Vegetarian on Vacation

Red Sky Shone

Vegetarian on Vacation: Pittsburgh, PA

There aren’t enough words to describe how much I love Pittsburgh, if not for Maryland’s awesome infertility coverage we most likely would be living in PA right now.  While part of the reason are the large number of friends I have in the area, the food also has something to do with it – and man is there a lot of it!!!  Pittsburgh is one of those cities where I know I can easily find something vegetarian without much effort, which can be shockingly hard to do (DC, I’m looking at you).  While I tend to go in the Asian direction, there are options that cover the globe and every time I visit I find another (dozen) places to eat.  This post is dedicated to my top 5, which was really hard to come up with.

1.  Spice Island Tea House – The name does not give this place credit since at first glance it sounds like a place to go for high tea, when in fact it’s an incredible restaurant full of delicious treats for everyone to enjoy.  They are also able to accommodate large groups of very hungry book readers – which is always a plus.  They have a large vegetarian selection and also offer the option to switch most other dishes to the vegetarian variety, making this restaurant perfect for vegan, vegetarians, and meat-eaters!  The location is also slightly off the beaten path and the outside doesn’t match the inside but it really is worth the adventure.

2. Ramen Bar –  There is something to be said about a restaurant that can make almost every dish on the menu vegan, beyond just saying YUM!  I also have to add a notation about their kimchee as apparently it’s some of the best available in the Pittsburgh area but while I enjoy saurkraut I can’t do this spicy version of fermented cabbage.  When switching out the meat I highly recommend the fried eggplant, it was melt-in-my-mouth tender with no hint of bitterness.

3. Noodlehead – At first glance the menu doesn’t seem veggie friendly, after all only a few entrees are veg*n but this is the ONE restaurant that I have to go to on each visit.  Their bok choy noodles are beyond incredible and when they say spicy they really (really) mean it.  I’m hopeful that one day they will add a tofu bun dish to the app list, but until then I really happily slurp down my noodles along with gallons of water.

4. Square Cafe – Two words: Tofu Scramble!  Square Cafe is what convinced me that tofu scrambles are THE key to a happy morning, along with their lattes.  I love that they have a seasonal menu, and as a bonus they feature local ingredients.  Outside of breakfast they serve two different veggie burgers, one of which features chickpeas which isn’t the normal burger bean.  As an added bonus they have milkshakes and fruit smoothies – again featuring local ingredients when in season!

5. Istanbul Sofra –  Once upon a time this was another awesome restaurant, that wasn’t so veg*n friendly.  With that I’m beyond thrilled that the new restaurant is: delicious, affordable, and vegetarian friendly!  From a large list of veg*n apps (hot & cold) to Turkish Dumplings, there’s something for everyone at this Regent Square location.  As an added bonus they have some of the best baklava I’ve ever had, just the right amount of sweet and nutty – plus the portion sizes make them easy to share…which you probably won’t want to do.

There is honestly no bad area to eat in Pittsburgh, every corner offers something different – and I would 90% of those corners are vegetarian friendly.  From the water front to the point to the little neighborhoods that make Pittsburgh so awesome it is well worth the visit.  I’m already counting down to my next visit and can’t wait to find more places to eat!

Vegetarian on Vacation

State of Mind

Vegetarian on Vacation: Wales

After leaving Dublin, we flew to Cardiff – where I had an encounter with some stairs – and then got on a bus to Cardiff Bay.  The drive from the airport to the bay was gorgeous, filled with old homes and rolling hills and occasional glimpses of the sea.  Eventually we got to downtown Cardiff where we were informed that there were no bus services to the bay due to the holiday.  So we did what anyone lost in a new city with no cell service would do – went to Starbucks!  Luckily my sister happened to pick the same Starbucks to visit with her friend and she was able to quickly navigate us to our hotel.  Quick note: our hotel (Future Inns @ Cardiff Bay) was INCREDIBLE!  I wish I had taken pictures as everything was simply perfect, especially the door that swung two ways.  After settling down we moved on to the Doctor Who museum, which was our primary reason for visiting Cardiff.  After the museum we decided to check out a street fair where we might have indulged on some delicious treats.

Our first stop was a mobile creparie set up by CrepeAffaire – where I decided to give a British classic a try.  I had heard of Golden Syrup before and when I saw that was an option I skipped over all the savory vegetarian options for a walk on the (ultra) sweet side.

From the crepes we walked over to the cupcakes where my sister indulged in the most decadent of decadent cupcakes – the triple chocolate.  This chocolate cupcake was filled with molten chocolate and topped with a rich chocolate buttercream, total insanity.  For science I took a bite of this sweet treat.

For dinner we went to Bellini’s, which Doctor Who fans will recognize from Boom Town as the restaurant where the Doctor took Margaret for dinner.  While their dinner didn’t end well ours was incredible!  The restaurant is traditional Italian with a few vegetarian options (clearly marked with a large V) but no clear vegan options, though the menu notes they are willing to make accommodations.  For a starter we got the Cestino de Capra which featured some of the richest goat cheese I’ve ever been fortunate enough to try.  It was truly melt in your mouth and worked perfectly with the addictive red onion marmalade.  For the main course it was hard to pick – all the pasta are made in house including the giant spinach stuffed ravioli.  For the non-pasta eaters there are brickoven pizzas which both my sister and her friend dined on. Since this was a special occasion we also got desserts – tiramisu, Coppa gelato, Budino al cioccolato, and the Torta al formaggio all made their way to our table and all were greatly enjoyed!

After a night of indulgence we spen the next day walking around Bath – which will be covered in my England edition – before heading back to Cardiff for dinner and sleep.  After a few walks around the Bay we decided to try a local chain: Las Iquanas.  I never thought I would have S. American food in Cardiff but why not???  As a bonus they have a Veggie & Vegan menu, making it super easy to find great food that is animal free.   I went for the Epic Enchilada going for the tomatillo salsa though I was debating that against the Moqueca  up until time to order.  While the dish was labeled as spicy it was (IMHO) very milk but still incredibly good.

For our final Cardiff meal we decided to skip the standard restaurants and grab sandwiches so we could take advantage of the incredible weather.  While we had packed for standard UK weather (rain, cool, grey) it wound up being in the upper 70s and sunny for all of our time in Cardiff, which is why our final lunch was enjoyed in the shade of the Cardiff Castle.  I had heard of Waitrose in a number of my Brit Chick Lit books, and knew it would be perfect.  I decided on a falafel sandwich with red pepper paste and halloumi cheese along with some local raspberries.  The tart fruit with the squeaky cheese wound up being the perfect companions for the incredible scenary as we watched and ate until it was time to catch our bus to London.

I wish we had more time in Cardiff, and Wales in general, but the short amount of time that we did have was incredible.  While this area isn’t as vegetarian friendly as Dublin they still focus a great deal of energy on local and organic ingredients.  It was amazing seeing all the notes on the various menus about the local farms where the lamb, lettuce, tomatoes, berries came from and how standard that was.  I can only hope that more cities in the US start heading in that direction.

Next up: London, Oxford, and Bath

Vegetarian on Vacation

My Umbrella

Vegetarian on Vacation: Republic of Ireland & N. Ireland

Dinner in Ireland

Time to talk about the most important part of my trip: the food!!!!  I was expecting it to be a bit of a challenge to find vegetarian friendly food in Ireland, after all this is the land of meat and potatoes (and cabbage!) and I was oh so very wrong.  Turns out that Ireland, both parts of the gorgeous green island, have firmly embraced the localvore lifestyle as well as the benefits of a veggie focused diet.   From our first incredible brunch to our last dinner finding delicious vegetarian, and vegan, meals was easy.

Our first meal was at Queen of Tarts, a restaurant with two locations in the Temple Bar area that came highly recommended by the awesome Geraldine who is a girl after my own heart with a sweet tooth and the most perfect of birthdays.  Even though their menu is chocked full of goodies the three of us decided to get the same thing – the lunch special featuring a summer corn chowder and a tomato Mozzarella tart.  We also indulged in the Hot Blackberry & Apple crumble, after all what’s a vacation without dessert?!?!?  Other vegetarian items on the menu included a spinach brie tart, a red onion potato tart, and a grilled vegetable sandwich.  I would say the menu is easily 70% vegetarian, depending on the soup/sandwich of the day.  A little bit harder when it comes to vegan options since this is primarily a tart shop who regularly highlights all sorts of delicious dairy treats, like goat cheese!

For dinner we headed to Bobo’s Gourmet Irish Burgers, and yes you read that right.  This burger joint not only features local and organic meat burgers, they also have three (3!) vegetarian burger options.  Gherkins, mushrooms, Bobo’s special sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, falafel – if it could possibly be on a burger Bobo has it.  The special curry chips were also OUTSTANDING, just further proof that curry really does belong on everything.

Our next day was spent traveling north, from Dublin to Belfast to the Giant’s Causeway to Carrick-a-Rede Bridge back to Belfast and then home to Dublin.  While breakfast consisted of yogurt in our flat, lunch was insanely delicious tomato basil soup with a grilled goat cheese and sundried tomato sandwich.  No fancy restaurant this time, just a cute cafe outside of the Giant’s Causeway but it was perfect.  Once we got back to Dublin we headed to Cornucopia, after being given an insider tip by a friend that this was THE vegetarian restaurant to visit.  We got their late in the day so entree options were limited but there were tons of sides to select – so we each got two different sides in order to full explore our options.  Our main entree (picture) was an insanely good potato dish filled with goat cheese and ricotta along with a roasted red pepper sauce all topped with a baked phyllo crust.   For sides I went with the chickpeas and a vegan coleslaw while my traveling partner went with the butter beans and the bulgar grain salad.  While I had to avoid the butter beans everything else was outstanding, which is why the potato dish is on my list of recipes to try.

The next morning we left for Wales, looking forward to Doctor Who and more delicious meals.  However I was sad to say good bye to Ireland – so many more delicious restaurants to try and tarts to eat and seasonal vegetables to enjoy.  Stay tuned for the next installation – first though my submission for r/52weeksofcooking will be up on Thursday.

Vegetarian on Vacation

To Remember

Vegetarian on Vacation

When Joe and I started planning our trip to Europe it wasn’t a honeymoon and it also included a few more stops.  It’s amazing how fast things can change!  While the original trip included a few days in Amsterdam we decided to spending more time in Austria and focus on day trips.  Looking back it was the PERFECT decision, since it allowed us to change plans when the weather wasn’t cooperating.  After searching thru a good dozen tour books at Barnes and Noble, I decided that Rick Steve’s series seemed to be the best fit for us with his large focus on walking and biking tours.  I also appreciated the number of vegetarian restaurants he listed in his guide books, something frequently left out by many of the other tour guides.  Looking at the list of options for Vienna, I was shocked by how much things had changed since my first BIG trip to Austria almost 10 years ago.  At that time a request for a vegetarisch meal was meet with wide eyes and a brief moment of panic, and dinners that closely resembled breakfast.  Needless to say I was thrilled to see that more and more restaurants are including vegetarian meals in their menu, and there are also a handful of vegetarian/vegan restaurants starting to pop up in the city.

While in Vienna, we went to two such vegetarian restaurants both of which included a Bio-Bar for a full veggie experience.  The first place we went to was located near the Holocaust Memorial near St. Stephan’s in the heart of Vienna.  The Bio Bar von Antun is located in a quiet square not so far from the hustle and bustle that is Stephanplatz, making it an ideal place for a leisurely meal.  We went for lunch on a Sunday and ordered two of the daily specials.  Joe enjoyed a stuffed potato dish with rosemary polenta and mushrooms, while I enjoyed marinated tofu served with asparagus and dumplings.  The vegetables were amazing, and we later found out that everything was from gathered from a local market.

On our last day in Vienna we wondered down to the Naschmarkt where I indulged in some amazing sour cherries, before going on a hunt for lunch.  After debating the dozens of pop-up restaurants at the market we decided to go wondering down Mariahilferstrasse instead.  Upon the advice from our guide we looked down the side streets for a quieter place to eat and were eventually rewarded.  Nice Rice is located down one of those side streets, right before you reach one of the many H&Ms.  Originally we were heading to the Gasthaus located at the opening of the street but they had just stopped serving lunch.  Seeing the bright green signs advertising Nice Rice, we continued down the alley in search of outdoor seating.  While we weren’t able to find outdoor seating, we were able to get a seat indoors overlooking the alley.  I set about translating the daily special menu while Joe looked over the standard menu, which included an English section.   After confirming with our waitress that everything was peanut free, we decided to indulge in the three course lunch special of the day.  Our meal started with an amazing root vegetable soup that was amazingly creamy for being dairy free.  I was able to gather that leeks, carrots, and sweet potatoes were involved but I have a feeling that there were some other vegetables present as well.  Our salad course was simple and delicious, featuring seasonal vegetables tossed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.  The main course was a true highlight of the trip, and one that I’m hoping to recreate this week.  It featured rosemary polenta, topped with a layer of goat cheese, followed by a layer of lightly sauted eggplant before being topped with a dill yogurt sauce.  Cherry tomatoes were also tossed in along with some arugula, which gave a nice crispy contrast to the rest of the dish.  Everything about the dish reminded me of the Austrian meals I had before, to the point that I kept having to remind myself that it was vegetarian!

The rest of the trip I enjoyed some of the more standard vegetarian fares, noshing on käsespätzle, dumplings, and my favorite soup: knoblauchcremesuppen.  I have tried recreating this garlic masterpiece more times than I care to admit, but have yet to get it close to the richness of the soup.  I will be giving a try again shortly, and I’m hoping that maybe this time I’ll be able to figure out the secret to the richness of this incredible soup.

I’m not sure when we’ll be able to go back overseas, hopefully sooner than later since there is still so much of Austria I want to show Joe.  I can only imagine how many more vegetarian restaurants will be in Austria by then, and I look forward to trying out as many of them as I can!

Uncategorized · Vegetarian on Vacation

By the Sea

Vegetarian on Vacation

Eastern Shore: Easton

In recent years I have been very fortunate in having multiple opportunities to visit the Eastern Shore of Maryland and with that multiple amazing restaurants.  While most of the restaurants are heavy on delicious local seafood, many of them also have vegetarian options and a growing number are starting to offer vegan options.  There are also more Farmer’s Markets than you could ever imagine and have offerings ranging from sweet corn to yellow tomatoes to pumpkin (!) rice pupping to dog treats!  Most of the restaurants are also involved in the localvore movement, so everything is as fresh as possible and is obvious from the first bite.  Every time I go there are a number of place on my MUST VISIT list, starting with the local Amish Farmers Market and ending when possible with General Tanukis.  There are still a number of places that I haven’t visited so this list will probably change but for now here are my top 5 places to eat while at Easton.

  1. General Tanukis – The downside: not vegan friendly, there is only one option on the menu.  The upside: amazing fusion food that is insanely good.  The pizzas are incredible, the Herbivore being my personal favorite.  They also have regular specials, and their curry is some of the best I’ve ever had.  The also have a number of different sushi rolls, including a few vegetarian options and a number of local varieties.
  2. Martini’s – Two words: Tomato Sauce.  I’m not sure if it’s simply using local produce but the tomato sauce on their Eggplant Sandwich is incredible.  As a bonus the sandwich can be prepared vegan as can their Pan Roasted Vegetable Wrap.  While on the pricey side the quality of the ingredients makes it worth spending the extra money.
  3. AVA’s Pizzeria – Not only do they allow dogs on the patio they also have a number of vegetarian and vegan options.   The home made potato chips are INCREDIBLE which is saying something since I am not a potato chip person.  The onion tart pizza is also insane, but it is potent so if you are on a date….
  4. Amish Farmer’s Market – Food the way nature intended it, no additives no artificial coloring just all natural fresh food.  While vegan food is limited to the fresh produce, there are a number of vegetarian options in the prepared food section including a good dozen salad types.  There is also a butcher shop in the back, so even if you prefer a good bratwurst to Broccoli Salad you are still in luck.
  5. Railway Market – Great place for Carnivores, Vegetarians, and Vegans who are looking for something quick and easy.  From their organic sandwiches to their flavorful soups to their deli bar everything is delicious and nutritious.  I had my first brussel sprouts here, and from that experience I learned that I actually like these strange little vegetables.
I’m hoping that on my next trip I’ll be able to try Out of the Fire, I’ve been hearing great things about it but so far every time I am in that area it is closed for a special event.  
Vegetarian on Vacation

In the Middle

Vegetarian on Vacation

The Middle and the Bad of Indianapolis

Midwest.  Farm County.  Steakhouses. Welcome to Indianapolis where there is a steakhouse on every corner.  While a number of these well established restaurants are expanding their menus to include some non-red-meat options, they are few and far between.  The other ones will bring a veggie plate if requested, but then dinner is regulated to a few roasted vegetables with little protein in sight.  The following are places that are either on the right track, and haven’t yet reached the station along with those that aren’t even trying to find the station.

St. Elmos – They offer a vegetable plate, and that’s it.  They are a true blue steak house with everything you would expect a steakhouse to have.   PERIOD

West Coast Tacos – Confession: I love food trucks.  However I think Food Trucks should be like every other restaurant when it comes food offerings and include something veggie friendly.  With Tacos there are plenty of easy veggie options starting with black beans and avocado and just building from there.

Palomino – There are options here, not many, but they are there and they are DELICIOUS!  They have one of the richest tasting mushroom soups I have ever had.  If you get the right waitor they are also willing to work with you to find the perfect dish, which is always a great touch.  While they still need to expand on their veggie friendly options they are heading in the right direction and I can see a vegan entree in their near future.

The Ram – It should be noted that for GenCon they have a special themed menu, one that has NO vegetarian options to include the salads.  They do offer veggie burgers however they are frozen, tasteless, and extremely overpriced.  It didn’t help that the service was horrid, of the 6 people at the table only two got the correct order the first time out.  Hopefully their normal menu has more variety and hopefully their kitchen has a better track record under normal circumstances.

While typing this up I noticed a breaking news release about a stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair, my thoughts and prayers with all the families effected.  I look forward to traveling to Indy again next year for GenCon 2012, and look forward to trying out some new places!

Vegetarian on Vacation

Roam Around

Vegetarian on Vacation

Downtown Indianapolis

Hello!  So I just got back from GenCon in Indianapolis and had a total BLAST! I love being able to go somewhere and let my inner geek fly.  This time I was able to check out some great shows including the amazing Damsels of Dorkington and the hilarious Leah not Leia.  I also saw Ghild and while Michael Rosenbaum is a cutie I’m still not sure if I enjoyed this movie, but that could be because I was expecting a comedy comedy and not a black comedy which this movie is.  Needless to say this was another wonderful year, and I’m looking forward to figuring out L5R which is the new game I brought home.

Now for the important part: the FOOD.  Indianapolis is a meat lovers haven!  Finding a vegetarian entree can be a challenge and finding a true vegan option is near to impossible unless you are okay with eating a salad for every meal.  This year I did my best to branch out and try new places, but I found that for all the growth happening in the city the food options are not expanding.   Today I am going to focus on the places that offer true vegetarian fare, without having to modify anything or get creative.

  • The New York Slice:  Huge New York style slices that are an amazing price, plus the veggie option is delicious.   One slice was more than enough for me for lunch, but for those with large appetites the price per slice can’t be beat.  They also offered a number of sides
  • Noodles & Company:   Essentially everything at this restaurant starts out vegetarian and goes from there.  At first I thought this was a vegan mecca until I saw that they tend to use the same pans with only a quick rinse which means some animal byproduct could be left behind.  This leads me to my second point of this restaurant not being nut allergy friendly, unless you asked the person to get a new pan and even then I would be careful.  This might be a location thing so if you have nut allergies be sure to voice them.  When going here I tend to stick to the Asian section, the Bangkok Curry is delicious as is the Indonesian Peanut Saute.  Being able to add organic tofu is another huge plus, that and being able to adjust the heat level.
  • India Gardens: I’ll admit it, I was nervous to try Indian food in Indy.  The last time I had Indian food here in the DC area I found a not so pleasant surprise in my masala so I wasn’t sure what a city that lacks the diversity of DC would offer.  I was more than pleasantly surprised by this gem, which exceeded all of my expectations and then some.  After much debate I decided on the Paneer Masala and my only regret is that I didn’t order it spicier.  The Masala sauce was some of the richest most flavorful I have ever had while the paneer just melted in my mouth.  The Naan was also out of this world and it was obvious that it was as fresh as possible.
  • Canterbury Hotel: When I saw the sign advertising an $8 lunch special, I was intrigued.  When I saw that a Vegetable Risotto was on the list I walked right on in.  While the portion was a little small, even for a lunch fare, it was enough to satisfy.  Looking back I wish I had asked about the broth used but I’ll have to trust that since they were advertising it as vegetarian, not vegan, it used a vegetable broth along with copious amounts of real butter.
  • Ah Barista: I have truly saved the best for last with this entry because there were more vegetarian options than I had time to try.  A number of them can also be easily modified for a vegan, including the Portabella Mushroom Panini and the Peanut Butter Banana & Honey sandwich.  The later of these was my first meal in Indy, which is starting to be a tradition.  Since Joe is allergic to peanuts I tend to go on peanut benders when I’m traveling and this sandwich always hits the spot.  I’m also a fan of the 4-Cheese Pretzel Panini, the amount of cheese in this sandwich would satisfy even the most devout cheeseheads so if you have any lactose issues avoid this cheesy masterpiece.  If the delicious food isn’t enough to lure you in, the prices are just right since they include a pickle and chips.
So there you have it, my top 5 vegetarian places for eating when in downtown Indianapolis.  While I’m sure there are others, I was limited to the area directly around the convention center on this trip so please let me know what you think is missing from this list.