Steel City Pops – Gormet Vegan Popsicles in Birmingham, Alabama

I know what you must be thinking.  Popsicles in January?  We’ve had some very unusual weather lately.  Alabama generally has wacky weather, but this is just absurd.  70+ degrees in January?  Folks wearing flip-flops, t-shirts, and shorts, all while eating popsicles… outside… in January?!  Believe it!

This past weekend, it felt more like the end of April than mid-January.  Some friend and I went to Steel City Pops for the first time (hadn’t even heard of it before!) and had a blast.  Now I must preface this by saying that not all of their popsicles are vegan.  Many of them have milk, cream, and even sour cream in them.  But they offer many flavors that are completely dairy-free and delish!

I tried the Avocado flavor, which is made with avocado, lime, organic cane sugar, and water.  It was so creamy, like sherbet, and had just the right balance of lime and sugar so that it wasn’t overly sweet.  I also tasted the Sweet Tea flavor, which was made with tea, raw sugar,and water; the Strawberry, made with lemon and organic cane sugar; and the Chocolate Chili (NOT vegan), made with Mexican chocolate, Serrano peppers, and organic cane sugar.  The Chocolate Chili does have both milk and cream, but I just had a very small nibble of my partner’s!

Their flavors change seasonally, but their current vegan offerings include:
Strawberry
Blackberry
Cucumber Lime
Avocado
Sweet Tea
Mango
Pomegranate
Strawberry Balsamic
Tamarind

All of the ingredients used at Steel City Pops are 100% natural and they try to use certified organic and local ingredients whenever possible. They state on their website that the fruit-based pops are both vegan and gluten-free.  I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in the area!

Vegetarian East on Oahu (Honolulu, Hawaii)

A couple of years ago, we took the most wonderful vacation to Hawaii.  We stayed at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Honolulu on the island of Oahu, snorkeled at Hanauma Bay, went scuba diving and even got in a cage in the ocean while sharks swam around us!  It was definitely a trip full of firsts for me.  Hawaii is so beautiful.  Everything is very green and the air is fresh and clean.  There are tropical flowers and pretty little birds everywhere. The water is the most gorgeous color turquoise near the shore and a rich, royal blue when you’re out on the ocean. 

It was incredibly easy to find vegetarian (and vegan) food in Honolulu.   The first night when we got in, I had been awake for nearly 20 hours and I was exhausted.  I hadn’t researched anywhere to eat that late at night and I was very hungry.  After walking the streets in a sleepy daze, we came across a brightly lit diner called the Rock Island Café.  There were statues of Elvis and posters of I Love Lucy everywhere.  They had a juke box, a gift shop, and a LOT of neon lights.  In the back, there was a restaurant where (lucky for me) they had a veggie burger.  I thought maybe it was just because I was so hungry and tired, but it was one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had and the fries were hot and salty and so good smothered in ketchup.  Everything tasted amazing!  Turns out it wasn’t just that I was hungry, their veggie burgers were actually really good.  We ended up eating there several times throughout our trip.  In addition to the burger, they also had a veggie pizza and an Elvis Peanut Butter Banana sandwich served warm (hello melty, gooey peanut butter!).

One of the places I did plan ahead to eat at was Ruffage Natural Foods.  I had reviewed the menu online before we left Birmingham and the menu is almost entirely vegetarian.  The only non-vegetarian items they offered were turkey and tuna sandwiches and a turkey chili dog.  Everything else was meat free, and menu items included a tempeh avocado burger, tofu scramble, veggie burrito and veggie chili dog.  Their menu distinguishes between vegetarian and vegan items; they have great fresh fruit smoothies; and they also have a little market in the back where you can buy Amy’s frozen meals, non-dairy milks, organic cereal etc. This is another place we went back to several times over the course of our trip.

We spent nearly one full day of our trip on the Diamond Head volcano.  We hiked up, enjoyed the view at the top, and then hiked back down.  At the top, there was a beautiful view of the ocean and the rest of the island.  When we got back to the bottom, we were very hungry and stopped in at the Diamond Head Cove Health Bar, another placed I had planned to visit.  They have fresh juices, smoothies, wraps and salads.  They do serve fish, but veg options include vegetable omelets, veggie wraps and what they call “Da Cove Bowl,” which has blueberries, strawberries, acai berries, organic granola and honey.  I had the jumbo hummus wrap, which is stuffed with spinach, grated carrot and an assortment of other veggies in a zesty dressing made with Dijon mustard and mirin.  It was so filling (and very flavorful) that I was barely able to finish my smoothie!

If you visit Honolulu, you have to make time to go to the Swap Meet at Aloha Stadium.  It’s a huge open air flea market with just about anything you could want.  They have items you might typically buy for souvenirs:  bags, jewelry, t-shirts, figurines, mugs, children’s clothes, magnets, beach towels, Hawaiian print dresses, etc.  They also have fresh-cut fruit, homemade baked bread, fresh vegetables, nuts and lots of other food that you can buy to eat while you shop or take home with you. Just be careful because they won’t allow you on the plane with certain plants, including some fruit – we learned the hard way that you can take a pomegranate into Hawaii, but you can’t take it back out!.  There is nothing better than fresh-cut, cold pineapple from Hawaii (the Dole farms are right there on the island) and they’re selling it everywhere!

So I found it really easy to eat veg (and healthy) in Honolulu.  I’ll take pics of the actual food on our next trip (perhaps next spring – fingers crossed)!

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!

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!