28 February 2012

Edina: Peoples Organic

Or is it People's Organic?  Or Peoples' Organic?  To settle this once and for all, it's Peoples Organic.  Go away, apostrophe.

Peoples Organic
3545 Galleria
Edina, MN  55435
(952) 426-1856

So my mom is super great.  She's an actuary (look it up, but be prepared to have looked it up for half an hour and still not get it), so she takes my sister and me out for dinner once a week.  Or is it: she's an amazing mom, so she takes my sister and I out to dinner once a week?  She's an amazing actuarial mom-strosity.  There.  Love you, Mom!

My sister is also fantastic, and vegetarian.  She's FUNNY.  We thought the clipboard for the check looked like a mousetrap, so she drew a cartoony dead mouse on a scrap of paper and snapped it under the clip while I was in the bathroom.  I said, "Did you do this?" to her, and Mom said, "Why are you even asking?"

This summer my sister found out she can't eat gluten, so together we've pretty much found all the gluten-free-and-vegan-friendly restaurants this side of the Mason-Dixon line.  There are maybe five.  Helloooo, Peoples Organic!

Ever heard of French Meadow?  Peoples Organic is brought to you by the same peoples.  The aforementioned peoples are good peoples.  Stay tuned for a post on French Meadow sometime.  Their philosophy involves high-quality organic food.  Whenever there's a place that uses the word vegan anywhere on the menu, I'm sold, and Peoples Organic fits the bill.  It's not terribly expensive, either, as most entrees run you $9-$11.  It may not be Hard Times, but for exceptionally delicious vegan food in the freakin' Galleria?  It's a bargain.

I should mention I've heard a rumor that French Meadow - and Peoples Organic by association - sometimes gives you food they say is gluten-free or vegan, but isn't really.  I've tried looking into it, but can't find anything relevant.  Let me know if you can solve this mystery.

Our server, Betsy, was lovely.  She helped me realize the only drink I had ever wanted was hot cocoa with almond milk.  Yes, almond milk!  Served, at a restaurant!  In EDINA!  I kid you not.  In fact, they've also got soy milk.  And hemp milk.  Aaaannnddd coconut milk.  As our dear Shelley would say: put that in your pipe and smoke it!

So this hot cocoa (the short one in front) was the best I've had in recent memory.  It's a dark chocolate blend with a full, slightly salty taste that really brings out the depth of flavor.  I find a lot of vegan versions of hot chocolate to have that overpowering soymilk taste - you know, like at Starbucks - but this one?  Not at all.  Whether it was the almond milk or the hot cocoa itself, I found it utterly perfect.  My sister got a mocha with almond milk (behind the cocoa), and she had the same opinion.  She couldn't taste the milk.  And she knows her stuff when it comes to coffee, cause she's a barista and she could kick any other barista's butt blindfolded with her hands tied behind her back and oven mitts on her feet.  This mocha wasn't too sweet, like Caribou's tend to be, and the coffee and chocolate blended well into a nice, authentic, bitter flavor.  All the coffee at Peoples is worthy of your perusal.

Have you ever been really thirsty and thought to yourself, "I wish this restaurant would just bring me room-temperature water instead of cold or ice water!"  Me neither.  But apparently there's SOMEBODY who feels that way.  Cause Peoples will give you room-temp water if you want.  That'd be on the ambient lever there.

Perhaps it's more legitimate than we're giving it credit for.  I've heard room-temp water is actually better for your body than cold water.  All cold things, according to this theory, provide too much of a shock to your system.  I suppose that would explain why I always cough when I have a Jamba.

I've tried some delicious salads and hummus plates here in the past.  Last night, thanks to Shelley's repeated exaltations, I decided to order the $10 Bella Burger.  And OH MY GOODNESS.  It's times like these when I wish I felt comfortable swearing in a public setting.  Because that #%&$'s real.  I've always been skeptical of veggie burgers at restaurants; if it's not a Boca or Morningstar frozen patty, it's often a tasteless mishmash of walnuts and mushrooms that you have to order without cheese, and then the thing arrives in front of you smothered in mayo despite your best efforts.  Veggie burgers are a restaurant's way of copping out of the whole situation.  They're like, "Hm, we can placate the vegetarians with this cardboardy slab of junk because they're vegetarian.  They don't like tastes anyway.  Wait, what the &%$# does vegan mean?"

NOT SO, cries the Bella Burger.  This is a culinary masterpiece.  Its name does not derive from the popular sexist, abusive, yet hilarious teen vampire romance franchise, as you may be thinking, if you're weird.  It's from portobella mushrooms, which make up part of the patty.  The 'bellas get thrown together with onions, carrots, garlic, herbs, and TVP (texturized vegetable protein), and then baked or fried or something wonderful - cause it tastes fantastic.  It's topped with roasted tomatoes and vegan mayo!  Yes, you read that correctly.  VEGAN MAYO.  In EDINA!  What a world!  The bun is made from sprouted wheat and is also heavenly.  The whole combination produces such a complex, well-composed flavor that I would never have expected, EVER, out of a "veggie" burger.

Oh, and the side salad was good too.  Mixed greens with a balsamic vinaigrette.  Love that &$%#.

Sister ordered the porridge because she actually doesn't like colors or flavors.  I'm not joking.  She has like a million more tastebuds than you.  Anyway, let's be honest.  Who doesn't love breakfast for dinner?  The porridge happens to be vegan, so she kindly let me taste it.  You can order it with any number of toppings, and she got apples, cinnamon, and brown sugar.  Comfort food!  It had a good apple flavor that wasn't too sweet or rich, even with the brown sugar.  But we agreed that if you don't like simple food, you probably should order it with all the available toppings rather than just those three.  It had a slightly bitter aftertaste that we figured had something to do with the fact that it's GF, but it wasn't a big deal.  All in all, pretty yummy.

Finally, as we chatted over Sweet Caroline and Do You Want to Dance (because obviously, organic food is better when you're listening to Oldies), I made an important decision.  It involved this little beauty.

I've had the Vegan Raspberry Chocolate Bar before, so I can tell you with satisfaction that it has improved in quality over time.  It started out dry and bitter at French Meadow; now it's reached its peak.  The flavor centers around raspberry, and what a fantastic raspberry flavor it is.  The jelly part tastes juicy but doesn't run, and is complemented nicely by the chocolate chips and fruit crisp-like crust.  I love fruity desserts.  They make me feel good.

I looked down at my food notebook.  At the top of the page, I had written "Peoples Organic."  Next to it, I saw a new addition: "Smells."

Told you my sister's funny.

26 February 2012

St. Paul: Fasika

510 N Snelling Ave
St Paul, MN  55104
(651) 646-4747

Wanna know something really cool?  My uncle owns this restaurant.  Yep.  That's right.  His name's Atnafu.  Tell him Alli sent you.

Fasika means feast.  Actually, it means Easter, but in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Lent is a serious commitment, so the Easter feast is all the better. We're talking about Amharic, the language of Ethiopia.  Oh, did I mention this place is Ethiopian?  Have you even ever tried Ethiopian?  What are you waiting for?  You'll love it.

Ethiopian food is fantastic.  It's spicy yet comforting, even though the spices are unfamiliar to the western palate.  I asked my dining companions - this time, Captain Adventure and BBQ (that's Matt and BFF Becca, cause naturally, the BFF morphed into BBQ) - to help me describe the stuff.  With the utmost articulation and poise, Matt offered, "The opposite of bad," and Becca followed up with, "Deeeeeeeelicious."  She specified that the word required 8 Es.  S'a lot of Es.

Like Indian food, you eat Ethiopian with the bread rather than dining utensils.  The spongy, crepe-like bread is called injera (in-JAR-eh), and it's pretty cool.  It has a bit of a sourdough taste.  Vegan!  Bread usually is, unless you go to Super Target and look in the bread aisle at all the weird packaged bread with preservatives and junk and check every single label until you're blue in the face and finally find the one brand that doesn't have diary, only to find that it has eggs and you're like, "FML!" and then everyone looks at you before scattering.


Here's what we always order.  It's the Vege-Sampler.  $14.50, and it feeds two people very well.  As you can see, it's enormous.  Do you see all the vegan things?!  It has like eighty of them!  Since there were three of us, we required further sustenance, so we also ordered a big dish of our favorite part: Misir Key Wot.  $9.  So worth it.

Those, my friends, are lentils.  Lentils that are SO spicy and wonderful they have turned red.  Really, it's the Berbere sauce.  They're the spiciest vegan thing Fasika has, and I find it's great with a mango juice chaser.  After every fiery bite.

That cute little salad on the right is worth your time.  It's very simple, but that's why it's so yummy.  Salt and pepper are used particularly well on it.  See the injera under the two dishes?  Lovely.  The servers keep you well-supplied with the stuff throughout your meal.  Speaking of the servers, we came in at 4:30 on a Saturday, and our food came out five minutes after we ordered!  That was pretty fantastic.

Let's take a closer look at the sampler.  The red lentils in the middle are a reappearance of Misir Key Wot, and the lettuce on the left is the same salad as before.  Everything is resting on top of a delectable layer of injera.

We'll start at the salad and go counter-clockwise.  The yellow-orange is cabbage, called Atkilt.  It's good and less spicy than some of the other items.  Next is a yummy curry laced with red spices, followed by the green beans - Fosolia.  I love them.  They have a rich, full-bodied taste.  Next is Shiro Wot, which is spiced chickpea flour cooked in that good ol' Berbere sauce.  It's kind of like super-spicy falafel.  Another fave.  There's a lentil salad above that with a whitish color - it's good, and has a strong horse-radishy taste.  Next are the greens: Gomen.  Spicy, comforting, delicious.  It's got a hint of sourness in a lemony kind of way.  The pretty yellow-orange lentils at the top are creamy and tangy. And finally, the brown lentils have a lovely curried flavor with a savory aftertaste.  Mm!

One of the best parts of the meal is when you've grabbed all the curry off the injera, because the injera will have soaked a lot of the flavor up.  As BBQ said, it's deeeeeeeelicious!

If it floats your boat, you could follow up with baklava, which is dairy-free but still has honey.  I've been known to indulge in the past.  This time, I didn't need anything sweet.  Becca and Matt are sweet enough.  AW!

Actually, I had a Chocolove bar.  Almonds and sea salt in 55% dark.  I may or may not have snuck it into a movie.  Sh.

25 February 2012

Minneapolis: Midtown Global Market, and/or, I may be addicted to Holy Land.

My husband is utterly fantastic.  He will eat anything, and he will like it.  I improvised some barbecue sauce the other night, and by improvised, I mean completely made up.  I had about a cup of Becca's leftover BBQ sauce and 3 cups of my tomato pizza sauce, so I poured them together and added junk till it tasted right.  Thank goodness for liquid smoke.  Anyway, so this sauce situation - could've been bad.  Real bad.  But he ate it on the beany, mushroomy collard rolls.  And he liked it.

(He requested the alias "Captain Adventure" for the blog.  I suggested "Matt."  He said he liked that name.  All in all, he's rather easy to please.)

Matt is so fantastic, in fact, that he's going to help me research and take pictures for us here.  We started at our weekly date-night dinner.  First I was like, "What do you feel like eating?"  And then he was all, "What do YOU feel like eating?"  And I said, "What DON'T you feel like eating?"  And he always is like, "Pizza."  After 18,000 minutes of this and several mentions of the possibility of staying home to watch Star Trek, we pick a place.  This time it's the Midtown Global Market.

Midtown Global Market
920 E Lake St #G10
Minneapolis, MN  55407
(612) 872-4041

I'm a little biased where the Global Market's concerned.  Have you ever had Holy Land hummus?  If you have, you'll know what I mean.  I've tried to make my own hummus taste that way with the exact same ingredients, but I fail every time.  I'm pretty sure it's made of pureed happiness.  This is important, as vegans use hummus on sandwiches, chips, pita, pita sandwiches, salads, toothbrushes, and fingers.

I gravitate toward Holy Land every time.  Matt and I often start by sharing an Appetizer Plate, with falafel, pita, lettuce, tomatoes, stuffed grape leaves, olives, baba ganouj and, of course, hummus.

100% vegan.  The whole plate'll run you about $8, but if you buy a thing of hummus (that's a technical term) from the Holy Land market next door, you'll find a $2-off coupon for anything at the deli in the cardboard wrapping.

The grape leaves are wonderful.  I've got a particular fondness for grape leaves.  I plan on making a whole post about them one day and naming my first child after them.  I love the unique lemony, dilly taste in the rice filling.  Just like they do with hummus, Holy Land manages to take some very basic ingredients and put them together in a way that might as well be rocket science for all the good it does me in my kitchen.

The baba ganouj leaves something to be desired; I find it too "roasted"-tasting.  It has a very smoky flavor that you may like, but it just doesn't blow my skirt up.  I tend to enjoy home-made baba ganouj more.  Falafel is always good, no matter what you do, because it's fried... even if it's a little bland.  The olives are good, according to Matt, who actually likes that kind of thing.

The vegetarian samosas are vegan!  I was so happy when I found that out, I wet my pants.  For $7, you get 12 pockets of warm, slightly spicy, deep fried, crispy vegetable loveliness.

Those, plus the hummus and grape leaves?  I was in heaven.

In looking at the rest of the menu, stay away from anything with meat or feta and you should be in the clear.  Oh, and you don't want the tzatziki cucumber sauce, either - it's got sour cream and milk.  There are vegan options in the appetizer, salad, entree, and sandwich sections of the menu.  In case you happen upon the spinach pie, which is vegan, skip it.  It's the texture of rubber, and ain't nothing like the perfect, flaky, non-vegan varieties of spinach pies you'll find at Greek restaurants.  And FYI: the baklava is butter-free!  If you're okay with eating honey, go for it.

So while Matt and I munch away on our amazing food and discuss Captain Janeway's interpretation of the Prime Directive, I find myself looking around guiltily at all the food I pass by every time I come here.  I'm sure there's a TON of lovely vegan fare for people whose brains aren't addled by Holy Land.  Let's investigate!

Andy's Garage: Unless you want fries and a vague "garden" wrap, avoid.  Redeeming factor: this bad boy on the side here:

Ay Carumba: Out of all the Latino places here, I'd say this is the one for vegans.  You can build your own burrito or bowl.  It's good stuff.

Cafe Finspang: As a former Scandinavian, I'm here to tell you that this place has very little for vegans.  Captain Adventure is a bit more excited about it than I am.

Grand Italian Ice: Surprise - Italian ice is dairy-free!  It comes in a grillion flavors.  Or 16.

Grass Roots Gourmet: They sell a lot of organic, local stuff.  I'm sure it's really high quality.  It's also mostly meat and cheese.

Jakeeno's Trattoria: Nada.  I even checked to see if their vegetarian pasta would work - nope!  There's cheese in the pesto.

La Loma: Looks like it's got potential.  Some of the entrees are probably vegan, and there's always salsa and guac!  [edit - see Anna's comment below.  She has good news.]

Manny's Tortas: Nope.  Meat and/or cheese in everything.  [edit - Anna also has informed us that if you explain/beg, you can get something vegan here.]

Pham's Deli: Now THIS place is good.  Whenever I come here with friends, they swing toward Pham's.  It's got an extensive Chinese menu with several vegan options.  Also, how fun are chopsticks?  Super fun, is the answer.

Safari Express: I admit I don't know much about this place.  It has a couple menu items that're full of vegetables.  I'll get back to you on that.

Salty Tart: They'll give you something vegan if you order it in advance, but otherwise don't get your hopes up looking in the display case.

Mapps: I have always loved Mapps.  I got a chai with soy and, as always, it was everything I've ever wanted in a chai.  Spicy, not too sweet, with a hint of the black tea taste.  Their soymilk is good, too - not like Starbucks', which has an overpowering flavor.  Mapps is lovely and they have a super extensive coffee menu.

Then there's the market.

Look at that produce.  Just look!  If I lived in this neighborhood, I would shop here.  I don't know if it's big enough to fulfill all your kitchen needs, but it would sure come close for me.  We found a vegan dark chocolate peanut butter cup here for dessert.  It rocked my purple-with-pink-heel-and-toe socks.  We got some Naked Juice as well, which is delicious and fabulous for a quick fix of lots of fruit, even though it's a subsidiary of Pepsi and not quite as natural as it sounds.

So that's how you do vegan at the Global Market.  Make sure you include the philosophical dissection of Star Trek and you're good to go.  Boom.

21 February 2012

I am vegan and so can you

I don't know if you know this, but I'm awesome.  So are you.  I just wanted you to know how awesome I am now because I don't plan on mentioning it again.  My writing may stray toward self-indulgence (especially in this first post), but that's not the point.  You need to know stuff.  You already know I'm awesome.  So let's move on.

Being vegan is a pretty sweet deal.  If you've ever considered it, try it for two weeks and see how you like it.  It works best if you have friends and resources to help you - this blog, for example.  My two faves are The Uprising - my amazing friend Shelley's easy recipes, complete with witty banter; and The Post-Punk Kitchen - blog of Isa Chandra Moskowitz, THE vegan cookbook author.

I went vegetarian 16 years ago because of that one episode of The Simpsons.  You know, where Lisa turns vegetarian?  She goes to a petting zoo, meets an outrageously adorable lamb, and suddenly makes a connection between what she's being served for dinner that night - lamb chops - and the cute baby animal.  I was like, DUDE.  I don't want to eat cute animals either.  I'm with Lisa.

Now that I'm in my late twenties, it's a philosophy I still hold dear and can articulate with slightly more sophistication.  I see animals as our equals.  I wouldn't eat a human, so I wouldn't eat an animal.  I wouldn't make a human give me her breast milk to drink or make cheese with.  I certainly wouldn't make a human lay eggs for me to eat (ew, let's not even go there).

Then there's the health benefit.  I was never overweight, but even going from vegetarian to vegan I dropped an instant 5 pounds.  I feel so good about everything in my body!  You totally have super powers when you're vegan.  I LOVE to work out.  Seriously.  I biked 20 miles on Saturday.

As I approach the end of my endearingly self-indulgent post, there is one more thing you need to know about being vegan: IT TASTES SO GOOD.  You may think we only eat boring food.  As my homie Shelley likes to say, vegans eat more than iceberg lettuce and watermelons.  But with the right recipes, grocery purchases, and restaurants, vegans can eat the most wonderful things!  Just this Sunday, I shared not one but THREE vegan pizzas with my peeps in my very own pad.  My BFF Becca made this amazing one with barbecue sauce, pineapple, spinach, onion, bell pepper, and Daiya cheese.  Mmm.  I'm so glad I got the leftovers on that sweet deal.

This brings us to the purpose of the blog: to tell you where to find fabulous vegan fare.  My apartment, for one.  From here on out, we talk about good food.  Food in Minneapolis and food for globetrotters.  I already have a huge list of places upon which I'll expand, plus I'm going to Europe in a month with my hubs.  We will eat everything delicious and then I'll tell you all about it.  With relish.