Chicagoin’ it Up

WHEW.

That was me giving a big huge sigh of relief. My move is complete! We are safely installed in our new place (thanks in part to some hastily hired movers who hauled our two sofas up to the third floor when we utterly failed to do so ourselves)! I can now settle in and enjoy living with two of my favorite people, S and Moria. Yes, Moria is people.

I’ll talk a bit more about that settling process eventually, but for now let me take you back in time. In the midst of our moving preparations, S and I escaped to Chicago for a weekend to visit some friends who moved there a couple months back. I really enjoy Chicago, especially when I’ve got a place to stay right in the city and I’m hanging out with folks who have done all the touristy things already. This trip was pretty relaxed – we saw a movie, went suit-shopping for our friend Aaron (and helped him select one snappy number!), waxed nostalgic at the American Girl Store (I had Addy and Molly, and I loved them both to bits), and just hung out and enjoyed each other’s company. We also ate food. Duh. Half the reason I travel is to try new vegan eats. ;)

First, we headed to Standard India Restaurant for a late dinner on Friday night. I didn’t take pictures (mostly because I wasn’t feeling well at that point), but let it be known that this restaurant is incredibly vegan friendly. The servers are courteous to a fault (seriously – the service was a hair overbearing) and know exactly what vegan means. They typically bring out a small starter soup before your meal, and our server exchanged the non-vegan soup for a delicious chana masala for S and I without our even prompting him. Then, when my pakoras took longer than the rest of the food to arrive, the server gave me a samosa on the house to tide me over.

We all ordered from the a la carte menu rather than do the buffet or thali meal, and I only had the pakoras because I’d actually already eaten dinner. S enjoyed samosas, while our dining companions had something meaty. :) I wish I’d been hungrier, though – the buffet had clearly labeled vegan options that looked fantastic. The food was delicious, perhaps even more so because the restaurant is BYOB and our server kept our wine glasses filled at all times. ;) The only slightly unpleasant aspect was the very irritated reaction a server had when we asked if he could prioritize running our credit cards because we were running late for a movie. I think it was because the restaurant is fairly traditional and prides itself on its slow, impeccable customer service, and he perhaps felt offended by our rush to leave. Still, his knee-jerk look of irritation was off-putting. Beyond that, though, it was a pleasant experience with good food and attentive service.

The next morning, we broke our fast at Handlebar, a vegetarian and very vegan-friendly hipster-tastic establishment with a great variety of sandwiches, breakfast foods, and traditional (and not so traditional) bar food (fried pickles?!?). I enjoyed a cup of coffee and these melt-in-your-mouth tender slices of French toast:

Toast-tastic.

This was remarkably filling, for being only two triangles of toast! It was actually a side order, and I complemented it with a side order of breakfast potatoes. They were perhaps the least memorable part of my meal, because the toast was just so delicious and the potatoes were pretty average. I love that the French toast came with pure maple syrup, too. So yummy. S also wholly enjoyed his breakfast – biscuits and gravy:

Vegan Bloody Mary in the background!

That seitan sausage gravy was a savory, meaty treat! I’ve never really encountered biscuits &andgravy before, but now I see why so many people love this meal – more on that later! S thoroughly appreciated the opportunity to consume a veganized version of this meal, and I felt the same way about my delicious French toast. If only Handlebar had a location in Madison – I’d be brunchin’ it up all the time!

Because we brunched around 11:00, we didn’t have a full lunch. Instead, we stopped at Big Bowl after finishing our suit shopping for some refreshing drinks and appetizers. A couple of them are vegan; S and I shared summer rolls and… something else I can’t remember. But we ate light because we were saving our appetites for dinner. We’d intended to head to Karyn’s on Green for a fancy-pants meal, but the timing didn’t work out so we decided to hit up Native Foods instead. I never say no to Native Foods!

My stomach wasn’t terribly happy by the time we got there, and I knew I needed something loaded with veggies. The Soul Bowl was the perfect choice. It’s a big gigantic bowl of brown rice, red beans, steamed broccoli & kale, ranch sauce, BBQ sauce, and a couple pieces of Native Chicken. And by “a couple pieces” I mean one normal piece lying atop the bed of veggies and one skewered, BBQ-slathered piece proudly standing tall like a fake-meat tower:

A majestic sight.

Insane, right? And a HUGE amount of food! I barely got through half this bowl, which meant I had lunch ready for work the next Monday. Win! It was just what my upset tummy ordered – veggie-rich and delicious. I could’ve done with a little less ranch sauce, but I’m a big weirdo who’s not actually very fond of ranch.

S and one of our dining companions ordered the Portobello and Sausage Burger, which happened to be the special, so S enjoyed a free side of sweet potato fries. We all shared the Native Nachos as an appetizer, and they were fantastic – the Native Chipotle Crema and Native Cheese made for an appropriately cheesy platter, and the entire dish was loaded with guac, veggies, black beans, and taco meat. Perfection.

S and I rounded out our meal with dessert to go – a Peanut Butter Parfait for S and a Double Delight Brownie for me. We saved them for later and enjoyed them while watching a movie. The brownie was nothing to write home about, but it was certainly worth $2.95. I very much appreciate the accessible prices at Native Foods – no $7.00 desserts there!

The next morning, we all brunched at The Chicago Diner before S and I headed back to Madison. I was extremely excited to finally eat there – it’s a veggie institution, but in all my visits to Chicago I’ve never made it there! (Although S did bring me back a treat that one time.) We all sat in their semi-outdoors back patio area, which is fully covered by a yellow tent. Hence the lack of pictures – the tent gave my pictures a hideous, radioactive mustardy glow that made all the food look very unappetizing. However, it was very appetizing indeed. I stuck with my brunchy theme of ordering sides and had a bowl of fruit and a small plate of biscuits and gravy. Y’all, I’m totally sold on this biscuits and gravy dish – it’s so perfect! It’s got a carby element that’s undeniably welcome at breakfast time, it’s savory and filling, and it’s incredibly satisfying to mop up that salty gravy with a flaky biscuit. S also had the biscuits and gravy, and rated them on par with those at Handlebar.

After our meal, S and I got two cinnamon buns to go, and we stickily devoured them on the drive back. They were melty, sweet, soft, and totally perfect. Chicago Diner, I think I like you.

For a two night, one point five day stay in Chicago, this trip was full of noteworthy eats. Our hosts were incredibly gracious in accommodating our veganism, never once complaining about being forced to eat mostly meat-free for a weekend. Our friend Aaron remarked a few times that the non-meat in his meals was good and not really noticeably fake, and I think both our hosts enjoyed all our meals. So hooray for Chicago and its omni-friendly veg eating establishments!

Where have you traveled lately? How do your omni friends react to eating at veg restaurants?

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2 thoughts on “Chicagoin’ it Up

  1. Wow! Except for the Chicago Diner, and Karyn’s COOKED, I’d never heard of those other places. Now I can’t wait to go back to Chicago and try them! (We went two weeks ago, and look forward to another trip soon.) And yes, my yard is dead….

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    • Oh boy! I’m happy to have enlightened you. Native Foods has three locations around Chicago, so it’s probably pretty easy to find one wherever you are. They also have a gluten-free menu on their website. And yeah – the Karyn empire grows! :D

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