always next time.

We also hit up the salad bar at Dillons for a lighter dinner one night.  I like splitting my box between salad and fresh fruit (see below).  The prices aren’t too bad and the stuff is usually pretty fresh (this is at the 6th and Wakarusa location).

Elsewhere in salad-bar-world, we’ve recently discovered Sweet Tomatoes out in Overland Park: OH MY GOD, I LOVE THIS PLACE.  You walk through the salad bar part first, where there’s a huge variety of prepared salads (last week there was some lemon-pecan thing) and different kinds of lettuce/spinach and toppings, along with some pasta salads and stuff like that, you load up your salad plate and then you pay at the register—AND THEN you get to experience the wonderful, carb-y world of stuff past the salad bar, where you’ll find a ton of soups (always at least one vegetarian! usually more than one!), focaccia breads, baked potatoes, cornbread and sliced bread and rolls, pastas (I would skip these, actually; they tend to be not that great), a small fruit bar, and a motherfuckin’ soft-serve ice cream machine.  It sort of has a cafeteria-type feel to it, and you’re often dodging small children and their parents, but this place is legit.  The best part, hands-down, is how clearly they label their offerings: if something is vegetarian, it’s clearly-labeled as such.  If it’s not vegetarian, it’s not labeled vegetarian.  So easy, and their labeling is meticulous.  It’s a bit pricey when it comes down to it, so it’s not exactly an all-the-time stop for us, but they have coupons often and sometimes you just want to stuff your face, right?  Plus, Sweet Tomatoes has made me a believer in tomato soup, which I swear I never liked much but their tomato soup is not only vegetarian but DELICIOUS.  I want to drink that stuff.

And finally, last week Ryan went to our favorite sandwich shop of our meat-eating past and ordered a veggie sub and swore it was good, so over the weekend I decided to give it a shot.  And lo and behold, he was right—we no longer feel the need to skip over Mr. Goodcents when thinking about vegetarian options.  The same thing that makes Mr. Goodcents better than Subway is what makes it worthwhile to go there and eat essentially a cheese and veggie sandwich: their veggies actually taste fresh and delicious, and they pile them on.  I also like their bread a lot and I love the way they dress their subs, with red wine vinegar and a bit of oil and salt and pepper and oregano.

So that’s some of what we’ve been eating over the last few months.  At home it’s been veggie burgers and pizza and pasta until the semester ends and things calm down.  I’m excited to go back home to Norfolk in a month and hit up all of the awesome vegetarian eats out there, and we’ll be sure to document that as well.

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all vegetarian boxed lunches are not created equal: or how i ate a brownie and a pepsi for lunch and wasted food

So now I officially feel pretty stupid for complaining about the vegetarian boxed lunch way back in this post, because I think we experienced the holy grail of seriously gross and inedible vegetarian cuisine this past weekend when we volunteered for another History Day event.  Here’s what the lunch looked like:

Okay, that’s a Pepsi, a bag of carrot and celery sticks, a “Mediterranean Veggetable Wrap,” and a brownie.  Now, there were actually two vegetarian wrap choices: the one pictured, and some other non-Mediterranean wrap, so I’ll applaud the catering company for the variety.  To bad the variety was DISGUSTING.  The options weren’t labeled beyond identifying them as vegetarian, so I had no idea what was in the box before I opened it.  I had to open the wrap to inspect it to see if there was anything that would trigger my mushroom allergy (spoiler alert: there was what looked like a portabella mushroom in there, so I’m glad I checked); here’s what it looked like:

So that’s some weird-looking pesto-type spread, some kind of feta-like cheese, and a bunch of soggy, cold, (potentially grilled?) veggies: some zucchini and squash, something that resembled red onions, maybe some tomato and carrots?  And upon poking around with my fork I located what looked suspiciously like a mushroom.  Great.  I couldn’t eat it, in part because I was afraid of triggering my allergy but also because IT LOOKED TERRIBLE.  One of the women on my judge’s panel let me check one of the “regular” veggie wraps, which looked like the same exact crap minus the pesto-ish spread.  I ate the brownie and carrot sticks and drank a Pepsi for lunch that day, while people around me were eating Turkey-Bacon-Asiago sandwiches.  I would have KILLED for the veggie sandwiches they had at the last History Day; those boxed lunches included chips!  And pasta salad and a cookie!  I seriously wish catering companies would just TRY HARDER.

We did, at least, have a total blast judging History Day entries again.  Ryan got documentaries this time and I was judging websites; we saw some pretty cool stuff and met some awesome kids.  Ryan and I are marking down 4.5 hours apiece for this one, and now that summer is around the corner, we look forward to finding more volunteer opportunities soon.

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our first cook-out as vegetarians

Sorry for the lack of updates lately.  It’s getting to the point in the semester for both of us where things are officially starting to get crazy.  Luckily it’s almost April, which means it’ll mostly be over in a little over a month, and we’ll finally be able to get back to the blog.  For a quick update, this afternoon we’re attending our first cook-out as vegetarians, and we’re going armed.  We’re bringing our own small grill (so we don’t have to worry about cross-contamination/meat getting on our food) and these two products:

We’ll blog about our reactions sometime after the cook-out.  The MorningStar Farms burgers just look like bigger versions of the veggie burgers we already like.  The Yves “The Good Dog” fake meat hot dogs were on sale so we figured we’d give them a go, though I’m a little nervous after my past experience with LightLife Smart Dogs (they were AWFUL).  If these are better, it’ll make grilling this summer a lot more fun.

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fun with volunteering, and the typical vegetarian “boxed lunch”

We LOVED our first volunteering experience today, where we judged entries in the Greater Kansas City (Missouri) History Day in Independence, MO at the Truman Library.  The relative pain of waking up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday (SERIOUSLY—we had to be in Independence by 8 a.m., and it’s an hour away, and we love sleeping in on the weekends) was mitigated by all of the fun we had geeking out over a bunch of high school and middle school history projects.  Ryan, Molly and I were all in different judging groups and divisions so we got to see a pretty wide range of stuff—some of it was great, some of it was…interesting (that’s about as candid as I think I can be!)  My assignment got changed thanks to someone dropping out at the last minute so I was bumped from judging group documentaries (bummer!), but I still had a blast, chatting with some cool students and learning some fun facts.  I also got to take part in runoff judging in one division.  It was so fun that it didn’t even feel like work.  We’re going to do another one of these in April.

I just want to be clear that what I’m about to say is not a legitimate complaint, per se, and I almost feel bad even mentioning it, because it’s so nice that the organizers had the foresight to order some vegetarian lunches in the first place, so Ryan and I weren’t screwed when lunch time came around.  Consider this more of a message to the world at large: a hoagie roll with lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles, while certainly vegetarian, is not particularly appetizing to many of us.  I don’t know, I’ve never understood the “just go to Subway and order a sandwich with all the fixings but no meat” approach.  It’s a personal preference.  I mean, I feel like I’m splitting hairs and I just hate to be THAT PERSON who complains about a (free) lunch, but I just wish the caterers of the world would try a little harder.  Even a piece of cheese would have been a welcome addition, but even then it feels like the vegetarian cold lunch is a sad substitute for the ham and turkey sandwiches our meat-eating colleagues were enjoying.  I can’t stress this enough, I intend no disrespect to the organizers of the event or even the caterers, really: it’s nice that we live in a world where we’re accommodated at all.  I’m glad that there was some pasta salad and a bag of Sun Chips and a cookie to munch on when I got tired of eating my soggy hoagie roll with mustard and lettuce and a few sad onions.  (Although: I couldn’t figure out why the vegetarian boxes ONLY had Sun Chips in them, while the meat-sandwich boxes had freaking Doritos and other chips.  Like, is the assumption that we’re vegetarian and thus relatively healthy and averse to Doritos?)

My frustration here is exacerbated by the fact that I can’t even come up with a good solution for what a good vegetarian cold lunch would even BE.  A box of fresh fruit and raw veggies with dip?  I HAVE NO IDEA how to handle this one.  So friends: tell me what a good vegetarian cold lunch would be.  Keep in mind I’m allergic to mushrooms.  But all in all we are very grateful that we did have a vegetarian option for lunch here and we didn’t even have to ask for one.  That is really awesome.  The organizers of this thing did a really fantastic job in general and we’re really stoked that we got to be a part of it.

I’m going to count 5 hours of volunteering today.

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superbowl quesadillas and MORE FOOD

And…a recipe.  I made these black bean quesadillas to take over to our friend’s house for the Super Bowl. They’re really easy and fun to make and taste pretty good.  They’re especially great when augmented with some sauce; you can dab a bit of salsa inside before you cook them.  Ryan and I like the fire-roasted Taco Bell sauce in these.  They are pretty spicy, though.

Ingredients:
Whole wheat tortillas (how many you need depends on how many quesadillas you’re making)
One can black beans, drained and rinsed
A couple of habanero and serrano chiles, diced and de-seeded (though you can leave the seeds in depending on your preference for heat level.  I usually remove at least half of the seeds and I like stuff really hot).
Shredded cheese of your choice; I like a basic Mexican-blend

Instructions:
These are so easy to assemble.  1) Rinse your black beans and drain them in a colander.  2) Dice your peppers—de-seed them if you don’t want too much heat, leave in some seeds if you want them spicy (serranos are pretty hot).  Be careful when you handle these, too, by the way.  You may want to wear a pair of gloves when you de-seed them and chop them.  3) Layer in your cheese, black beans, peppers, and top with more cheese and salsa/sauce if desired, and then fold your tortilla in half.  How much you stuff in there is totally up to you.  You could also try shoving some onions in there or anything else you think works.  4) Heat a bit of oil in a pan over medium heat, and cook your quesadillas on each side until golden brown and cheese melts.

We’re also fans of the frozen falafel we’ve bought at Trader Joe’s a few times.  Last time I made these I attempted some tzatziki from scratch that turned out alright, and they’re super easy to heat up.

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veggie burger review: sorry hilary, it’s not you, it’s me

We’ve heard rave reviews about some of the Hilary’s Eat Well brand veggie burgers (the company, indeed, claims to make ‘The World’s Best Veggie Burger’) so we were excited to try them.  Hilary’s is local, too; Hilary the chef is not only the creative source behind the actual burgers but she’s also the owner of Lawrence institution Local Burger, which we admittedly didn’t dine at much before (though, fun fact: Local Burger is the first restaurant I ate at in Lawrence, before I even lived here).  Local Burger serves these veggie burgers and they’re also available for purchase in the frozen section of Checkers grocery store, and they’re not bad bargains when they’re on sale, which seems to be pretty often.  They come two in a pack and we bought one pack of each variety, and tonight we finally got around to trying the Adzuki Bean Burgers for dinner.

Look, I like what Hilary’s is doing.  Local, organic, real ingredients are hard to come by in the frozen foods section.  And the burger had an alright taste.  I just could not buy the texture, which was really crumbly and grainy and just not up my alley.  I pan-seared these suckers and they kept falling apart in the pan, which was a bit annoying (there are other cooking instructions so I might have tried cooking them a different way for a better result).  I’m sure it’s a personal preference thing; I just didn’t enjoy them as much as Boca Burgers, which have the texture nailed down really well.

We topped these with pepperjack cheese and served them on whole wheat buns with a simple salad and some Trader Joe’s french fries.

We’ve still got some of the regular Hilary’s veggie burgers in the freezer that we’ll try soon, and I’ll review those when we get around to eating them.

Ryan’s Brief Review

Agreed with Ashley on all counts.  The taste was pretty good, but then I like beans; the texture made it seem not that different from simply putting beans on a bun and eating it.  It wasn’t disgusting or anything, it was just a little off-putting.  (Note: I’m the type of person who might actually put beans on a bun and eat it.)  The fries, conversely, were fire, and the salad was as my kids would say ‘crispy’.

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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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vegetarian products, grocery store-style

Just a quick update: I’ve gotten into the habit of scoping out vegetarian products in different grocery stores here in town and we found these three today that I’ve never seen before, all at Dillons on Sixth and Wakarusa:

I’ve never really been into LeanCuisine meals (they’re kind of sodium-heavy) but it’s pretty cool that they’re offering this apparently new line of ‘VeggieCuisine’ stuff.  This particular entree has Gardein fake chick’n product in it.  A web search doesn’t reveal much and Lean Cuisine’s website isn’t terribly helpful, but what I can gather is that there are four entrees in their “Spa Collection” which are labeled “VeggieCuisine.”

I didn’t think I had heard of this Lightlife brand of stuff, but it’s another frozen dinner with fake chicken in it, sitting right there above the Boca and Morningstar Farms stuff at Dillons.  Bonus: it’s relevant to my dissertation (see where it says “Giving back 5% since 1979”)? A quick web search tells me that Lightlife is responsible for a lot of the meat-free products that I’m already familiar with (and frankly don’t exactly enjoy), like Smart Dogs and Smart Deli fake meats—this looks like both a rebranding effort and the introduction of a new line of products from this company.  There’s some info in a PDF at their website.  This line of stuff certainly looks better than those awful fake hot dogs, but according to the PDF most of these are off-limits thanks to my fungus allergy.  We didn’t buy any of the above products, but we did decide to try some of these “Backyard Grill’n Burgers,” because they were on sale and were cheaper than the Boca burgers on this trip:

I’m excited to try these but it might be a while, since we still have some different veggie burgers in the freezer that we need to review at some point.  It’s great that these types of products are available out here and for the most part aren’t prohibitively expensive.

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