Austin TX weekend getaway

What’s a girl to do on a snow day? Catch up on the blog…

At the end of November, Pocky and I attended an event in Austin, TX, and we planned a vegan foodie/culture adventure around it.

When most people think of Austin they probably imagine barbeque, craft beer and music — totally on point. But it’s also become a vegan comfort food and gastro pub kind of town.

We arrived on Thanksgiving, which can be an interesting time to travel as a vegan in the US. So we were grateful that the Sichuan River restaurant was not only open, but made great food. They served us tasty, spicy vegetable tofu dishes. We also had a great conversation with one of the owners who used to live in NY.

The next morning began with treats from Voodoo doughnut on 6th street, a short walk from our hotel. It’s a funky spot with great music, a stage in the front corner for bands to play, merchandise for sale, and a nice selection of vegan doughnuts. The maple, chocolate glazed, and strawberry doughnuts were delicious. They also had non-vegan options for the traditionalists.

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Since we needed to walk off breakfast before heading to lunch…we ambled around the downtown area, looked at shops and some of the historic buildings, then headed over to the state capital. We strolled around the grounds for a while and then walked over to Arlo’s for a quick lunch before the planned evening extravaganza (reason for our weekend visit).

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Our first Arlo’s Food Truck experience was at vegan fest in Toronto, Canada. It ranked in the top two favorite vendors that day, so we knew it had to be on the list for this weekend.

Austin doesn’t seem to have a lot of roaming food trucks, but instead four or five trucks are grouped together in parking lots next to bars and clubs and in the downtown business area off Congress Ave.

We stopped at the Arlo’s food truck, or as they call it, “curb-side kitchen,” set up in a permanent space on Red River. We opted for the Bac’n Cheeze Burger made with seitan bac’n and melted cheese and the Chipotle Chik’n seitan patty. It was filling and more than enough food since we had eaten doughnuts a few hours before.

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On our final day, we went to Counter Culture restaurant for brunch. We ordered the tofu rancheros, which was yummy, but the country biscuit bowl was a must have. They make the best vegan gravy I’ve ever had. I’d pour their gravy on top of almost anything. Good thing brunch was filling because we had a packed schedule planned for that day…

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After brunch, we drove to the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Presidential Library, situated on the University of Texas at Austin campus. The library offered a detailed history of his presidency through photos, documents, and the gifts he and Lady Bird received. There was a 7/8th scale replica of the Oval Office set up as it was during LBJ years, and loads of phone systems. I had no idea how much he loved to use the phone…there were old phone booths, and all of the displays included kiosks with phones and a screen to choose which old recordings to listen to. I selected a few conversations between LBJ and Thurgood Marshall, and LBJ and Martin Luther King.

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There was a nice section for Lady Bird, including a replica of her office. I’ve visited a few presidential libraries, which isn’t necessarily an endorsement of a specific president. I’m fascinated by history and find the libraries as a way to time travel in a concise visual way.

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After the LBJ Museum excursion, we returned to Congress Ave to check out the petite Mexicarte museum. The day we visited they had two fantastic exhibits – Love to Death: Community Altars to celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and Diego y Frida: A Smile in the Middle of the Way, with photographs of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo by Guilermo Kahlo, Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Edward Weston, Peter Jules, Ansel Adams, Nicholas Muray, Leo Matiz, Guillermo Zamora, and Juan Guzmán. They also had a nice gift shop full of day of the dead and Frida items, and other art for sale. So happy we stopped.
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Next we headed over to Rainey Street to meet up with friends. The Rainey Street Historic District is a street with historic bungalow style houses in downtown Austin. Once a quiet neighborhood, it’s now a popular hang out spot for locals and visitors because of all of the houses that have been converted into bars and restaurants. We ended up at Unbarlievable. It has a nice patio in the front, an inside space, and a back patio where bands play. The bar had a very relaxed atmosphere.

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For our final meal we went to the Beer Plant, a vegan gastropub in the residential Tarrytown neighborhood. It’s a good date night spot. Not too loud, with low lighting. They make upscale plant based items and have about 40 craft beers on tap. We started with the ploughman’s plate– a house-made cheese board, tomato chutney, and house-made cultured garlic butter. I know vegan cheese just doesn’t sound appetizing to the traditionalists but it’s come a long way, especially the artisanal soft nut cheeses. We both ordered the big ben – BBQ smoked seitan and a side of mac n’ cheese. I have to admit – aside from doughnuts, mac n’ cheese is my overindulgent guilty pleasure. They are vegan so totally low calorie, right…in my dreams. Anyhow — we finished the meal off with the sticky toffee pudding with coconut whip cream.

Thanks for a great weekend, Austin.

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Exploring Antalya Turkey

On a recent research trip, I had the opportunity to be a tourist for one full day, as well as enjoy the city each night once the conference sessions concluded.

The conference was at the gorgeous Akra Barut hotel, situated on the coast of Antalya, Turkey. For those looking for a resort feel, high-end restaurants, spa, spectacular views, etc., this is your place. They had the best lunch buffet with vegetable dishes, loads of salads, breads, fruit, fish and meat options, and desserts.

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Though the Akra Barut is a gorgeous 5 star hotel, for this trip I just wanted a funky, eclectic space among the local population in the middle of the city. So, I found a space near old town off Ataturk Cd. I opted for the Oscar boutique hotel, which was billed as a great local spot for solo business travelers.

I arrived late at night by taxi, par for the course for my arrival in foreign countries, and found two cute little dogs lounging in the main space as I checked in. My room was on the second floor, had two twin memory foam beds, and was good size for a single. That night, I sank into the bed and left the world behind.

The next morning, on my one day off in Antalya it poured most of the day. From the looks of it…myself, and most of the hotel guests, opted for the breakfast buffet at the hotel. It was a typical Turkish breakfast consisting of cheese, honey, jam, olives, salami, egg, tomato and cucumber, bread, pastries, fruits, juices and coffee – plenty of vegan options. Turkish breakfasts are similar to European offerings. During breakfast the doggies were hanging out in the garden restaurant, also escaping the rain. At one point the dogs decided to play under my table, maybe they were hoping for food.

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As the rain slowed, I finally made my way out to explore the city. I headed to the old city and walked through the Hadrian’s Gate, which I believe was built by the Roman emperor in the second century. I was told that the architecture in Kaleici (old city) dates from the Ottoman period, but the walls surrounding the old city are from the Roman period.

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The narrow pathways of the old city leads to the harbor, and along the way there are plenty of restaurants, houses, shops, and boutique hotels. The harbor viewing point is situated on top of a cliff overlooking the harbor – the view is gorgeous. The hike down through the park to the harbor also offers fabulous views of the water, old harbor, and fishing boats.

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That night as I walked around the more modern area of town, I heard the Islamic call to prayer coming from the local mosque. I have heard it before in other countries; in some places, it is subtle, in places such as Turkey, the call to prayer is a central part of daily life and was audible throughout the city streets. For me, there is something mesmerizing about the call to prayer and it offered authentic moments of real life in Antalya.

One of the perks of staying at the Oscar hotel was that they allowed guests to pay for a bottle of more expensive local wine (not the house special) and they kept it at the bar with a room number attached. It was definitely more economical than paying by the glass. One night while sitting in their garden restaurant reading and enjoying a glass of wine, fireworks started going off in celebration of Turkish Republic day, Oct 29. I had a good view from the hotel courtyard.

For the vegans and vegetarians heading to Antalya, it will be worth your while to do the research in advance on restaurants – or prepare to walk around a while before you find a restaurant with options. It’s a coastal town, so if seafood is your thing there will be an abundance of choices. Along with seafood, old town has pub food, a few American style restaurants with burgers, Italian restaurants and local fare. The surrounding modern local city center also has a lot of restaurants but mostly traditional local cuisine like Kebab. Don’t expect to see hummus and falafel everywhere, in that neighborhood it’s mostly found at the vegan spots.

IMG_7979One night while roaming around old town, I stumbled upon the charming Mediterra Art boutique Hotel. On the ground floor they had a lovely poolside restaurant, Müdavim Meze. The meze plate was my only option – it came with Hibes – a spicy dip, similar to hummus with red peppers, Pazi kavurma (greens) with warm fresh bread, and I added a local red wine — fantastic.

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One of the best vegan restaurants in Antalya was the Lifeco Saf, located at the Akra Barut hotel. On one of the lower levels near the exercise facility and spa, it was a great spot to decompress and enjoy the incredible view. They served fresh juices, flavorful teas, healthy snacks and main dishes. I had the coconut curry — it was so good I wanted to drink the curry sauce.

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The spot local vegans and vegetarians prefer is Rokka. There food was so good I think I ate there three times. They have an extensive menu for carnivores and plant based diets. They also have an English menu and their servers speak a little English, which was very helpful. The spinach, onion, tomato, walnut pizza was the bomb; they also made yummy fries. Then there was the traditional platter of falafel, hummus, tahini, pickles, peppers and fresh bread, which was massive and so very tasty.

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For the coffee lovers – Turkey should be on your must visit list. I always bring coffee home from my travels and this time was no different. Making coffee in Turkey is an art form. It tasted good when I made it at home but there definitely is a process to making excellent Turkish coffee that I haven’t yet mastered.

Please visit my Flicker site for more Antalya pictures.

Charlotte vegan eats

These days I do not spend a lot of time in Charlotte, NC. But when I do, I have a few favorite spots that I tend to visit along with the occasional new place.

One night I met friends at Thai House in University City. I really love the fried tofu appetizer. I order their vegetarian Massaman curry whenever I visit. I’ve had a hard time finding a veg version of Massaman that I like in New York, which probably seems strange, but is true.

For another visit with a friend, we had lunch at Le Kebab Grill, which I’ve been to a few times. Hummus, falafel, warm dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) – how can you go wrong?

Saigon Palace on South Blvd is still my go-to Vietnamese spot. I have to admit I order the same thing every time…they make the best veggie cold rolls, and the tofu and vegetables in garlic sauce is pretty tasty.

The night Pocky and I tried to go to the Flying Biscuit for dinner (our usual breakfast spot) we arrived and found they were closed. So we walked over to CO instead. CO is a pan-Asian chain with rice and noodle dishes, sushi and Vietnamese sandwiches. They have a separate vegan menu – just ask for it. The crispy edamame spring roll, the tofu summer rolls, spicy udon, and com chien (fried rice) are yummy. Next time though, I have to try the Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. It’s always interesting to try vegan versions of the banh mi, sometimes they have tofu or seitan. One of the best I’ve ever eaten was vegetables and mashed spicy black beans. I should probably re-create that at home this week.

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Last up – Suarez bakery, my surprise find. For those who know me or follow on instagram – you’ll be familiar with my love of doughnuts (donuts). For years I was disappointed by the vegan “cake like” doughnuts sans frosting that were everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, “I’ll eat a good vegan cake doughnut, but for years they typically weren’t anything to get excited about. The choices now are incredible – Voodoo doughnuts, Dunwell or Cinnamon Snail in NY, Bloomer’s in Toronto, or the Holy Donut in Maine – all have spectacular offerings that even the pickiest non-vegan doughnut connoisseur would eat – old-fashioned, glazed, cruller, potato, etc.

So, I googled vegan donuts in Charlotte, and up popped Suarez bakery, which was a shock because they are a traditional bakery that I have walked past many times never realizing that inside…my favorite guilty pleasure awaited. They only have a few vegan options, but their doughnuts are legit. I’ll be dreaming about their vegan-glazed doughnut until the next visit.

Exploring Burlington VT

After a short visit to Brattleboro VT, we headed to Burlington. We stayed in the area near the waterfront and Church Street Marketplace. The area seemed to have a large university crowd, which may be the normal scene or it was because we were there the same weekend that parents were moving their children into dorms and apartments.

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The Lake Champlain waterfront park is a fantastic spot. It has a boardwalk with benches, and a walking and bike path. We even stumbled across a few small beaches while walking on the path. The bike path also travels further around the city.
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We spent a bit of time in the Church Street area at restaurants and exploring the stores. On Saturday morning we went to the Burlington Farmer’s Market, which is held at the City Hall Park. They have fresh locally grown produce, crafts, sweet and savory snacks, coffee and juices, meats and cheeses, local restaurant vendors, and maple everything. I started with a cold brew coffee. I had to have something maple…so I purchased a habanero infused maple syrup from Benito’s. Seems like it would be amazing on tofu and tempeh.

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As we walked around I spotted so many stalls with hot vegan food, but not what many Americans would think of as typical breakfast food. I’d eat a bowl of curry or a warm grain bowl with beans and veggies any time of the day. We decided on the Tibetan Cuisine vendor and I am so happy we did. We shared a curried lentil and rice dish and vegan veggie buns. This farmers market seemed more like street fair than a farmers market. It’s a local Saturday morning staple in the community, grab breakfast, do some shopping and chat with the neighbors all in one space. I’m really glad we went.

For the most part, we went to restaurants that were walking distance from our hotel. A few of our local favorites – the Nepalese & Himalayan Sherpa cuisine at Sherpa Kitchen was fantastic.My favorite item on Sweet Waters menu was the lavender vodka lemon drop; it was delicious.

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Zabby and Elf’s Stone Soup was a charming organic café, they have soup, a hot and cold bar, but their sandwiches were my favorite. The vegan club and the vegan Reuben were tasty. We also stopped at a Ben & Jerry’s — a new thing for me now that they make a few vegan flavors (yummy). There was a line out the door.

Glad I researched the local breweries, both places we went to were winners. My preference runs on the darker side – English bitters, browns and German Dunkels, while my other half enjoys IPA’s and lighter beers.

We chose Zero Gravity and Queen City Breweries, both farther from where we were staying than other breweries but a better mix of options that appealed to both of us. They also happen to be across the street from each other. We decided to walk (half hour from our hotel). With all of the eating going on during this trip it seemed like a wise choice.

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I was definitely ready to sample some beer once we arrived at Zero Gravity. It was a welcoming space with inside seating and a patio. They serve a few food options, you can buy cans of some of their beer or fill a growler with what’s on tap.

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Next we headed across the street to Queen City – follow the arrows on the side of their building – their space is around back. It’s set up more like a traditional tasting/tour operation. Though they did have snacks. Queen City has some bottled beers for sale or the option to fill up a growler.

Pocky timed our brewery adventure so that we’d walk to the hotel post drinks while the sun was setting. So we made our way to the path that’s parallel with the beach and marina and enjoyed our stroll with similar like-minded folks.

At the end of our trip, we took a scenic route to Manhattan, NY. We drove through Ironville and Eagle Lake. One piece of advice – generally know where you are going before making a drive near the lake. There was a stretch of time where we had no cell service. It’s a gorgeous drive and worth the time. We stopped in Albany, NY to have lunch at Berben & Wolff’s Vegan Delicatessen on Lark St near Center Square.

Sandwiches were a trend on this trip…the tempeh chickpea salad sandwich was tasty and massive. Pocky had the wing burger – both came with chips and a pickle, as one would expect at a deli. I would eat there all the time if they had a spot in NYC.

North East Road Trip to Vermont

Recently, Pocky and I went on a road trip to Vermont. The first day we left New York City and drove to Brattleboro, VT. We had both been there before, separately. Last year I visited with one of my girlfriends so I already had some places in mind that I wanted to hit up.

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Brattleboro is an eclectic small town. Main Street is a few blocks up from the Connecticut River and has antique stores, outdoor gear shops, bookstores, coffee shops, art and theater, a vegan café, Thai cuisine, and other restaurants and breweries. There is also a food co-op and the art deco – Latchis Hotel in that area. For vegans roaming around Vermont, Brattleboro should be on the must visit list. On this trip, we stopped at Whetstone Brewery, which has two decks overlooking the river and tasty food and beverages.

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We also stopped at Mocha Joe’s coffee – their maple latte is my favorite. Superfresh! Organic Café is another gem with vegan, vegetarian, and raw options. Their breakfasts are the bomb.

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That night we stayed overnight in Keene, New Hampshire (hotel points); it’s about a thirty-minute drive from Brattleboro. Keene’s downtown area has a similar vibe. It seems as if they turned a small area of older brick industrial buildings into shopping, restaurants and hotels. These few blocks though, are surrounded by a neighborhood with two story houses dating back to the 1800s. We decided to make the short walk over to Main Street and ended up having a fabulous dinner at Thai Garden.

The next day we drove further north to Burlington, our base for the next few days.

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One of our adventures while in the area was a trip out to the Shelburne museum in Shelburne Vermont – about a twenty-minute drive from Burlington. We were there for hours. The sprawling property began as a way to exhibit horse-drawn carriages. Over time, it transitioned into an amazing property full of historic buildings, trains, a one-room schoolhouse, a lighthouse, a jail, a general store, a covered bridge, and the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga. They also have herb and heirloom vegetable gardens, spectacular views of the mountains, and a café. The property is also full of apple and other fruit trees, even in the parking area.

A massive round red barn, and two other barns house many types of carriages, including a hearse carriage.

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The train was definitely one of my favorite sights. The interior of the old train, including the sleeping compartments, was very ornate and had a 1920s esthetic.


The steamboat was also fun to roam around. It had the staterooms and the kitchen set up, and it was possible to walk around the mechanical areas and view the massive steam engine. The general store had cool old items – shoes, clothing, and food. There was an apothecary set up in the back with a ton of old bottles full of herbs and concoctions. Upstairs dental, medical and eye doctor offices with old chairs, and instruments were on display.

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Some of the other buildings contained paintings, sculptures, quilts, glass, china, toys and more. They even had a room with old creepy dolls. We ended our time there with a short break at their café.

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Art collage

The next blog will feature our time in Burlington and our road trip home. Click the links for more photos of the Shelburne Museum or Brattleboro VT.

2017 VegFest Charlotte

In years past, Vegfest Charlotte was held outdoors and had a street fair vibe. That sounds good but the unbearable heat was an issue. I would walk around and look to see which vendors were there, start to feel way too hot, find a bottle of water, feel marginally better, and then try to decide on food. After a bit of indecision I’d realize that I was too hot to eat, grab a fresh juice from a stall and whatever cupcake or other vegan treat looked good – and take it home.

This year Charlotte Vegfest was held at an indoor facility, aside from a few vendors set up outside, in Freedom Hall at the Park Expo and Conference Center. Parking was easier and the cooler temperature made lingering and sampling much more attractive. The fest featured sustainable organizations, the Humane Society, and food from local restaurants. Local vendors such as The Greener Apple and Pop Up produce were on hand, as well as known commercial companies Dr. Bronner, Renu Energy solutions and Food not bombs. A series of speakers including a vegan body builder and local chefs were on the line up, and there was also a speed dating session – I have no idea how that went…

Popular restaurants such as Nourish, Fern, Living Kitchen, Zizi’s, Viva Raw, and Lenny Boy brewery were on hand. In the Pop Up and Food Truck category local favorites Move That Dough Baking Co and The Masa Casa brought food and beverages for sale. Beverly’s Gourmet, a line of fresh prepared meals available at Whole Foods and other stores selling vegetarian and vegan food, also had a stall. Beverly’s makes a Persian barley soup that I must have whenever I am in town. Ben & Jerry’s was also there with their new vegan ice cream’s –- coffee caramel fudge is my new favorite!

Those who frequent food festivals know it requires stamina and some cash if you want to do a bit of sampling. My advice – go hungry with someone who will share food – that way you can sample more and maybe spend less. Pocky and I had a bit of a nom nom extravaganza. He and I tend to like varied flavors sensations and food from different regions of the world. That can be okay though, because we often want to order different items and then share or just try a bite if it doesn’t sound terribly interesting.

Unfortunately, we never made it to the extremely popular Soul Desserts becasue each time we made our way to their stall, the line seemed even longer. We did try JP’s Pastry, which is vegan and gluten free; their Vanilla cupcake was fantastic.

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Juice Bar makes fabulous elixirs – the “Fresh Greens” and “We Got the Beet” were refreshing, and the “Orange You Glad” was another favorite. I also grabbed a cold brew from Parliament Coffee roasters.

Vegganers Luck offered a Chick’N Waffles w/Fried seitan on an almond buttermilk waffle that was pretty good – seems they might have a food truck soon. Zizi’s had a tasty “CHICKEN” PARM-LESS SUB that was mock fried chicken, breaded, in a marinara sauce.

One of my favorite bites was the Pastel de yuka from catering company Soul Cocina. The roasted pocket was stuffed with spinach, brown rice and lentils. They also had tamales for sale. Next time I’m in town, I hope to find them at a farmers market.

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Another favorite – Nourish – a home delivery food service served up one of my favorite dishes, a Vegan Mac with buffalo cauliflower, yum! We also had their delicious sweet potato fries.

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My new favorite find though, is the artisanal plant meat line from Asheville based No Evil Foods. They fried up “The Prepper” (chicken-esque), and the Stallion (Italian sausage), and El Zapatista (Mexican chorizo) that can be grilled, marinated, and etc. El Zapatista was my favorite. Their products were really flavorful and spicy. I also like their throw back packaging – a butcher shop brown paper. They also had a few different types of jerky; the Chipotle Jerky is fantastic. Their products are available for purchase online and in some stores. Check them out.

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All in all, it was a great way to spend a few hours. Charlotte Vegfest had a great offering of plant-based food from local restaurants and caterers, food product producers, as well as interesting sustainable organizations. This was by far my favorite year that I’ve attended.

 

 

 

 

 

Indy for the Holidays

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Almost every year part of our holiday merriment happens in Indianapolis. It’s become a tradition. The visit is typically a winter wonderland filled with snow and single digit temperatures. Growing up in California, I did not experience that type of cold often, but since living on the east coast, I’ve adjusted my definition of cold. A secret about me – every time I emerge from a warm dwelling into the, let’s say, 2° weather, I automatically giggle. True story, no explanation, it just happens.

While in Indy, we visit family and friends for a few days, visit museums, theatre and other cultural events, and venture out on our own for a few meals. There are favorite restaurants we frequent with the family and those we frequent independently by form of habit and comfort. I’m a fairly adventurous person, though experimenting with food is not very easy because of my allergies. Though, every year it seems easier as vegan friendly options appear on menus and more vegan restaurants pop up outside of my metropolis.

This year the family outing was the Indianapolis Ballet performance of the Nutcracker at the Old National Center. The Nutcracker is one of my favorite ballets from childhood and it’s nice to see it when possible. Although I am grateful to live in NY where I have easy access to Broadway, dance, opera, and more, I love being able to take in and support local arts in other communities as well. Following the Nutcracker, we had a family dinner at Saigon Vietnamese restaurant, which is climbing my list of favorite Indy restaurants. It is a traditional menu but they always make sure my vegetable option is vegan.

While in town we also stopped at Cafe Patachou, which has a little something for everyone. It used to be a place we frequented for lunch but after trying their Vegan Cuban Breakfast, I’m always angling for a morning visit now. In the trying something new category – we went to the Sinking Ship for lunch. The website drew us in with its substantial vegan menu and the establishments snarky rules, including what will be playing on the TV and no kids allowed. They have a couple of locations, one of which might allow kids. The location we visited is a proper bar meant for adult beverages and adult conversations…It has a college vibe, good music and fantastic vegan comfort food. They do have a full menu for carnivores as well. Recommendations – chili mac, mac & tease, buffalo seitan wings, and star tots.

Until the next time…