REVIEW: Love Food Central (Restaurant)

RATING: A

WHAT: Love Food Central restaurant

WHERE: St. Pete, FL (right down the road from two of our faves… Taco Bus and Community Cafe!)

PRICE: $45 for two (including tip, water to drink)

We had a Pulled Barbecue Sandwich, Love Burger with mushrooms (the mushrooms were +$2), a cheese plate appetizer, and a Caramel Sundae. They also let us try a complimentary Carmelita Bar.

ATMOSPHERE: Hipster Chic. Great interior with tables, couches, and cafe-style seating and decor.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?

Super vegan! Everything on the menu is vegan and gluten-free, so plenty of vegan options including burgers, desserts, and appetizers. And it is all delicious!

THE GOOD:

The food was great! We especially liked the onion dip served with the cheese plate but, if for no other reason, go there for the vegan caramel soft-serve sundae! It was coconut-cashew based ice cream and topped with a little sea salt. Amazing. Everything we tried, though, was stellar. There was not a crumb left on our plates. The Carmelita Bar was delectable, as well.

The staff was friendly and upbeat. Christie and Lawrence helped us, as well as chatted with each customer while we were there, asking everyone how they heard about Love Food Central. (We heard about them from the write-up on ilovetheburg.com, via Facebook.)

THE BAD:

It’s tough to offer “the bad” for this place because it is definitely one of our new favorites, but we have to offer “The Bad” for each review, so here are our nitpicks…

The prices, in our opinion, are a bit high. $45 for two people with an additional complimentary dessert left us full but certainly not stuffed. Compare that to, say, $45 at Byblos Cafe where you will have to take home leftovers after stuffing yourself to the gills. That said, the food is high-quality and worth every penny.

Love Food Central promotes themselves as “Vegan comfort food” but we think that is probably short-selling their menu. When we think of comfort food, we think of things like grilled cheese, nachos, chili cheese fries, and mac and cheese (basically anything salty covered in cheese!). We are not so sure a wholesome jackfruit sandwich and house-made artisan cheese plate quite fit the category.

THE SUMMARY:

If you are vegan, vegetarian, or veg-curious, visit Love Food Central immediately! The food is amazing, the staff is friendly, the restaurant is clean, and the quality is top-notch. We wouldn’t say they serve vegan comfort food but we would say they serve amazing, delicious vegan food and are worth making the trip! Probably several times.

 

 

 

REVIEW: Mangia Gourmet (Restaurant)

RATING: A

WHAT: Mangia Gourmet restaurant

WHERE: Gulfport, FL (2930 Beach Boulevard S.)

PRICE: About $63 for two people (including tip and dessert)

ATMOSPHERE: Urban hippie. Cozy, small interior with generous, quiet outdoor seating with nice landscaping. This is a great place to meet with friends or have a pleasant meal.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?: Mangia is very vegan-friendly but also has non-vegan options so you can bring your omnivore friends, too, and everyone can find something.

THE GOOD:

Mangia has delicious vegan desserts and every meal we have had there has been delicious. The outdoor seating is nice. You can actually chat, appreciating the quaint downtown of Gulfport without blaring televised sports in every corner. This is a top-notch vegan friendly eatery.

THE BAD:

The prices are a little over-the-top for some items, but quite reasonably for others, so maybe finding some middle-ground pricing. For example, on this occasion we had:

Coconut Kale Smoothie (16 oz) $5.50
Mulled Wine
Apricot Coconut Bar
Carrot Cake
3-Bean Chili (16 oz, $6.50)
Spinach and Artichoke Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms $14.95
White Bean Zucchini Burger $6.95

We didn’t catch the prices on the desserts but our total was $63, so give or take $5 each. We can say that $63 filled us up but we didn’t have to be rolled out of there. Take that for what you will.

THE SUMMARY:

We love Mangia. The food is delectable and always made with care. Their vegan desserts are fabulous and Gulfport is a cool little downtown area that is fun to walk. It’s nice that they have both vegan and non-vegan options so your “oh my God I can’t possibly try anything labeled vegan even though almost everything humans eat is already vegan” friends can find something to enjoy as well. Mangia shows up at vegan events, too, like VegFest and CL Veg-Out, so if Gulfport is a hike for you, try to catch them around Tampa.

It’s worth the drive, but prepare for it to be an expensive date (especially if there are drinks involved)!

 

REVIEW: Kite Hill Vegan Cheesecake

RATING: B-

WHAT: Kite Hill Vegan Cheesecake

WHERE: Available only at Whole Foods (Ours was purchased at the Walter’s Crossing location on Dale Mabry).

PRICE: $6 for a small 4 oz. pie

HOW VEGAN IS IT? 100%!

THE GOOD:

Having been spoiled by amazing vegan cheesecake at places like Native Foods, the Chicago Diner, and home-made, it is exciting to have another option in Tampa (the other is Daiya’s cheesecake–see that review here). It is nice just to have options. It’s tough to complain… but we’re still going to.

THE BAD:

For the money, we definitely vote for Daiya’s option, offering 14 ounces to Kite Hill’s 4 ounces of deliciousness for a paltry two dollars more. We were disappointed by the 1/4 inch or so of crust creating nearly half the dessert.

The taste was good. Graham Cracker crust. Kite Hill is one of the premier vegan cheese makers that actually make vegan cheese–not a vegan cheese replacement (like Daiya and others). Not surprisingly, then, the filling was decadent in texture–rich and creamy.

Kite Hill’s cheesecake has the light lemony zest of “normal” cheesecake but it was a bit denser. We would say it was more like super firm pudding than cheesecake.

Kite Hill, Back

THE SUMMARY:

Both the Daiya and Kite Hill desserts would be reasonably priced at half their list price, but if you want premium vegan pre-packaged junk food, then you are going to have to pony up. A lot.

In this case, Kite Hill’s Whole Foods exclusive was not bad, but we wouldn’t pay the same price to go back for seconds.

REVIEW: Rise Pies (Restaurant)

RATING: B

WHAT: Rise Pies Handcrafted Pizza

WHERE: International Plaza and Bay Street, 2223 N Westshore Blvd, Tampa

PRICE: About $30 for two 4-topping personal pizzas (4 slices each).  There is a $2 up charge for the vegan cheese.

ATMOSPHERE: The location we went to is in a mall food court, so that should tell you about the atmosphere.  Given that, this has been the destination, and only destination, in our trip to the mall. There is a nice outdoor seating section to get you away from the mall scene.

This reminds me of an Italian version of Chipotle, Moe’s, or Qdoba where you tell them what you want and watch them build your creation in front of  your eyes.  Rise Pies is a chain with about four locations in Ohio, Chicago and Florida.  We are lucky to have one right in Tampa.  Rise Pies prepares their dough and sauce daily and their produce is fresh and locally sourced, at least according to their website.

THE GOOD: They have homemade vegan cheese! This isn’t the typical Daiya option that you find in most pizza parlors that have anything vegan on the menu. The pizzas are really good. I like that they have fresh ingredients (like chopped garlic, fresh basil and mushrooms), choice of dough (white or wheat), and two sauce options (both are good).

THE BAD: The price and no protein choice.  In our opinion, they seem a little pricey for what you get. You could go to Chipotle or Mellow Mushroom and pay about the same and leave fuller. They offer vegan homemade cheese but no protein choice, which would be a great compliment to their other offerings.

THE SUMMARY: This only got a B due to the price.  It is definitely worth trying, especially if you are planning a day of shopping at International Mall.  Don’t have too high expectations for the mall food court seating, but the food is good.

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: Tampa Bay Brewing Company (Restaurant)

TBBC Pretzel

RATING: B

WHAT: Tampa Bay Brewing Company

WHERE: Ybor location.

PRICE: About $40 for two, including tip. We had two good-sized pretzels as an appetizer, two black bean burgers with fries, a beer and a draft root beer.

ATMOSPHERE:

There is no mistake about it. This is a brewery and bar. There are TV’s on every wall playing mostly sports but they also have a patio that is dog-friendly. On this trip, we opted to sit inside which had a very good view of the brewing done on site.

HOW VEGAN IS IT?

Tampa Bay Brewing Company has two sandwiches that can be easily made vegan by asking for them without cheese and sauce (Black Bean Burger and Portobello Sandwich).

A Black Bean Burger minus the Avocado Crema and Cheese is verified vegan by the staff. This is assuming the staff knows their ingredients. The patties are pre-packaged. The bun may or may not be vegan. However, the Ciabatta bread that comes on the Portobello sandwich is likely vegan (Ciabatta is normally vegan anyway).

The Brew House pretzels with pizza sauce instead of cheese sauce or their special mustard are good. The pretzels are coated with a light beer sauce (not butter) and garlic. They are served warm and we had a side of marinara sauce for dipping.

The fries, of course, are not vegan if you are a militant vegan, due to cross-contamination.

Tampa Bay Brewing Company’s Root Beer and beer are house-made. We did not inquire about their process to determine how vegan it is. As usual, the beer is probably processed with, or filtered through, non-vegan methods.

 

THE GOOD:

Any brewery makes Nicole nostalgic of West Michigan breweries (Grand Rapids is a “Beer City, USA” winner). The wait staff at Tampa Bay Brewing is friendly and helpful, and they at least know what “vegan” implies. This is also a great place you can take non-vegans to enjoy a meal together.

THE BAD:

They are not intentionally vegan and only have two options that can be made vegan. One of the options is probably not vegan (the black bean burger bun).

 

THE SUMMARY:

All in all, we would rate it B. Nicole thinks higher of it than Michael. The black bean patty is tasty, the fries are good, and it is a brewery. If you like beer and you are vegan, you know your options are quite limited locally. We applaud Tampa Bay Brewing Company for at least giving veg-heads some consideration. For better or worse, they are one of the best vegan-friendly brewery options that we have found.

 

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

REVIEW: Cafe Hey (Restaurant)

RATING: B-

WHAT: Cafe Hey (New Year’s Day Buffet menu only).

WHERE: Cafe Hey near Downtown Tampa.

PRICE: About $50 for two, including tip. We had the All-You-Can-Eat Hoppin’ John ($9 each), which consisted of separate tins of Black Eyed Peas, Collard Greens, white rice, and corn bread. We also ordered a bottomless Mimosa for $10, as well as a lemonade, bottle of Mother’s Kombucha, and 2 Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip cookies. You could definitely get away with a more reasonably priced meal, but we wanted to try a little bit of everything.

 

HOW VEGAN IS IT?

Cafe Hey is very vegan-friendly. They have an excellent array of clearly labeled vegan options (including desserts!) and are very knowledgeable on all things vegan. Though this review was regarding a specific meal for a specific event, in general they are one of the best vegan options around!

 

ATMOSPHERE: 

Hipster casual. Cafe Hey is a small restaurant in a run-down looking part of town on the outskirts of downtown Tampa. Expect to see lots of tattoos, piercings, and patrons who are on a first name basis with each other and the staff. The food is great. The place is clean. You will bus your own table (or at least you should). Not much for outdoor seating.

 

THE GOOD:

We like Cafe Hey a lot–they are easily one of the best vegan options in Tampa. The New Year’s Day buffet was not part of their normal menu, but we thought we would review it anyway, since we ate it.

The All-You-Can-Eat for $9 a plate is a decent price for any buffet, let alone a vegan buffet made with high-quality ingredients. The peanut butter chocolate chip cookies were delectable–soft and chewy, without too much sugar mucking up the mix of PB and chocolate.

The vegan cornbread was darn good, too, if just a little on the dry side (but it was in a buffet tin–not expecting culinary perfection here).

 

THE BAD:

The bowl of Hoppin’ John was, overall, bland, in our opinion. We are not Hoppin’ John connoisseurs so maybe that is usually the way it is, but… we would have liked a little more spice (some black pepper and cajun salt, maybe?). That said, we were sober and not nursing a hangover from New Year’s Eve so had we been coming off a bender, we might have appreciated this more.

The collard greens were excellent. The white rice was… white ricey. Michael punched up his second bowl with Sriracha, which helped with the flavor.

For a buffet, the price was good but even though there were four dishes in the buffet line, it was really just one dish with a side of cornbread. If you would pay $9 for a bottomless bowl of decent stew, then this is right up your alley.

 

THE SUMMARY:

All in all,  it was not Cafe Hey’s best, but it was worth the trip. The cookies were worth the trip by themselves! The Hoppin’ John, though, seemed a bit bland, and the Mimosas were okay.

B- for the New Year’s Buffet but don’t let that dissuade from trying Cafe Hey. Every time we have visited them previously, they have been excellent!

 

How our reviews work:
We accept no sponsors or advertisements so we can give honest reviews of everything we try. We are regular customers (but we don’t try to hide what we are doing–they can see us taking notes and pictures). If approached, we will explain ourselves and ask probing questions. We share our thoughts about the experience with each other and then each of us gives a letter grade (A to F). We take the average of both grades to create our rating and share our notes with you!

 

5 Fast Food Meals for Vegans

There is always an option.

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Sometimes I have to travel for work or I am in an unfamiliar city with friends or just in a hurry and do not have time to make or buy a great, healthy, delicious vegan meal. I never suffer for food, though, even on the go. Here are 5 fast food restaurants that have saved me in a pinch (many times), and exactly what I order from each to find vegan goodness when fast food is the only option.

1. Subway.

Six-inch Veggie on Italian, not toasted, no cheese. All the veggies and peppers. Instead of dressing, I ask for Salt, Pepper, and Oregano. I grab a bag of Fritos chips and a drink, too. It’s filling and I promise that sub is as tasty as anything else on the menu but twice as healthy. Remember, not all their breads are vegan. 

2. Chipotle/ Qdoba/ Moe’s Southwest Grille.

I am counting these as one restaurant because they all offer basically the same thing: burritos. Chipotle is a step above, though, because their Sofritas are amazing. Non-vegans would never know they were eating “fake” meat. Moe’s also offers tofu, which makes them legitimately vegan friendly in my book. Qdoba has no meat replacement option but they offer tortilla soup that is vegan, making them one of the only fast food soup providers I can think of.

At Chipotle, I order the Sofritas bowl with brown rice and black beans. I add hot salsa, pico, corn, guacamole (it’s extra), and lettuce. I add an additional side of guacamole and chips and I use the chips to turn the bowl into super nachos! Sometimes I change it up and have Sofritas tacos (corn tortillas).

Qdoba has two options for me. I might order a veggie burrito on whole wheat, with white rice (the white rice has cilantro-lime flavoring so this is one meal where I will choose white rice over brown) and black beans (add hot salsa, pico, lettuce, and guacamole). If I am really hungry, I will add a side of tortilla soup with tortilla strips on top. Or, I will go for the Mexican Vegetarian Gumbo with brown rice (it will be smothered in other stuff so the white rice offers no benefit here), hot salsa, pico, corn, guacamole, tortilla strips, and lettuce. This is a super filling meal.

At Moe’s, I order a “Joey Bag of Donuts” (which means “build-your-own”) burrito with a flour tortilla (I prefer whole wheat but theirs tears too easily), black beans, tofu, hot salsa, pico, black olives, fresh jalapenos, fresh cilantro, and guacamole. Sometimes I order a side of guacamole as well. Their burrito comes with chips and will fill me up for hours.

3. Panera

I like Panera because they offer Pepsi products, and Coke sucks, so sometimes I will go to Panera only for a good caffeinated sugar drink.

If I do eat, though, this is what I usually order: You Pick Two with Black Bean Soup and a Mediterranean Sandwich, no cheese or pesto on the sandwich, with chips… and a Pepsi.

 

4. Pizza Hut
It is possible to order a vegan pizza at Pizza Hut but it’s too complicated and they do not have vegan cheese anyway, so I just order Spaghetti Marinara and add mushrooms. Just set the garlic bread aside and enjoy your Pepsi (because although Pizza Hut sucks at vegan pizza, they at least have good taste in soda).

5. Taco Bell
In case of emergency, you can make a run for the border (before you make a run for the bathroom) with dinner at the Bell. I order a Bean Burrito “fresco style” (that means minus cheese, plus pico de gallo-they know that), a 7-Layer burrito minus cheese and sour cream, and Cinnamon Sticks.

It is tough to balance being vegan with having a convenient social life. You don’t want to be the pariah of your office or friends, forcing everyone to cater to your needs (or simply to avoid you). Fast food is not necessarily great food but knowing you can always find good (or at least good-ish) vegan food when you need can help.

 

 

5 Surprising Foods Vegans Don’t Have to Give Up!

“Vegan” does not mean “never eating anything I know and love again”.

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PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), if you have not heard of them, is a vegan organization that is an embarrassment to many vegans because of their borderline insane views and extraordinarily misleading and outrageous marketing campaigns.

Nonetheless, PETA remains the biggest and one of the best resources for vegan information, including a surprisingly comprehensive list of accidentally vegan items like the five I am about to list. They have many more than I have listed and their list is worth checking out (just ignore any crazy or sensational stuff they happen to be pushing on the sidebars). Check it out here.

Here is a list of 5 of my favorite foods I was surprised to learn are vegan when I began my journey into dead or tortured animal-free living:

 

1. Oreos and Nutter Butters!
I loved Oreos before going vegan but they are even better when dipped in a big glass of Coconut Milk. Nutter Butters make one of the best pie crusts you could ever want. Just blend or crush half a package, then mix with olive oil (about half a cup) to create a mixture you can press into a pie pan (I like to use my fingers) and cook it with the pie!

 

2. Cinnamon Life and Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch!
I love cereal and I am just crazy enough to mix both of these for Cinnamon Peanut Butter Crunch Life! Best with Almond-Coconut blend milk.

 

3. Laffy Taffy and Junior Mints!
Most taffy is not vegan but good old Laffy Taffy is, even in the non-banana flavors! I am not a fan of Junior Mints, personally, but in most theaters, they are one of the few vegan choices (along with original red Twizzlers and Swedish Fish).

 

4. Bagels and English Muffins!
Be sure to double-check the ingredients but almost every plain, blueberry, and cinnamon raisin bagel should be vegan (no eggs or butter are needed to make bagels but, obviously, an Asiago cheese covered bagel probably has… well, cheese). Thomas’ original English muffins (the original and best if you ask me) have always happened to be vegan. Great toasted and topped with a little olive oil, cinnamon, and sugar!

 

5. Manwich Sauce!
Hunt’s Sloppy Joe and Manwich sauces are vegan. That’s right. Vegans can enjoy gross, messy, strangely colored orange brown saucy burgers, too! Heat with either Tempeh or ground tofu. If you can’t find vegan hamburger buns, use English muffins!

 

Being vegan does not mean never enjoying many foods you already know and love. A lot of heavily processed foods are “accidentally” vegan, meaning it is simply cheaper to produce them without animal ingredients. It is a wholly different conversation around morality and your personal commitment and reasons for being vegan to decide if you should be supporting these companies and accidentally vegan products. Still, it is good to know (especially when you first adopt a vegan lifestyle) that when you need your cookie or Sloppy Joe fix, you’re covered.

Review: Daiya Vegan Cheesecake (New York Style)

Daiya New York

 

RATING: A

(Michael: A / Nicole: A-)

 

WHAT:  Daiya New York Style plain vegan Cheesecake

WHERE:  Whole Foods on North Dale Mabry (the one by Target, next to PetSmart), freezer section. Not sure if available at all three Tampa locations.

PRICE:  $8.99 for 4 decent sized slices. The whole cheesecake is about 4-inches around, so a little less than half the size of a normal 9-inch pie pan cheesecake.

 

GOOD STUFF

Michael: We ate this plain, with no toppings, and it was amazing! Nicole would have preferred strawberries but I am a big fan of plain cheesecake. Daiya rocked this dessert. I seriously can not imagine a better store-bought cheesecake. The texture, crust, and taste are flawless and it is exciting to have a local source.

Nicole: It was good.  I would have preferred a topping like fresh strawberries or a little chocolate and a few nuts. Would buy again.

 

BAD STUFF

Michael: This is an amazing dessert but it is nowhere near the density or richness of an authentic “New York style” cheesecake. This is just a semantic complaint, perhaps, but I think they should have simply called it “Plain” cheesecake. The size is pretty disappointing, though I will still gleefully fork over nine bucks for another one (or five). It is about half the size of a regular cheesecake and, like most vegan desserts, priced at a premium. Also, this is really a minor complaint because I understand it is a dessert, but Holy Fat Pants, Batman! A normal size portion (one-fourth of the tiny pie) will add 16 grams of saturated fat to your rear end (or 80% of the Recommended Daily Allowance on a 2,000 calorie diet), 24 grams total fat (34% RDA), 420 mg (18%) of your day’s Sodium, and 34 grams (11%) total carbohydrates, 17 grams total sugars. You do have a little fiber in there, though (2 grams/ 8%),  3 grams of protein, 15% Calcium, and 4% Iron.

Nicole: It is priced high but when you break it down, it calculates to  $2.25 for a slice of vegan cheesecake, which is less costly than most restaurant desserts and that is based on four servings.

 

SUMMARY

Michael: I am a cheesecake connoisseur (both pre and post vegan). A plain, New York or Chicago style cheesecake is, in my opinion, one of the world’s most perfect desserts and the Daiya Cheesecakes are a home run. Obviously, a bit pricey but still considerably better value than what you would pay at a vegan restaurant. “New York Style” is a pretty big stretch if you ask me. The Daiya cheesecake is not dense and hard to swallow like a real NY cheesecake. The texture was creamy and smooth and the taste was sweet with a light lemon tartness, almost a perfect replica of the Jell-O brand cheesecake my mom used to make. The graham cracker crust is only on the bottom which I think is a nice touch. I like the taste to be focused on the cheesecake without a lot of crust but some people, I am sure, would prefer the crust to climb up the sides as well. I will definitely buy another one and will work my way through every flavor (but for me, plain is the way a cheesecake is best made and served). This is an amazing, delicious vegan cheesecake that non-vegans would never be able to guess is not a “normal” cheesecake. Delicious!

Nicole: Desserts are good in moderation. This was one of the better ones and we will have it again.  I will try to have some toppings to go with it, even if Michael snubs them.