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Match #2 of the V.V. Burger Showdown Semi-Finals: A Fall From Grace.

By Chloe vsChickpea & Olive

Ok, I’m back in the burger battle again! We’re at the 2nd of the Semi-Finals of the V.V. New York City Burger Showdown!  I know I said this before… But it’s been awhile: what’s great about this burger battle is that consistency counts. With repeated visits and, in this case, months passing, a burger’s true strength is revealed. And unlike other “best-of” lists compiled in one moment in time likely by someone with a relatively tiny portion of my vegan expertness, I know what makes a good burger.
I also know what makes a bad veggie burger. I’ve eaten them for years. I’ve tasted evolution bite by bite. So sometimes, in honoring that PicMonkey Collageprogress, I got to be the heavy. I have to “keep it real” like that woman on the Chappelle Show who had someone messing with her phone. It’s a role I can take on easily because I care about quality above all. In everything. In food, yes, but even more so in vegan food. I don’t sing the praises of something simply because it’s vegan. This here is not a rationalization I present when I’m about to rip something apart. Its pretty much my MO in all departments of life.

So let’s move it along here. Veganism’s sweetheart By Chloe vs. Chickpea & Olive, the vegan pop-up that could. Like Match #1 of the semi-finals, my soapbox is going to come out.

By Chloe’s Classic Burger:Ch1Here it is: By Chloe’s basic burger downright bombed this battle: a huge upset for a burger that had promise. The burger that knocked Superiority Burger out in the first round wouldn’t scratch it had this second burger been served. The patty was cold, dry (high school cafeteria dry), and lifelessly limp. I didn’t detect any flavor. The bun was pleasing until its end which was crunchy and sharp. The beet ketchup, which I loved on my first visit, was way too vinegary and its taste was off putting. And I swear, I wasn’t searching for criticisms. I entered into the battle with enthusiasm… And it lasted through the long line to get my food. I had food-fantasized about By Chloe’s burger since my first visit. I did foresee that burger beating all others.

So what happened? A chef’s food became a brand. A cute font, a beautiful face, a marketing niche, press and airtime all over the place, multiple opportunistic new locations and endeavors carefully chronicled by social media. It’s all hot and trending and appears exciting. But… being immune to vapid, millennial spectacle, the food is all I care about. The quality. I cherish it like the lost art it is. Though it saddens me to say, I am fearful that this is the end for the Classic Burger… that probably wasn’t made by Chloe.

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A definite highlight: the loaded disco fries that are not on the menu: chorizo, onion, swirling cheesy sauces. These received many headturns. And I inhaled them.Ch4

Chickpea & Olive’s Phatty Beet Bacon (no Cheddar) Ranch:
I regard myself as an introvert. Crowds are psychically draining, especially crowds in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Every time I have had Chickpea & Olive‘s eats, I’ve been at Smorgasburg–hot, surrounded by caricatures. Those negative associations can kill a bit of the ambiance, but they are not factors if you visit the Lunchtime Under the Archway in DUMBO. For one, you’re under an Archway and out of the sun. Two, there are plenty of tables and, because it’s weekday lunch, the table turnover is swift. I stopped by to finish this semi-final battle off, ordering their well-loved phatty beet patty… with some eggplant bacon and some of their Ranch sauce, leaving off the Daiya cheddar which may be on the outs soon as they are experimenting with housemaking a cheese. Yay!

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The burger is an enjoyable one. It’s a flavorful patty than is wet and messy in a good way. It’s got chew, not like those patties that feel more like dry mashed potatoes. The bun–top notch–which is super important. And as a vegan, I always appreciate a contrasting opaque, creamy sauce. But since the patty has so much moisture, the sauce just offers more wetness. It’s a bit of a lost opportunity. I wish the Ranch had more of a tangy punch. The eggplant bacon blends too much with the patty’s texture. These constructive criticisms are minor. But at this point in the battle, stakes are high!  IMG_0228

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The winner of the 2nd Semi-Final battle: Chickpea & Olive!

A clear winner has emerged from this battle: Chickpea & Olive’s phatty beet burger. Brooklyn advances to the Finals!! This may very well be Brooklyn’s for the taking, considering Cafe Ghia might be up against Toad Style in the semi-finals! We’re almost at the end now!

This battle is dedicated to Pickle Shack who would have kicked both By Chloe’s and Chickpea & Olive’s toasted buns. Rest in peace. 

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The Sanctum has a fresh, vibrant vegan breakfast items that are the perfect start for a long day of sites. Any place with a mural like that is bound to deliver on plant-based goodies… equally important, kick-butt French press coffee equivalent to nine cups of hotel’s brown, hot water.PicMonkey Collage1

Normally I don’t buy into “wraps,” but this was all I wanted for breakfast in hand-held form. A spot on curried up tofu scramble, rosemary potatoes, roasted vegetables, fresh greens, tomato & red onion topped with cashew cream and wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla. Oh wait, I also wanted avocado… so I got some avocado toast, too. Avocado toast is really in its hey day right now.DSC_0003

Oh, I forgot. I added their well-loved tempeh. Because tempeh is my favorite soy form.IMG_7685

The 7-mile Blackpoint Wildlife Drive, part of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, cuts through untouched marshes teeming with birds and other wildlife. My first encounter was this little alligator hanging out on the water’s edge. DSC_0014

Most of the other sitings were various slender-beaked beauties like this one, nibbling here and there for some sustenance. DSC_0035

The marsh has no trace of human life, besides the occasional placard and, of course, your automobile creeping along at 10 miles per hour. DSC_0047

Looking for food. I can relate… DSC_0057

This guy took off when I exited the car to photograph him… which made for an even better picture.DSC_0104

Then I saw a much larger alligator who was causing quite the stir among the other wildlife viewers.DSC_0153

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My final alligator, a bit more shy than the others. What a wonderful way to spend the afternoon!DSC_0160

The Washington Nationals do there spring training on the Space Coast. Though I have always wanted to see a spring training game, the event lost its luster after 4 boring innings and not much action on The Mets side. IMG_7744

A quick lunch before heading back towards the Orlando airport… at Happy Healthy Human. With a name like that, how can you go wrong? They offer all-vegan raw food in an area with a dearth of vegan options. IMG_7754

I got the “Human Sandwich,” partially because I wanted to order something called “Human Sandwich.” Besides this, it was just what the doctor ordered: onion bread, nut cheese, taco meat, avocado, spiralized veggies,and a tangy hot sauce served with a side of baked kale. And a beets juice… IMG_7751

Raw food is deceptively filling. I saved half of this yummy sandwich for later in the evening.IMG_7753

Palm. IMG_7757

Roadside attraction in Kissimmee. IMG_7771

Other ridiculousness outside of the Disney tourist catering Kissimmee.

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Lastly, dinner at Toasted, a grilled cheese counter spot with two locations in Florida and an all-vegan menu with housemade cheese. That’s right. On the door it says, “Vegan Inside.” Yes!PicMonkey Collage2

Did I mention the vegan cheese topped truffle fries with rosemary. Absolutely heavenly. This place is fantastic and priced to please. IMG_7791

I got the Vegan Blackberry Melt with blackberry mash, that housemade vegan cheese, and arugula. Pinch me, for real. CP got Vegan 101 with cheese and tomato. IMG_7786

Ok, last thing I eat today. We certainly didn’t need to eat more but a bit of “when in Rome” struck when we learned you do not have to pay for Disney admission to join the slightly disturbing bustling throngs of people walking Disney Spring, Disney’s downtown. It is here that Erin McKenna of Babycakes fame has a bakery location. Yes, the all vegan and gluten-free bakery is in Orlando for some reason. The place was filled to the brim!
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It is quite hectic to walk through Downtown Disney with American riff raff. So here is a map I wished I had brought along. ds dec 2015.pdf copy

Robibero Family Vinyards in New Paltz, New York had its annual grape-stomping festival this weekend, the first weekend of autumn. It was the perfect excuse to run north for the day with CP. After managed expectations, I was delighted by the peaceful, bucolic property and the opportunity to check another item off my bucket list.
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But I had to look the part first. PicMonkey CollageBarefoot and waiting. The bushels of Concord grapes ready for squishing.PicMonkey Collage2

We were the second stomp, so new grapes had to be added.
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It feels exactly like you think it would.
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Such a beautiful, bright color!IMG_2543

Grape-covered toes.IMG_2550

A quick soak (and foot massage!) for vineyard personnel. Hmmmm.IMG_2552

When vegans are in New Paltz, they go to Lagusta’s Luscious. It’s just that simple. Her signature blue ought to be trademarked, like TiffanyIMG_2565

At Lagusta’s, the creme de la creme of vegan sweet treats mingle together, BiFFers Lagusta’s chocolates & Sweet Maresa‘s macarons and baked yummies.
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My box of chocolates, Sweet Maresa’s rose and cardamom cupcake, a chocolate macaron, some enormous ice cream caramel chocolate thing, and, in the bag, Miyoko cheese. Yet another vegan goddess enters the picture! Not to mention to two vegan babe customers. PicMonkey Collage3

And speaking of goddess, check out my chocolates, including the famous Furious Vulva. Also: Maple Pecan Caramel, Strawberry Balsamic Caramel, Eggplant Miso Truffle, Peanut butter cup, Thyme lemon seas lat caramel, Basil truffle with corn, and Rosemary sea salt carmel.IMG_2571

New World Home Cooking in Saugerties, New York has some great vegan options, most notably are the 5 types of seitan wings!PicMonkey Collage4

We also go the vegan poutine fries. IMG_2595

The wings were unreal–deliciously tender and succulent scratch made seitan with a yummy red BBQ sauce.IMG_2597

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Our entree was a bit of mismash of underseasoned, sauce-less vegetables. Should have order a few more plates of wings. IMG_2602

One roadside attraction on the way back, the Poutine / Furious Vulva sculpture outside of Rockland County’s courthouse. IMG_2607

Yonic.IMG_2609

Nestled across the looming Smith-9th Street station, Kimchi Grill is an easy stagger from any democratically-elected happy hour haven proximal to my job in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. And they have clearly labelled vegan options of their Korean-Mexican fusion. I sampled all three of their veganized tacos–Pomegranate and Roasted Veggies Taco: seasonal roasted vegetables (Korean squash, corn, spinach and spicy pickled pomegranete); Tofu Edamame Falafel Taco: Tofu, a dryish edamame and chickpea patty with kimchi-infused refried beans, cucumber kimchi, pickled daikon and pico de gallo; and the Kimchi Guac: red vegan kimchi infused guacamole with pico de gallo, cucumber kimchi and multi-grain rice topped with green onion. I managed to snap this pic with my unsteady hand before devouring all.

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We also got kimchi fries, though not as enjoyable. The kimchi weighed down the fries, softening them to a mushy texture. IMG_6148

If you can stomach the blasting profane beats in the dark, dirty, cramped, tagged up teenage bedroom vibe, the vegan option at Taiwanese-Chinese fusion of BaoHaus, on 14th Street in Manhattan, hits all necessary taste notes. The Uncle Jesse Bao has house-seasoned crispy fried tofu, crushed peanuts, Taiwanese red sugar, cilantro, and Haus Sauce. Sweet, salty, and crunchy inside a soft, delicate, stark-white bun. Sublime. Every bite. Try their homemade soy milk, too…. if they have any left.IMG_6231

 

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Coming up for air from the chaos of a new school year, I baked some “12 Men on the Field” cupcakes: rich chocolate cake (I used Chloe‘s celebration cake), vanilla buttercream filling, chocolate ganache-topped with a vegan royal icing football laces. 3 types of icings for every cupcake. IMG_1694

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I’m not the greatest with the royal icing but… in the green Le Creuset, it kind of looks like footballs.  IMG_1702

These were super-rich cupcakes, perfect treat after a long day of work.IMG_1712

I loved this picture because it captured the texture of all three icings. IMG_1716

And more on the sport tip, as the Mets bomb another season, it’s easy to get cheap tickets. We checked out the Ceaser’s Club, which has an indoor, air-conditioned lounge with a full car and cushioned seats, as well as “better” food options for omnis but meh for vegans, like a choose-your-own-adventure salad bar.  IMG_1581

I chose traditional grub: vegan hot dog with tons of the fixins, Nathan’s fries, and a domestic beer. This is a baseball game after all.IMG_1586

DSC_0010Rainbow chard.

IMG_8555Salads aid fridge turnover: arugula; roasted white turnip, golden beet & carrot; and watermelon salad

IMG_8551Chipotle’s “sofritas” in a way-too-overstuffed burrito with lime and cilantro brown rice and guacamole.

IMG_8553Heh, they said “vegan.”

IMG_8530Pre-party eats at Pickle Shack in Brooklyn: fried oyster mushrooms with cocktail sauce.

IMG_8532Cecelia’s “ricotta” sandwich: garlic sauteed chicories, roasted butternut squash, sage leaves, and pine nut cream.

IMG_8533French fries and ketchup.

IMG_8495Took a trip to Coney Island with some of my students.

IMG_8519French fries and ketchup at Nathan’s.

IMG_4679Kristall Palm Beach is one part water park, one part bath house. With temperatures passing the 100 degree mark, we spent the day in various forms of water.

IMG_4678This is the crystal pool, a light and clear pool. They also had a zinc pool and an amethyst pool, which was my favorite.

IMG_4657After many dips in the various pools, I enjoyed a Bananenweiser. A beer with banana! It was a delicious first.

IMG_4662And as contradictory as it seems, French Fries. Slim vegan options at Palm Beach.

IMG_4688Here I am in an amazing mineral bath bubbling around me.

IMG_4687Germany is a very green country. They use a lot of wind power. Here are some windmills standing guard on the autobahn.

DSC_0087Cigarette machines. Packs of cigarettes are 5 EU here, or currently $6.64.

IMG_4648There are special parking spots for ladies only in some German parking garages.

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PicMonkey Collage.jpgI really enjoy being on the road. I almost have a pang of disappointment when I arrive at a destination. Of course the excitement over what I may find at the destination (food, the feel of a new place, an odd roadside attraction, etc)  trumps the pang. Because sometimes I uncover amazing places, places that align distinctly with my sensibilities–seemingly tailor-made for me and yet, until then, part of a vast unknown. Like in Little Rock, AR.

Finding places to eat vegan on the road is a nuanced art. I rely on internet research to create a kind of cost value analysis. Because for every place I stop for a meal, I can’t stop elsewhere. I have only one stomach to fill, of course. Added to that analysis is distance, location, and (the doozy) hours of operation… oh, and the massive scope of my eating preferences. All of these things are plugged into an algoritm in my head which tells me where to definitely stop and where to maybe stop.

The thing is, I often don’t have much to go on. Either the eatery’s website is limited or there are no other supplemental reports on the place (a service I like to feel I provide with my blog). So I’ll eat—and then the risk and reward system plays out. Results are cataloged and filed away, then, later, weighed into that cost value algorithm for next time.

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I suppose it is kind of complicated when I deconstruct it but that’s not how it always is. Sometimes you just know a place will be a great spot. Though very organized and calculated, I appreciate, trust and adapt easily to this hunch-based decision making; it’s in my nature to dance on the poles.

Anyway, I just knew The Root would be a fabulous place to eat breakfast yesterday morning. And I was right.

DSC_0004If I didn’t just know, I definitely would have known upon arriving in their parking lot to see this adorable veggie mural! (That’s my chariot over there on the right by the shiitake.)

IMG_4230The decor of the place was shabby chic, which I love. After ordering, I took a mug from their collection of mugs, a napkin from their pile of cloth napkins, and chose the table with the best light, priority uno for my purposes. Luckily this table had the best light and full view of the entire eating area and all its little knick-knacks.

DSC_0001To eat, I order their Eggs Banh Mi, vegan-style with the tofu scramble substitute. But silly me snapped a shot that barely gives you a glimpse of the pickled daikon (you see the pickled carrot), jalapeno, fresh cilantro and squirts of hoisin and sriracha. You see the side salad, which I devoured like it was a decadent cake, audibly “mmm”ing. Fresh veggies on the road, especially in the Dirty South, are like treats.

IMG_4232I couldn’t leave town until I tried Loblolly Creamery‘s vegan ice cream. In fact, little did the kind gal running the show over there know when I began stalking the place at 10:57 a.m., this place was the only reason I was hanging around Little Rock for the morning hours. I had that feeling about this place, too. Loblolly is an old fashion-y soda fountain ice cream parlor attached to Green Corner, an eco-lifestyle store was functional crafts aligned to big ideals. So basically, inside that space is pretty darn special.

IMG_4233I’m going to jump right to my ice cream, which succeeded in blowing this discerning vegan away. I order a scoop of each of the day’s vegan coconut milk-based options: avocado and chocolate coconut. On top of those creamy, scrumptious ice creams I requested their strawberry sauce and dark chocolate drizzle, both housemade, and some sliced banana. It was decadent vegan deliciousness in a sustainable container.

DSC_0007This creamery is truly special. I have said “special” twice so far about these Little Rock offerings because I know what’s out there in the country. This blows big city options out of the water. They make everything in-house. I mentioned the sauces, but the waffle cones (vegan and gluten-free, by the way), the old fashioned soda syrups for the floats, the baked goods which are also accompaniments for their unique house-made ice cream flavors–right down to the preserved cherries! I kind of want to airlift this place back to New York. DSC_0008

IMG_4237From Little Rock, I had to head towards Memphis. I mean, I’ve never seen Graceland. To follow are a just a couple of the shots I took there. I took a whole bunch more but want to save them for my Elvis-inspired food post I want to do when I get home.

IMG_4239The iconic black leather suit. On a vegan blog.

IMG_4247Many themed restaurants littered the perimeter of Graceland’s gates.

DSC_0054This was my favorite room. Up on the television was his 1975 performance of Glory Glory Hallelujah. As the tour-goers filtered into this room I watched their light and meandering expressions transformed with the video, stopping them in their tracks and fixating the stares to the screen in awe. I know because it happened to me. It gave me such pleasure to watch it happen with the other folks, meshing this collective energy that gives magic to places like this. I liked Elvis a good deal before my visit to Graceland. When I left I was ready to pay top dollar for a 4′ black velvet Elvis painting. Souvenirs at the shop would have to do given airplane carry-on restrictions.

TNDSC_0078I had time for a quick dinner stop before hitting the road and getting myself into Alabama before too late in the evening. Since it was a Tuesday, the area’s all-vegan Imagine Vegan Cafe was closed unfortunately. I chose to RP Tracks, a community-minded eatery with “world famous” award-winning BBQ  Tofu!

DSC_0077Y0u have award-winning BBQ tofu on your menu then that is what I’m going to get! And some steak fries. The tofu was divine. I could eat a sky-high pile of these delicious cubed and sauced delights. I ate this pile up real quick, only trying a bite or two with the bun, which I was suspicious of being non-vegan. I guess I could have asked but I just trusted my taste buds and left it on the plate with the slaw. Between the satisfying fries and tofu, the eatery gets an A+ for vegan options. Time to hit the road again! Next stop, Birmingham, Alabama!

1997-196A young vegan in 1997. 

The majority of my vegan years went down in the pre-internet days. And yet I managed to find sustenance. As “vegan” becomes more and more mainstream through the years, I thought it apt to take a look back. This is Retro Vegan, Part 1.

I think a lot of vegan start off not eating well. Take my meals of Wendy’s fries with a side of a baked potato. (No joke.) When so much of your meal is animally derived, sides became main courses. But you live then learn, and not the other way around. After the “sides as a main” phase came terribly processed substitutions. Deli slices were the early fixes I remember. But then came texturized soy proteins… what I not-so lovingly called “science meat.” These were the times frozen reheated meat substitute restaurants seemed like good options.IMG_3838In those days (I guess I am at 2003/2004 already), I would go nuts for Soul Kofa, a Brooklyn-based pop-up/catering company that is all-vegan.

IMG_3840I mean, look! It looks just like chicken! And that’s what vegans want, right? Ok, not really. Some do–but I don’t. But then sometimes I do. I bought this recently because I am guilty of food nostalgia pangs on occasion. And because growth, in its most palpable form, is notched on the scorecard when one revisits bygones. While the old vegan in me would love these drumbsticks, the current vegan resented its ingredients simply reading “soy bean tofu” when it had so much processing done to it. I couldn’t finish one. But I am a certain type of vegan. And that’s how much things have evolved: there are a bunch of different types of vegans.

IMG_3842A nostalgic vegan food post would be nothing without a post about Dojo, the Asian-inspired bare bones eatery that lived on St. Marks Place since 1970. St. Marks Place is a street in the East Village of Manhattan that used to be, for lack of a more articulate term, cool. Before NYU students and chain stores cramped its style, rendering it indistinguishable from the place that meant so much to me when I was an alienated teenager. The Soy Burger Dinner. The carrot-ginger dressing. Trying an avocado for the first time. Sitting outside in the summer with a big, purple Kim’s Underground bag stuffed with LPs sticking to the side of my shin. I’ll never forget the Dojo, where I began to love food.

After hearing that Dojo’s West Village location (the one still standing) was soon closing its doors due exorbitant rent, a group of old hats sat down to try the Soy Burger Dinner once again. The dish, which originated in 1974, consists of their soy burger, brown rice and a side salad–all of which tastes delicious drenched in their carrot-ginger dressing. IMG_3843

IMG_3845Lifethyme on 6th avenue has been around for 20 years. When there was not a lot of vegan cake options (and when I didn’t bake) back in the early 2000’s, I ventured here often for the bakery in the back. They had a vanilla strawberry shortcake that was my favorite because it wasn’t a chocolate cake. Veganized chocolate cake was more widely available back then, and although Lifethyme’s vanilla had a brown, healthful hue, I greatly appreciated a vegan vanilla option. The old hats visited Lifethyme to peruse their now wide expanse of vegan baked (and raw) treats. I opted for the strawberry red velvet roll on the far left.

IMG_3872And then there’s the oldest of my early vegan options: a big plate of french fries. Still one of my favorites.

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