Eating in America – Casual Budget Vegetarian Dining
It has never been this difficult to be a vegetarian in the United States. Perhaps I take it for granted, living in Israel – everything is so salad-based, so kosher-themed (if not kosher itself) with meat and milk being eaten separately, that more than half the choices at any given time seem to be vegetarian. Not so in the US. Have times changed since I was last a vegetarian (1992-2000)? Granted, I was a child (13-21) when I last abstained from eating animals and was less aware and ate out less as a rule.
For my own sake I decided to document where I ate over the course of my trip. Usually I made choices according to budget, convenience, and menu, in that order, unfortunately or fortunately. I think I gained a kilo or two while away. Oh well.
I’ll go city by city, as there’s a lot of text. Chicago is the least interesting because I got to eat and cook at home, which is far cheaper and far far more interesting fare than at most eateries I can think of.
- Panera Bread – Walking into an establishment that appears so healthy, fresh, and modern like Panera Bread – and be presented with only 1 meat-free sandwich – is quite frankly appalling. Two vegetarian soups and three simple (dull – green, Greek, etc) vegetarian salads (out of 8) were also on the menu. I ended up taking half a Mediterranean sandwich (very dry and exceptionally uninteresting, seeing as I live on the Mediterranean coast myself) and a tomato-based vegetable soup. First time I saw that American eateries are wild about chicken. Ugh.
- IHOP – The comfort factor is quite high at a place like this. In Israel we (I) miss the fast polite service, familiar (butter soaked) foods, and endless cups of crap coffee and half & half. There is nothing even remotely similar. IHOP is breakfast, slightly upscale fast food (you get to sit in comfy booths and get served), cheap, and oh so traditional. Yes, it’s crap. But it’s good crap. Crap you miss. Instead of a stack of chocolate packed pancakes, my parents and I all inadvertently ordered from the “healthy choices” menu, where we could see how many calories we were actually consuming, and this with the egg-substitute, grease-free, veggie-ful type omelets. So much for overlapping crispy meat byproduct mingling with eggs and sausage swimming in pools of maple syrup. At least the coffee is still…coffee. And endlessly we drank.
- Eduardo’s – Chicago is known worldwide for its unique deep dish pizzas. They are oh so good, lovely rustic shells of crusts, bursting with thick layers of cheese and rich tomato sauce, one slice being more than a meal in and of itself. Anywhere but at Eduardo’s so it seems. The service was so bad, it’s simply not worth mentioning our level of suffering. And the pizza was crap. I was embarrassed to be eating it with out of towners. Enough said. Go to Pizzeria Uno or Due or Lou Malnatti’s or Giordano’s or whatever. Eduardo’s was never my favorite. And I will never be going back after this.
- The Corner Bakery – this “Lettuce Entertain You” restaurant sure has changed. It’s fast, slightly interesting Italian, order at the counter style. But there used to be more choices. They used to cook most everything in front of you while you waited anxiously. There were rosemary encrusted loaves and pine nut spinach tarts and the best ceasar salads you can imagine. Now, eh. You order everything, and you don’t get to see it. It does come to your table, though. But the assembly line has taken over. I had a three-salad combo. Not much to choose from, I got macaroni caprese, a bean salad, and a Greek salad (I think). They were pretty unremarkable. Healthy-ish, though. Filling. Decent portion for “fast food.” A good choice at the mall, I guess.
- The Celtic Knot – Evanston – Awesome. Irish pub, Irish-British cuisine. Comfort food with an upscale twist. 90% meat menu, but the veg options were brilliant. My mother had a portabella sandwich with freshly fried potato chips (not fries, for those non-American readers). I got a warm spinach salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and candied walnuts. That was heaven. Best meal in Chicago, by far, and on my last night in town. We ate the meal accompanied by Cider (mother) and a Snake Eyes for me (half cider, half lager – a drink that’s illegal in many parts of the British Isles because it’s said to raise a person’s temper and make them mean and prone to fighting. Don’t ask me why. Someone once ordered one when I was bartending in London, and not knowing what it was, went to the asst. manager. He told me what it was, said I was never to make one, and then he proceeded to pour one for the gentleman because “he knew him.”)