Vegetarian Eats in and around Birmingham, Alabama

**Updated April 2017**

I can’t believe I’ve never done a blog about this before!  Believe it or not, it’s really easy to get a yummy vegetarian (and even vegan) meal in Birmingham.   As far as I know, there is only one completely vegetarian restaurant in Birmingham, and I’m willing to be it’s the only one in the state of Alabama, period!  But there are plenty of places that have great vegetarian options and almost all of them can be modified to be vegan.

Below is a list of places I eat often, or places that I know of that have veg menu items, and a brief description of their offerings.  As I find more, I’ll add them to the list!

Golden Temple Café – This is the only purely vegetarian restaurant in Birmingham.  They have vegetarian burgers, hotdogs, and a chik’n sandwich. They also have a tofu salad sandwich, burritos, salads, pizzas, smoothies, soups, and fresh-made juices.

California Pizza Kitchen – There are several locations around Birmingham.  They have several vegetarian pizzas like Greek (the veg option subs avocado in place of chicken), Vegetarian Japanese Eggplant, Pear & Gorgonzola, Wild Mushroom, and Tostada.  They also have great soups (all vegetarian), salads, and pasta.  I’ve actually ordered their pizzas cheeseless before and they were still yummy!

Cheesecake Factory – The Portobello on A Bun (burger), Evelyn’s Favorite Pasta, Avocado Egg Rolls, Veggie Burger, and The Incredible Eggplant Sandwich are all great vegetarian options.

PF Chang’s – This is a great place for delicious Chinese food.  They have a vegetarian section on their menu and many other options can be modified to be vegetarian. According to correspondence I’ve read from the restaurant, all of their vegetarian options are vegan.  The coconut curry stir fry and veggie spring rolls are awesome!

Chili’s Bar & Grill – You can substitute a black bean patty for any of the burgers on the menu.  My favorite is the Shiner Bock BBQ burger, but keep in mind that the black bean patty is not vegan.

Mellow Mushroom – MM has great pizza!  They offer several vegetarian options on the menu like the Mega Veggie, White Rabbit, and Kosmic Karma pizzas and the Tempeh Hoagie is really good too.  Great news if you’re vegan – they have Daiya vegan cheese!  Substitute Daiya on any vegetarian pizza and ask them to leave off the butter and parm on the crust and you’ve got yourself a vegan pizza!  You can also build your own pizza with ingredients like tempeh and BBQ tofu.

The J. Clyde – The place is a little hard to find, sort of tucked back in an alley near Mellow Mushroom in Five Points, and they have limited seating, but if you can get a table, it’s well worth the trouble.  I recommend highly recommend their fried green tomatoes and their vegetarian options include Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (served with sweet potato crisps), Vegetable Pot Pie, Veggie Burger, Black Bean Burger, and Vegetarian Brat.

The Purple Onion – There are several locations around the city and they have GREAT Mediterranean food.  Their falafel wraps are great, and they also have veggie kabobs, tabbouleh salad, and the best baba ganoush I’ve ever had.  The falafel plate and veggie kabobs are served with wild rice, a greek salad or tabbouleh, hummus or baba ganoush, hot pita bread, and fresh fruit.  I’m pretty sure all of these options are vegan.

Olive Garden – eggplant parm, capellini pomodro, fettuccini alfredo, minestrone soup

Stix – Sushi, Chinese, and Japanese food.  They have at least one vegetarian option in each category.   Any of their sushi can be modified to be vegan and they have veggie stir fry with tofu and a variety of different sauces.

Panera Bread – They serve soup, salads, and sandwiches mainly, but also have coffee drinks, smoothies, and a bakery.  They always have one cold sandwich, one hot Panini, and at least two soups that are vegetarian.  The only vegan option they appear to have is the black bean soup.

Taziki’s Greek Fare – They have a large Greek salad and a veggie wrap, but I highly recommend the Dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with seasoned rice), which are vegan to my knowledge.  The Taziki’s sauce they are traditionally served with is made with yogurt though.  They also have hummus and pita.

Moe’s Southwest Grill – vegan burrito bowls, tacos, burritos, and salads

Chipotle Grill – same deal Moe’s

Pablo’s – This is a Mexican restaurant that has veggie tacos, taco salad, burritos, and quesadillas.  Leave off the cheese and sour cream if you’re vegan.

Ruby Tuesday’s – There are several locations in Birmingham.  They have a salad bar and multiple side items that are vegetarian (grilled asparagus, mashed cauliflower, green beans, roasted spaghetti squash, etc.)  They also have a new vegetarian dish on the menu: spaghetti squash and zucchini with marinara sauce that’s alright, but not wonderful.  If you eat there, I recommend getting several sides or getting a baked potato and the salad bar.

Organic Harvest – This is technically a grocery store, but they have a small café and juice bar that opens for lunch.  Their ALT (avocado, lettuce, tomato) sandwich and Jack and Veggie Panini are my favs.  They use Vegenaise on all their sandwiches and their soup of the day is almost always vegan or at least vegetarian.  They have ready-made burritos and salads made with nuts and grains in the deli case and they have vegan brownies, cakes, soup, and cookies for sale in the deli case as well as the grocery section of the store.

Whole Foods – The one and only WF in Alabama is in Birmingham in an area called Mountain Brook.  They have readymade soups, salads, burritos, and wraps in the deli case and they have a hot bar, salad bar, and a dessert bar.  The salad bar has loads of stuff to choose from and they always have veg options on the hot bar.  You can also order vegan sushi at the sushi bar or have them make you a pizza at their pizza stand (they have vegan cheese!).  They have recently added a juice bar.

Which Wich – Customize your own deli sanwich (like Subway, but way better) and choose from a wide variety of ingredients such as vegan black bean patty, avocado, onion straws, slaw, sauerkraut, as well as a variety of sauces, dressings, and veggies. The white sandwich bread is vegan and the only ingredient keeping the wheat bread from being vegan is honey.

Nabeel’s – Family owned and operated, this little cafe has been around for as long as I can remember. They serve authentic Mediterranean food.  Their Peasant Salad is simple, yet amazing.  They have really good tabbouleh and grape leaves too.  Vegetarian entrees include lentil soup, falafel burger, and eggplant parm, although again, I really must recommend the peasant salad (it has creamy French feta on it, so not vegan).  On your way out, make sure to grab one some dark chocolate sea salt fudge and visit their market next door.

Flip Burger –  Another great restaurant at the Summit shopping center. Their “fauxlafel” burger is good, but The Vedge is better.  Their vodka battered onion rings and fried pickles are awesome and they always have an amazing salad on the menu.

Seasons 52 – Located at the Summit shopping center, Seasons 52 offers a seasonal menu featuring some local produce. Their soups change weekly but they almost always have a vegetarian option. Their main menu always features a vegetarian option as well, but be sure to ask for their vegetarian menu! They have one, but you have to know the secret handshake to get it (just kidding – all you have to do is ask). The vegetarian sampler is my favorite: cedar plank grilled tofu with the most amazing mango chutney, a quinoa salad, seasonal veggies, and a veggie taco (tell them to leave off the feta and the meal is vegan)! I must say that their pecan pie mini dessert is to die for!

Rojo – black bean and corn salsa, black bean soup, veggie tacos, spinach burrito, several different veggie quesadillas, salads, veggie & black bean burgers

Chuy’s
– My favorite Mexican place!  Tex-Mex style food, all very fresh and flavorful.  The guacamole tacos are great (I add in the rice and beans that come on the side.  Cheese is served on the side too, so you can omit).  Ask for the veggie enchiladas w/o cheese if you’re vegan.  They also have a “Big As Your Face” bean and cheese burrito.

Mt Fuji (Japanese hibachi and sushi) – miso soup, ginger salad, several different veggie sushi rolls (the sweet potato roll is awesome!),  hibachi vegetables, or teriyaki tofu.

***If you know of any great places I missed, please let me know and I will add them to the list!

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January 23, 2012 Birmingham Tornado

I write with a heavy heart today.  Yesterday, I went to visit my mother and saw the horror that was left behind from the EF 3 tornado that tore through Jefferson County last Monday. I was driving along and it was literally like someone had drawn a line in the road and everything on one side was as it normally is, and everything on the other side looks like the end of the world. 

As I drove down a road so familiar that I’ve literally passed through it hundreds of times in my life, I began to feel lost and disoriented.  Landmarks are gone.  What’s left of the neighborhoods I used to trick or treat in, or houses whose families had children I used to play with, are smashed to pieces and scattered in the streets and down the sides of the hills.  You can see multiple neighborhoods and subdivisions all at once, throwing off your sense of direction, because literally every single tree that was in the path of the tornado was ripped from the ground or smashed into someone’s home.  Huge trees that have been living for over a hundred years, with root systems bigger than a Hummer and at least 13 feet deep, have been torn from the earth and flung into cars, houses, and streets.  Power poles and lines are down everywhere.  I passed one subdivision where every house I could see was either missing the entire roof or the roof was covered in multiple, bright blue tarps, which is pretty much the only color you can see in the sea of browns and grays of upturned houses, bricks, boards, branches, and trees.

In my head, I imagine a hoard of giants so tall that you can’t see their faces in the clouds, their huge feet trampling this place I knew like the back of my hand.  Houses are being crushed, trees kicked over, cars tossed on their sides.  All that’s left when the giants pass through is piles of two-by-fours that used to be homes.

As I drove across this line, into what felt like Armageddon, I became overwhelmed with emotion.  I put my hand over my mouth and tears started running down my cheeks.  People are everywhere, in the streets, climbing in the rubble, and trying to salvage what they can from their houses.  How are they not all dead?  How did they survive this?  They must have stories, fear, and sorrow inside them that there isn’t any time to deal with right now.

I heard horrible stories of people who were injured and trapped in their homes.  There was one house, if you can even call it a house because all that I could see from the yard was the roof, sitting caddy-corner on the foundation.  The entire first story of the house had been blown out from under it and was sliding backward down the hill.  It took rescue teams 4 passes through the house before they found the old lady with a broken back.  My little sister knows a boy from school who is in the hospital with a concussion from beams falling on him.  I heard a story of one boy, whose family ran down the stairs into the basement, and as he was going to close the basement door, was blown backward, breaking both his ankles so that bones were protruding from the skin.  These and many others waited and suffered until the roads could be cleared for the ambulances. 

My mother described the sound of the tornado to me, and as most people say, she described the sound of a train as if it were passing through right in the front yard.  Even more terrible, she told me, were the sounds afterward.  My mother and my sister wandered out into the street, as did everyone else, in their pajamas, and started walking.  The sounds of dogs crying and people yelling filled the air.  Shortly after, you could hear the chain saws starting up.  What to do?  Certainly there were a million things to be done.  How to help?  I can’t imagine the reactions of the first responders on the scene.  My mother tells me that Alabama Power reacted immediately, cutting massive trees to clear the roadways for emergency vehicles.  Neighbors that hardly ever spoke to one another were rushing to see if people were okay and helping to dig each other out of their collapsed houses.  My sister told me that for the next few days, cars and people were everywhere, showing up to do anything they can to help.  People are still showing up a week later and will be for some time.  It seems like it will take years to clean everything up. 

And suddenly it doesn’t matter what you were annoyed at your neighbor for, if they let their dog do its business in your yard or if they support an opposing football team.  All that matters is compassion, and it’s abundant, as it should always be.

I will spend the first full week in February fasting and praying for the people who were affected by the tornado.  I’m following what most people refer to as the “Daniel Fast” (no dairy, bread/yeast, sweeteners of any kind, caffeine, fried food, processed/refined foods).  Fast recipes (that are good anytime) to come!

5 Silly Questions Vegetarians/Vegans Deal With (and my responses)

This weekend, my cousin was jokingly pestering me about not eating meat (as he always does – I don’t take it personal because I know he’s just messing with me) and some questions came up that I want to address because these are questions that people actually do ask, whether it’s out of pure curiosity or the need to disarm/debate with a person who is vegetarian. 

#1 “What if you are asleep and you accidentally swallow a bug, does that break the rules of veganism?”  Now this question can be formed in many ways, but essentially the person is asking that if you, by some unintentional means, eat something that isn’t a plant (or rather IS an animal, insect, etc), can you call yourself a vegetarian/vegan.  What if you eat a carrot that had a bug on it and you didn’t know it or what if you swallow a gnat while riding your bike?  I’m not really sure of the intention behind these questions.  Certainly the person asking them doesn’t expect some logical debate to come from it.  It’s like asking a person who says they don’t smoke, “But what if you accidentally inhaled some second-hand smoke?”  These questions are silly and they distract from the actual intention of a veg diet, which is not to try to be perfect, but to reduce as much suffering as possible.  The vegan police aren’t coming to get me if I accidentally swallow a spider in my sleep or even if I accidentally eat some fries that were fried in the same oil as some chicken.

#2  “What if you were stranded on an island/trapped in a room/lost in the woods (or any variation) and all you had to eat was meat?”  Well of course if that was my only option, I’m not going to starve to death or commit suicide to avoid eating meat.  I am also well aware that there are people on Earth that would find it near impossible to survive on a vegetarian diet because of the climate they live in or because of some rare genetic disease (a common red herring argument people use to explain why the whole world cannot go veg and therefore, why no one should).  Again, this is silly.  None of these situations apply to my life.  I’m not trapped on an island and I don’t live in the arctic.  I am perfectly capable, as are most people on the planet, of eliminating animals from my diet and still being able to thrive.

#3 “Plants are alive too!  Why do you eat them if they are alive?”  I really can’t believe people ask this, but I have had someone bring this to me as an argument, no lie!  Yes, plants are alive, but they are not sentient beings.  They do not have a central nervous system and do not feel pain or suffer.  When a legitimate study has been done to suggest otherwise, I’ll give this question the time of day!

#4  “Doesn’t it hurt cows/goats if they don’t get milked?  They have to be milked or they will be in pain!”  This is strictly a vegan-related argument, of course, but still silly.  Cows don’t explode or lie on the ground wailing in agony if they don’t get milked.  Mammals produce milk for their young, and milk production is triggered by pregnancy.  As their young drink the milk, the pressure is relieved, and the mother’s body is triggered to produce more (hormones and such are involved, you can look up the scientific explanation if you like).  When the calf is weaned, the body starts to reduce, and eventually cease, milk production.  Just like in humans, the milk slowly dries up.  Now I’m not saying there isn’t any discomfort or even some pain when a lactating mammal doesn’t nurse, but she’s not going to die.  This is a natural process that occurs when mammals feed their young.  Cows do not NEED humans to intervene and milk them.  They especially don’t need us to artificially inseminate them, pump hormones into their body to make them produce more milk, and turn them into milk machines while they stand in filthy, crowded cages. That is something that does cause them agony.

#5  “Do you eat fish or chicken?” Last time I took Biology 101, which I’ll admit was some years ago, chicken and fish were in the animal kingdom.  Neither grow from the ground, so no, I don’t eat them.

(By the way, I do actually welcome your serious questions about the vegetarian diet!)

Biscuits & Gravy

Every Christmas Eve, my father’s side of the family gathers at his house for a potluck brunch.  In years past, I’ve made baked oatmeal with fruit, quiche (when I ate eggs), or hashbrown casserole.  This year I made biscuits and gravy from two recipes from Vegan with a Vengeance:  Baking Powder Biscuits and White Bean & Tempeh Sausage Gravy.  The flavors in the gravy were awesome (savory and more flavorful than traditional sawmill or “white” breakfast gravy) and I felt like a true chef making my own biscuit dough and cutting out perfect circles with the rim of a juice glass (I don’t actually own a round cookie cutter).  It’s the first time I’ve ever made cut-out biscuits! I think I did pretty well:

Everything was incredibly easy to make, so don’t let the idea of making your own biscuits turn you off.  They’re pretty hassle free!

To make the gravy, you’ll first need to make the Tempeh Sausage Crumbles:
1 8-oz package of tempeh
1 Tablespoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried sage
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon

In a small pan, crumble the tempeh by breaking it up with your fingers and add enough water to almost cover it.  Cover and simmer over medium-high heat until most of the liquid is absorbed.  This will take about 12-15 minutes.  Drain and add the rest of the ingredients and brown over medium heat, stirring occasionally (about 10 minutes).  Set aside.

White Bean & Tempeh Sausage Gravy

To make the gravy, blend 1 15-oz can of white beans (I used cannellini) with 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor until creamy and relatively smooth.  Add the bean puree to the pan with the sausage crumbles along with the following:

¼ cup vegetable broth
½ teaspoon salt
pinch of black pepper
6-8 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (the recipe originally calls for 10-12, but that’s just way too much sage for me)

Heat everything through, adding more broth if you want a thinner gravy.

For the Baking Powder Biscuits:

2 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons shortening (I use the Earth Balance brand)
2 Tablespoons margarine (Earth Balance)
2/3 cup rice or soy milk

Preheat oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut the shortening and margarine into the flour (use a butter knife, slice the sticks, and then break each slice up into pea-sized bits with your fingers and drop them into the flour mixture). Add the milk  and mix to form a soft dough. I found it’s easiest to mix with a spoon first and then use your (clean) hands to sort of knead it.  Pat out on a floured counter top until about 1/2 inch thick and then cut out 2 inch rounds with the rim of a glass or cookie cutter. Place on prepared cookie sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes.

Don’t expect huge fluffy biscuits like you get from the Pillsbury dough boy.  I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, the these biscuits are more like really thick cookies.  They will rise slightly though.   They also won’t be what I would call fluffy, but they’ll still be soft enough.  They wouldn’t be the best biscuits for a sausage biscuit, for example, but you’re just going to slather them in gravy anyway, right?!  Plus, you made homemade vegan biscuits. You’re awesome!

(Practically) Soy Free Vegan Sausage Patties

As I mentioned in a recent post, I don’t much care for cold breakfast in the winter.  With cereal in general, eating it more than a couple of days a week gets dull.  I don’t know how I lived on the stuff in college.  About a year ago, I was searching for a soy free, vegan sausage recipe so that I could make sausage biscuits again.  They’re hot, portable, and easy to throw together in the morning.  I wasn’t having much luck and I really didn’t want to resort to buying the overly-processed frozen patties in the grocery store.  I try to steer clear of products containing soy protein isolate.

The only recipe that I really found was a http://aveganfordinner.blogspot.com, which I’m sorry to say is no longer being updated.  It was run by a vegan mom in Canada and her family is no longer vegan or even vegetarian, due to their own personal reasons, which she doesn’t go too deep into.  To each their own, but at least she provide me with a good recipe that looks and tastes pretty close to sausage to me, or at least close enough, and who cares if it’s an exact replica for taste and texture?  It’s good!

I say that this recipe is practically soy free because the recipe does call for 1 tablespoon of soy sauce (at least MY version does – the original called for soya sauce), but you can easily replace it with a sauce alternative such as Coconut Secret’s Soy-Free Seasoning Sauce or there are recipes online that you can make yourself.

I’ve modified the recipe slightly, mainly due to the extreme saltiness.  The original recipe called for 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in addition to two tablespoons of vegan chicken-style bullion and soya sauce, which are very salty anyway.  I reduced the amount of bullion and left out the salt all together.  The original recipe also called for vital wheat gluten, but I found that regular flour works just as well.  I’ve adjusted a few spices and omitted others.  Don’t let the presence of the beans in this recipe throw you. They act as a binder only and you won’t taste them!

Combine the following in a small pot:
½ cup bulgur
1 ½ cups hot water mixed with 2 teaspoons of Better Than Bullion’s No Chicken Base
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1 ½ teaspoons sage
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 Tablespoon soy sauce 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon ketchup
½ teaspoon ground fennel seed

Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Meanwhile, place the following in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth:

1 cup canned Lima beans, butter beans, or white beans (rinsed and drained)
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 Tablespoons almond or rice milk

Then, place these three things in a separate, medium-sized mixing bowl:

2 Tbsp cornmeal
¼ cup oats
½ cup breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp vital wheat gluten flour or regular flour

When the bulgar mixture is done, pour it out on a plate, spread it out, and let it cool.  Then, mix everything together (bulgar mixture, bean puree, and dry ingredients) in your mixing bowl.  Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop out the mixture and plop them onto a baking sheet.  Place a layer of wax paper over the top and use the bottom of a plate to flatten the mixture slightly into patties.  You should wind up with exactly 1 dozen.

Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.  These will keep in the fridge for about a week or you can freeze them.  From frozen, just heat the patties in the microwave for about 25 seconds on each side to re-heat.

An ode to Bulgar (and an awesome chili recipe)

Over the Christmas holiday, I had my cousin and his wife (who are also dear friends) over for dinner.  I decided to make a pot of chili and a pan of jalapeño cheddar cornbread as it was a very casual get together and I was wanted something pretty simple to prepare since I had been cooking and baking a lot for the holidays.  I used a chili recipe called “Positively Pantry Chili” from Robin Robertson’s cookbook Vegan on the Cheap.  The recipe falls under the slow cooker section, but it has alternate instructions for making it on the stove.  You pretty much dump everything into a big pot and simmer it for half an hour.  Can’t get any easier than that!

The recipe calls for bulgar, which most people have never heard of.  If I hadn’t had a stepfather from Lebanon who used it in tabbouleh (a Mediterranean salad, pronounced tah-boo-lee), I would probably still have no clue what it is.  Bulgar is a form of wheat that has been parboiled, dried, and then ground. It’s used in a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine.  The finished product is small granules, somewhat similar to couscous, and is a tan-ish color.  Bulgar is low in fat and rich in B vitamins, iron, protein, and fiber.

When my cousin’s wife looked at the chili, she asked what was in it that made it look like there was ground beef in it.  Bulgar sort of resembles the crumbly texture of beef or sausage when cooked, especially in a dish that is somewhat brown-ish in color.  She took a bite and was amazed that she couldn’t tell the difference.  Both of them really seemed to enjoy it and my cousin’s wife said, “I’m going to have to look into this bulgar stuff.”

I’m sure you can find it at a Mediterranean store, but you’re not going to see it on a shelf in most grocery stores.  I buy mine from the bulk bin at Whole Foods, were you can purchase enough to fill your own container from home(have it weighed at customer service and then fill’er up!) or you can just get as much as you need for one recipe.

Here is the chili recipe that I made and I will be posting 2 other recipes I use bulgar in shortly:

Positively Pantry Chili
(from Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap)
6-8 servings at less than $1.00 per serving

1 24 oz jar of chunky tomato salsa
¼ cup ketchup
2 Tablespoons chili powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon sugar
1 cup of water
1 15.5 oz can dark red kidney beans (or  1 ½ cups cooked from dried beans)
1 15.5 oz can black beans (or  1 ½ cups cooked from dried beans)
1 15.5 oz can pinto beans (or  1 ½ cups cooked from dried beans)
½ cup bulgar
16 oz corn kernels (frozen or canned, drained)

Toss everything into a pot, stir, cover, and turn the heat to high.  When everything start to bubble, turn down the heat to low and simmer for half an hour.  I usually end up adding a 1/2 cup or so more water to mine as the bulgar absorbs the liquid to thin it out a bit and prevent it from burning.

Veg Eats in Atlanta

We took a road trip to Atlanta, Georgia this weekend, and ate at some really great restaurants.    Who knew Atlanta was so veg friendly?  Well, maybe others did, but I didn’t think any city in the South would have so many great options.

We arrived around lunch time and I was pretty hungry (sitting in the car reading the Hunger Games can make a girl hungry!).  We were headed to stock up at Lush in the Perimeter Mall and I figured I’d scrounge up something in the food court.  I was expecting to have to get by with a side salad and fries or some cold sub sandwich with paper-thin slices of tomato, but I was pleasantly surprised that I had numerous options.  Hovan Gourmet is a little Mediterranean stand that has vegetarian roll-up sandwiches, tabouleh, hummus, and falafel wraps.  They also had a Farmer’s Basket, which has lots of veggies to choose from like collard greens, black eyed peas, cabbage, okra, and roasted potatoes. A third option was something with the word “Grill” in the name, and they had grilled veggie plates with a variety of options to choose from.  I decided on Hovan Gourmet because I love falafel and they claimed to have the best in town.  I still haven’t found anyone who makes better falafel than Purple Onion, but Hovan came relatively close.  The falafel was warm and crisp and was fried in its own little fryer, separate from the meat.  It wasn’t wrapped in traditional pita bread, but this warm, soft flatbread that was fluffy and about 3x thicker than pita bread.  It came with lettuce, tomato, hummus, and tahini sauce.  Their homemade lemonade was excellent as well.  The falafel wrap was $5.99 but they also had a plate for a dollar or two more that included a Mediterranean salad, hummus, and pita bread.

For dinner Saturday night, we went to Café Sunflower, which is 100% vegetarian and mostly vegan.  They won the Vegetarian Times awarded for best “dining out” option in 2010.  It was so wonderful to be able to walk into and order anything off the menu without having to search out a few sparse options with a little green “V” beside them.  In fact, I had the opposite problem as it was hard to choose just one entrée!  Their dinner menu featured sweet and sour chicken, wild mushroom fettuccini with sundried tomatoes, stuffed acorn squash, black bean quesadillas, spicy pad thai, baked samosas with mango chutney, and a garden steak salad drizzled with homemade BBQ sauce.  Everything was reasonably priced for a nice, “sit-down” restaurant at dinnertime.  Most of their entrees were around $15-18.  We ended up getting the veggie loaf with rosemary mashed potatoes and the Jamaican black bean cakes with pineapple jerk sauce and coconut sour cream.  Both were incredible!  The meatloaf tasted exactly how I remember it tasting when I used to make it with ground beef.  It was seasoned really well and the texture was familiar.  It had a homemade tomato sauce on top.  The rosemary mashed potatoes were delicious, and the fried black bean cakes were amazing with the pineapple sauce and coconut sour cream.  Both entrees came with sautéed veggies.  We both had pomegranate limeade, which was served slightly chilled and tasted mostly like pomegranate juice.  However, the fresh zip of lime really added something extra. 

For dessert, they brought us a tray with a sample of each of our options to view, which included coconut cake, double chocolate cake, carrot cake, a chocolate ganache tart, and a chocolate raspberry mousse (all of their desserts are vegan!).  We chose the double chocolate cake (OF COURSE) and it was hands down the B.E.S.T chocolate cake I’ve ever had!  I mean this is like the vegan version of the great wall of chocolate cake from P.F. Chang’s that led to my downfall in my 30-day vegan challenge.  Not only do you have multiple layers of chocolate cake underneath a heavenly, creamy chocolate frosting, but you have chocolate chips INSIDE the cake and chocolate sprinkles on top as well.  The whole plate is drizzled in melted chocolate.  HEAVEN.

As if I didn’t have enough sugar in my bloodstream already, I had the best pancakes I’ve ever had (no exaggeration….voted best pancakes by the NY Times!) the next morning at Ria’s Bluebird.  Ria’s is pretty casual.  Their parking is pretty limited, so we had to park on the street in the neighborhood behind the restaurant.  You walk in and sign yourself in and then wait outside for your name to be called.  The seating area was technically outside, but in an area that I suspect used to be a patio that is “walled” off with thick tarps.  There is a running heater, so it was pleasantly warm considering was cold outside.  Ria’s isn’t 100% vegetarian, but they have numerous options to choose from such as the tempeh reuben sandwich, BBW veggie riblet, and blackened tofu salad on their lunch menu or the southwest tofu scramble, country fried tempeh with gravy, and “bionic breakfast” (skillet potatoes, mushrooms, roasted corn, peppers, and tofu sauce) on their breakfast menu.  I admit that while my breakfast was vegetarian (of course) it was not vegan.  I got their buttermilk pancakes with caramelized bananas and toasted Georgia pecans with hot maple syrup.  I can’t even explain to you in writing what it was like to eat these pancakes.  They are like edible ecstasy!  The pancakes are as big as dinner plates and the caramelized bananas are whole bananas, sliced lengthwise, not just a few wimpy slices.  The pancakes were fluffy, packed with chopped pecans, and pre-drizzled with real maple syrup.  They just melted in my mouth! Was them down with coffee with vanilla soymilk and 30 minutes later you’re coming down into a sweet, sugary coma!

As if I haven’t bragged on the food at these restaurants enough, I must mention that their staff was amazing.  Even though they were busy (which I was excited to see) the waitresses and waiters were very pleasant, accommodating, and friendly.  Our waiter at Café Sunflower even brought out their binder full of recipes so that we could see every ingredient that went into our dessert.  Not once did anyone get impatient or neglect to come back to the table to re-fill our glasses, ask if we needed anything else, or see how we were enjoying our food.  Needless to say, I highly recommend all of the places that we ate.

I wish I had more restaurants to tell you about, but this was pretty much just a day trip.  Atlanta has many other 100% vegetarian and veg friendly restaurants such as Soul Vegetarian, Urban Pl8, Green Sprout, and World Peace Café.  I will definitely have to try more of them out during our next annual trip to Lush!