Quick Hit: Sweet Treats at the Green Owl

Yikes, y’all. I’m sorry for the silence – I started off strong this month, but then packing and planning and a month’s worth of deadlines at work got in the way. I’ve got a couple big posts up my sleeves, but in the meantime, allow me to rave about some delicious treats from the Green Owl.

I don’t talk about the Green Owl often enough – it’s Madison’s only vegetarian restaurant, and it’s extremely vegan friendly. It’s my go-to eatery when veg-curious friends and family visit, both for its tasty entrees and its consistently delicious desserts. The Green Owl always has droolworthy vegan sweets available, and although they’re a little pricy, they’re rich, decadent, and well worth the occasional indulgence.

This past Friday S and I enjoyed post-dinner snacks (kale crisps for me, a cup of chili for S) and dessert after a busy week. My mango cheesecake was perfect – creamy but not too sweet and topped with a mango puree that made my mango-lovin’ self go nuts. Even the crust was special, a ginger-coconut blend that hit all the right tropical notes.

A thin sliver, but oh-so-filling!

S enjoyed the coconut cream pie, a Green Owl staple that doesn’t skimp on the coconut and is, quite frankly, almost too rich for me. But I definitely swiped a few bites from his piece. ;)

Coconutty!

Do you have a go-to veg-friendly eatery, or is your town rife with vegan options?

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Pizza Lucé: Lighting up my life with delicious, amazing pizza

Hogwarts, Austin, Duluth – what do these three places have in common? They’re all places I’ve been this summer, obviously! While the two-day Duluth trip was the least glamorous – I was on a trip for work – it also was home to the best new restaurant I’ve tried in ages.

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Duluth, vegan food is not exactly what comes to mind. Flannel and strange vowel sounds, sure, but dairy-free delights? Not so much. And yet – just three blocks down the street from my hotel, nestled into a cozy corner, was the wonderful Pizza Lucé.

When I arrived in Duluth on Saturday evening, I was fairly hungry. I’d read about Pizza Lucé in the prep packet I got before leaving for my trip, so I asked the hotel desk clerk about it. He said that, due to the Tall Ships being in the harbor, Duluth was super touristy at the moment and that the restaurant would probably be crowded. But then he handed me a menu and clued me into the wonders of free delivery right to my hotel room. Umm… yes, please? Normally I love walking around new cities, but it was late, I was tired, and I had to get up at 5:00 the next morning.

Deciding on a dinner dish was painful – the menu clearly lists out all its vegan options, and they were plentiful! But finally I decided to honor the restaurant’s name and go with a pizza. I stepped out of my comfort zone and ordered the Lil Gracie: A vegetarian version of one of our most popular pizzas! Veggie sausage, phony pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, black olives and mozzarella on red sauce. I ordered it with their house cheeze, Rinotta, a nutty blend of crumbly deliciousness. It did not disappoint. No, not at all.

In the words of Usher, o m g.

Going out of my comfort zone? Best. idea. ever. This was seriously the best thing I’ve eaten in weeks and weeks. I’ve never been a fan of sausage, meatless or otherwise, but these sage-y, spicy, bites might’ve made me a convert. Heck, the entire pizza might’ve converted me to a meaty-pizza fan. Even the green olives – which I’ve traditionally shunned – worked in this flavor combination. Gah, I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Anyway – I also got dessert: Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars – Granola and crisp rice peanut butter bars topped with chocolate. Dairy free. I’m not even gonna bother describing these – peanut butter and chocolate really doesn’t need an explanation. Yum. Here’s my entire dinner, complete with the awesome Pizza Lucé delivery bag.

Sacred Artichoke. Love it.

In conclusion, if you ever have the chance to eat at Pizza Lucé, do not stop, do not pass Go, but just hightail it down there or pick up your phone and order the heck out of this place. You can thank me later.

First Times: Karyn’s Cooked

I had three big firsts a couple weeks ago – I am now no longer an eating-at-a-wholly-vegan-restaurant/eating-alone-at-a-restaurant/photographing-food-at-a-restaurant virgin! This is Big News.

(A warning – this is a lengthy post. Feel free to skip to the photo, cuz that’s where I actually start talking about things that are remotely interesting.)

I spent three and a half days in Chicago for work, and after suffering through some less-than-stellar meals with coworkers and at the customer site, I ventured to Karyn’s Cooked on my second to last night in the Windy City. It’s funny – I’ve always considered myself the type of person who’d be more than comfortable eating alone, but as I walked the three quarters of a mile from my hotel to Karyn’s, I realized that this was about to be my first such experience. It was also the first time I’d eaten at a restaurant that’s self-described as vegan – the Green Owl in Madison and the Garden Grille back in RI both feature lots of vegan options, but they mostly promote themselves as being vegetarian, not vegan. Needless to say, when I realized that Karyn’s Cooked was so close to my hotel, you can bet your pretty vegan butt I wasn’t going to pass up the opporunity to dine on gourmet vegan fare in a classy establishment.

And I needed it, too. For one, my trip was actually a big let-down. I’m a writer at my company, but I went on this trip as a “learner;” officially it was an “immersion trip” for me. But there was actually nothing in which I could immerse myself, because there was nothing for me to do. I halfheartedly tried to help one customer who was working on some documentation, but she didn’t actually need much help. Sigh.

And then there was the unfortunate food situation. On my first night in the city, I accompanied a couple of coworkers to dinner at a Chicago-style pizza joint. After learning that their marinara sauce contained cheese, I begrudgingly fell back on that most clichéd of vegan meals, the house salad. Snore. While nothing to write home about, the salad was at least decently sized and filled me up pretty well, especially since we ate a late dinner.

I lucked out the next day at lunch, when the catered meal at our customer site feature make-your-own tacos. Between the rice and the veggies, I managed to get a fairly satisfying meal, although the vegetables were kind of odd for tacos – carrots and cauliflower?! Whatevs; I’m a cauli fan! The salad, unfortunately, contained bacon, which is super lame. Boo to that.

Dinner that night had potential – I met up with some Chicago pals and we headed to Flat Top Grill, a local-ish choose-your-own-adventure style stir fry chain. It’s supposed to be very allergen and dietery restriction friendly, with a separate cooking space for people who want it. One of my friends, L., has severe nut allergies, so she and I both marked our bowl of stir fry ingredients with a white stick to indicate that we wanted our meals cooked separately. When our bowls arrived, all seemed well, and we hungrily dug in. And then I discovered something white, flaky, and horrifyingly fish-like in my bowl. Umm. Both L. and my other friend had fish, so I wasn’t sure where it came from, but when L. discovered some edamame in her stir fry, we realized that the edamame had come from my bowl of ingredients and my fish from hers. So, it became apparent that any bowls marked for separate cooking are actually cooked together – because cross-contamination couldn’t possibly be a problem between people with allergies, right?! Everyone’s allergic to the same things! …yeah. It’s a good thing I didn’t include peanut sauce in my bowl, or the night could’ve taken a turn for the dramatic. What the eff, Flat Top. Anyway, aside from the fish, my stir fry was pretty unexeptional, but I think that’s probably because I couldn’t resist the temptation to add seitan, tempeh, *and* tofu, and my flavors were just out of control. Ah well – at least the company was good. :)

Lunch at the customer site the next day was pizza, but luckily another coworker dislikes pizza and asked if I wanted to go elsewhere for lunch. We headed over to the French Market, which – and I quote – “[f]eatur[es] dozens of individual vendors in an authentic market environment.” I settled on a wrap called the Vegetarian, from Saigon Sisters, and it totally surpassed my admittedly low expectations – the combination of teriyaki tofu, roasted red peppers, thinly-sliced cucumbers and cilantro was ridiculously tasty.

However, the dinner I had that night at Karyn’s was even more ridiculously tasty. At the restaurant, I opted to sit right in front of the window, facing the street. I felt a little odd sitting there alone (especially when the waiter poured water for me and for the glass at the seat next to me, heh), but I wanted to people-watch. The restaurant itself felt warm and welcoming, classy yet not at all snobby. The waiters were perfectly friendly, which is always nice. When it came time to order, I perused the menu for way too long, drooling over the choices. I considered getting the raw dish, but I figured I’d save that for the next time I ate at Karen’s Raw. :) Eventually, I settled on a dish that is sort of out-of-character for me: the flautas. Here’s the description:

A tofu and carrot mix stuffed inside a corn tortilla and fried to perfection. Topped with a soy version of sour cream and a healthy scoop of homemade guacamole. Complimented with a bed of pico de gallo, mixed greens and refried black beans.

I’m not a huge fried food fan, and I don’t think I’ve ever had flautas before, but for some reason the thought of guacamole, pico de gallo, and crispy corn tortillas called to me. And, oh, I’m so glad it did.

Flautas, flaunting their fl...a... I got nothin'.

This was so freakin’ yummy. The flautas were not overly greasy, which I appreciated. I found the filling tasty and satisfying without being heavy, which – again – I appreciated. The soy sour cream was runny and didn’t add too much to the dish, but the guacamole… oh, the guacamole. It was perfection on my tongue, a perfect blend of velvety smoothness and small, soft bits of avocado. Between the guacamole, the pico de gallo, and the tasty green sauce, every bite was different as I mixed up the flavors. Even the refried beans were special, smoother and creamier than any refried beans I’ve had previously. I polished off this entire dish with no trouble whatsoever, which is a rarity for me – I can usually count on getting at least two meals out of any entree I order in a restaurant.

Then, I got dessert. I ordered the raw carob-mint cake, and got it to go so I could have a snack later on. I felt a little bad about getting dessert, since I’d be submitting my receipts to payroll to get reimbursed by my company (and the company, ultimately, by the customer), but then I thought about how my coworkers talk about taking customers to steakhouses and easily spending $30 a head, and I felt a whole lot less guilty.

Later that night, after working out in the exercise room on the 27th floor of my hotel (!), I broke out the cake and dug in. It looked like an enormous brownie, really, and for $6 it was a pretty good deal – I’ve seen tiny slices of raw cheesecake or the like go for much more. And, oh my gosh, this was so good. It was your standard date-nut-carob blend, but the mint and the creamy frosting took it over the edge. I’m a sucker for anything with the chocolate+mint flavor profile, what can I say. I fully intended to save some of my cake for the next day, but then… I ate it all. And I did not regret it, not one bit (although I will say that my tummy felt a little unhappy the next morning).

So, Karyn’s Cooked? Two enthusiastic thumbs way up. I’m quite happy I got to offset a rather boring on-site experience with a rather amazing gastronomical one, and I’m also happy that I have – finally! – conquered my fears and taken a food-photograph in a restaurant. Double win!

Rainy Sunday: Zombies & Panera

It’s a raaainy day – it’s rainin’ outside and I can’t go out to play… why do we need the rain anywaaay?

Any Sesame Street fans in the house? :) I just always think of this song on dreary, grey, watery days like this one. Of course, in true Sesame Street style, the song goes on to explain that every living thing needs water, and therefore rain is actually pretty necessary. True that.

Today I decided to escape the rain by hitting up the movie theater. I haven’t seen a *new* movie since the latest Harry Potter installment this summer, so I figured it was high time to change that. A friend and I saw Zombieland, which was both pretty hilarious and rather gory. Luckily I have a rather high gore tolerance level, but if you don’t, I’d use a little bit of caution. Other than that, though, I thought it was quite fun. I may be biased, though, since I do have a thing for zombies… Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorite movies. Anyway, Zombieland has likeable characters and amusing situations, and it’s doubly cool because Woody Harrelson is a vegan! It’s awesome to see vegan actors play majorly awesome ass-kicking characters, even if said characters are Twinkie addicts. Heh.

After our movie experience, my friend and I headed across the street for a late lunch/early dinner at Panera. I’m a big Panera fan for on-the-go eating; I used to love their broccoli cheddar soup in a breadbowl, but obviously that’s out of the question these days. Today I had the black bean soup, although the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich (minus the feta) is another vegan option. Being vegan is easy AND yummy, even on the go! :)

In conclusion, zombies + Panera = the perfect way to mitigate the depressingness of a rainy Sunday.

On the topic of vegans & zombies, feel free to get me this shirt for Christmas; I wear an x-small. Thanks in advance. :P