Nashvegan

A not-very-definitive guide to eating (and living) as a vegan in Nashville.

Khan’s Mongolian BBQ November 10, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nashvegan @ 12:18 pm
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Khan's - buffet 1

Choose your choice!

At Khan’s, you decide EXACTLY what your dish will include.  That makes it paradise for vegans.  Khan’s Mongolian BBQ is on 4th Avenue, right next to the entrance to the Arcade.  When you walk in, it kind of looks like a buffet.  You can a choose a large or small bowl and then fill it up with whatever you want.  They have tofu and TONS of fresh vegetables: sprouts, green peppers, carrots, white and purple cabbage, water chestnuts, snow peas, broccoli, onions, zucchini, mushrooms, scallions, baby corn, and more.  Plus you get $1 off for getting a vegetarian bowl.  You should see the art of architecture that takes place here–people build elaborate towers of food, cramming as much food as possible into the bowls.  I have yet to master the art of making a bowl without anything falling out of it onto the counter or floor, but that’s okay because there’s always someone walking around refreshing the bins and cleaning up the messes made by people like me.

khan's - buffet 2

Even more choices!

Towards the end of the line are a wide variety of sauces and seasonings to make your creation complete.  There are recommended recipes taped to the sneeze guard, but I usually just add a little bit of everything.  A little goes a long way with all the sauces–if you add too much, your food will come out too liquid-y.  It has taken me several visits to find the appropriate sauce-to-bowl ratio.  Also, let me tell you, it is awkward to take photos of the food line in Khan’s.  People must have thought I was insane.  Once your bowl is complete, you approach the cash register and hand it over so they can cook it up for you.  You get your choice of rice or noodles, but get the rice because the noodles are made with egg.  The key feature of a Mongolian BBQ restaurant is the large metal cooking area; I read that it’s supposed to be reminiscent of Mongols cooking food on their big metal shields.  If you ask nicely, the proprietors will cook your food in a pan in the back instead of on the big cooking circle thing, to avoid having your food cooked where meat was just prepared mere moments before.  That’s what I always do.

Khan's - entree

Look, it's all steamy.

You get a little paper number and wait for your food to come out, and when it does, you are in for a serious treat.  Rice, veggies, tofu, sauce, all made exactly to your specifications.  And it doesn’t end there.  Khan’s has an arsenal of delicious condiments you can use to top your dish.  There’s soy sauce, duck sauce, sriracha, tabasco, hot sauce, and something delicious and brown next to the register in little cups.  You can choose chopsticks or traditional utensils.  I have to tell you, I’ve never had anything at Khan’s that wasn’t delicious, but the plate you see here was the best I’ve ever had while eating there.  I think I finally got the sauce-to-bowl ratio right.  Just writing this entry is making my mouth water.

Khan’s is a seriously popular downtown lunch spot.  If you show up just after 12:00, you’ll have to wait a while and there probably won’t be any tables left.  If you can, try to head there a bit before 12:00 or a bit after 12:30.  I’m glad to see that so many people love this place.  I am absolutely certain that I will be back, just as I have been there many times before.  The best thing about Khan’s?  Every meal is different.

Khan’s Mongolian BBQ

237 4th Avenue N.

Nashville, TN 37219

615.726.2340

Khan’s doesn’t have a website, but here is a blurb from the Nashville Scene.

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Blackstone Brewery October 4, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nashvegan @ 9:43 am
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French Fries

French Fries

Blackstone … not good for vegans.  Seriously, don’t waste your time.  The only reason I came here was because it was the restaurant of choice of the birthday boy.  I feel like this is always happening to me: I have to go to a seriously non-vegan-friendly restaurant for someone’s birthday.  I usually manage to ask some questions about the menu and get some kind of custom thing that is pretty good.  That was not the case here.  First, I had french fries.  French fries are part of my three basic vegan-eating-out food groups: french fries, chips and salsa, and hummus.  If I see this items on a menu, I order them without fear.  I did not ask any questions about these fries (for instance: animal-based natural flavorings, shared cooking oil) and if those issues are important to you, you should ask about them before ordering these fries.  They were actually pretty good, though certainly not the best I’ve had in town, as that honor belongs to Beyond the Edge.

Black Beans and Rice

Black Beans and Rice

Here it is: the only food of any real filling substance you can order as a vegan at Blackstone.  Black beans and rice is a side dish costing $3.00 on the dinner menu.  It’s on the lunch menu for $6.50 with extra toppings and what I assume is a larger portion, but this plate was enormous.  The dish really wasn’t half bad.  The beans were spicy and the rice was flavorful, and long-grain with veggies.  I was pleasantly surprised.  If memory serves, I think the dish came out with cheese on top and I had to send it back, even though my server and I had a pretty extensive conversation about veganism and what it is so I could be sure the dish was vegan.

I will probably never go back to Blackstone again unless friends are really insistent on it.  It wasn’t that the food that I had was bad, it was just unimpressive and there are not a lot of choices.  They have some salads that could probably be veganized, there’s a nacho appetizer that could be veganized (or just ordered as chips and salsa), they have pizzas that may be vegan (I didn’t ask about the crust while I was there), and there are a couple other sides like asparagus and apple sauce that may be vegan.  There are lots of other restaurants in town with more and better vegan options.  The best thing about Blackstone is the beer: they brew it on-site and even have a hand drawn ale.  If you find yourself here, grab a hand drawn Nut Brown Ale and a big bowl of black beans and rice and you’ll be just fine.

Blackstone Brewery

1918 West End Avenue

Nashville, TN 37203

615.327.9969

Website

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Rosepepper Cantina September 29, 2009

Who doesn't love neon?

Who doesn't love neon?

I feel like I go to a lot of birthday dinners.  It seems like all my friends have their birthdays in rapid succession, and they all want to have dinner.  My own is quickly approaching, in October.  For this latest birthday dinner I visited Rosepepper Cantina in East Nashville.  This place was adorable.  The decor was absolutely gorgeous, and I wish I could have taken more photos of the restaurant interior but because of the lighting they didn’t come out well.  You’ll have to be satisfied with this gorgeous neon sign, which is over the door from the dining room to the patio.  And what a patio it is!  We dined inside due to the size of our party, but the next time I visit Rosepepper I’ll definitely be eating al fresco.  The patio is enormous, and now that the weather had turned I bet it will be a really awesome experience to sit out there.

We had to wait a while for a table since there were a lot of us and we didn’t have a reservation and it was a Saturday, so we hung around the bar.  I decided to order a pina colada, for funsies.  If you decide to order a pina colada, you should know that it comes topped with a dollop of whipped cream.  My bartender was kind enough to spoon it out for me.  It is otherwise vegan, and you would be surprised how many wines and beers may not meet your personal definition of veganism (most hard liquor is fine).  There’s a link in my sidebar to a site called Barnivore and they have a fantastic, well-researched guide to all kinds of beer, liquor, and wine.  Information is power, people.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

I eat a lot of chips and salsa in my journeys.  Seems like every restaurant I go to serves chips and salsa.  So far, my favorite salsa in town is from Cafe Coco, followed very closely by Moe’s, but I’ve loved the Moe’s salsa for years and it’s not unique to Nashville.  Other excellent salsas are available at Lime and Past Perfect.  That being said, this salsa was great.  It does not rival my top two, but it was still awesome.  There was a mild one, a spicier one, and a green one.  The green one was my favorite, followed by the spicier one.  The mild one was so-so.  I ate a lot of the green one.

Fajita Fresca Salad and Rice

Fajita Fresca Salad and Rice

Rosepepper is decidedly vegan-friendly.  There is a vegan burrito on the menu–named simply “Vegan”–and if you want a simple meal, I would recommend that.  But I didn’t feel like eating a burrito, I wanted a salad.  I talked with my waitress about being vegan and how to veganize the Fajita Fresca salad.  The waitress seemed knowledgeable about a vegan diet and helped me figure out how to change the salad.  We left out the meat (obviously), the cheese, and the sour cream, subbed steamed veggies for the grilled, and added fresh avocado slices.  It was pretty fantastic, except for the fact that it wasn’t really blended/tossed in any way and it was hard to get multiple things in one bite.  I really had to dig for the beans and at first I thought they weren’t in there.  I also had a rice, which my server assured me was vegan, but looking at the website further I’m not sure if that’s right.  The “Veggie” burrito has rice but the “Vegan” burrito does not, which is what rouses my suspicion.  If you are thinking about getting rice, be sure to ask if it contains any dairy or egg.

I will definitely go back to Rosepepper Cantina.  I hear their margaritas are amazing, but I wasn’t in the mood that particular evening.  Everything was fresh and tasty and there were lots of vegetables.  And I definitely want to eat on that patio!

Rosepepper Cantina

1907 Eastland Avenue

Nashville, TN 37206

615.227.4777

Website – menu, photos, drinks, and more

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El Rey September 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nashvegan @ 4:43 pm
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Chips and Salsa and Pico de Gallo

Chips and Salsa and Pico de Gallo

El Rey is a Mexican restaurant on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Commerce Street.  It’s a pretty popular lunch spot, especially for the suits who inhabit downtown on weekdays.  I visited for lunch on a Thursday, and my dining companion and I chose to sit on the patio, which is pretty nice.  Your meal at El Rey begins with chips and salsa (as it should), and we ordered a side of pico de gallo for our dipping pleasure.  It was all pretty great, and it really hit the spot since I was starving.

Veggie Fajitas with Beans, Rice, and Toppings

Veggie Fajitas with Beans, Rice, and Toppings

For an entree I ordered vegetable fajitas (tortillas are in the aluminum foil).  Often when I eat out, I like to ask specifically about the animal ingredients that concern me.  If I ask if food contains “animal products” I often get told “no” when it does, in fact, include animal products, and if I ask if something is “vegan” I have even less luck.  I asked specifically if the rice contained chicken stock, if the beans contained lard, and if the vegetables were cooked in butter or chicken stock.  Since the answers to all questions was “no” I felt comfortable ordering this dish, but I always recommend doing your own research.  Sometimes different servers will give you different answers, like when someone at Fido told me the veggie sausage was vegan–I found out later that it was not.  Also, recipes and cooking methods change from time to time.  Always ask what’s in your food!  You have a right to know, and asking shows chefs and owners that there is a demand for vegan products.

On to the food.  It was good!  The beans and rice were great, the guacamole (it’s a topping, you can’t really see it in the picture  because it blends in with the lettuce) seemed pretty fresh, and the veggies were nicely seasoned.  I would have enjoyed some more variety with the vegetables as they were just peppers and onions and tomatoes.  Some broccoli or zucchini would have been great, and I sort of expected mushrooms.  I ended up using all the tortillas, as there were only two or three, and while I probably could have requested more tortillas I decided to eat the rest of my veggies and beans and rice with a fork.

I’ll probably be back to El Rey, if for no other reason than the location.  It’s pretty convenient right there on 2nd and Commerce.  So far, Las Palmas on 19th is my favorite “authentic” Mexican spot, but I haven’t tried all that many and I’m open to discovering more.  If you’re downtown and need to grab some lunch down on 2nd, and you want a waiter instead of counter service, head on down to El Rey.  And get some pico, because it’s tasty.

El Rey

139 2nd Avenue North

Nashville, TN 37201

615.726.8862

No website available

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Chili’s August 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nashvegan @ 10:31 pm
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My "entree"

My "entree"

I’m not a big fan of chain restaurants (unless they are SUPER AWESOME), but sometimes you’re with people and they want to eat at one, so you do what you have to do.  Also, a lot of them have standardized menus with informative websites about ingredients, so you’ll know in advance what is vegan and what isn’t.  Furthermore, I like to go to restaurants with few vegan options for two reasons: (1) I want to show that there is, in fact, a demand for vegan dishes in “mainstream” establishments and (2) I want to show my co-diners that vegan food is relatively easy to find, appetizing-looking, and delicious.  I recruit future vegans one meal at a time.  Anyways, on to the food.

Chips and Salsa

Chips and Salsa

Who doesn’t love chips and salsa?  It is one of the things you can practically always order as a vegan.  Now, the chips at Chili’s may not meet some people’s definition of “vegan” as they are fried in oil also used to fry other non-vegan foods (so are the fries).  Not to delve too much into my personal politics, but I’m vegan to reduce animal suffering, and refusing these chips does nothing to stop the slaughter of animals for food, so the chips are fine by me.  If you don’t like to eat food that may or may not have been deep fried right after chicken tenders, avoid the chips.

The salsa at Chili’s is really not that good.  It’s quite runny, and it doesn’t really taste “fresh.”  Still, it’s Chili’s; what did you expect?  I like the chips because you can totally tell they were just fried mere moments before you were eating them, but ours had way too much salt.

See, vegans can eat at Chili's ... kind of.

See, vegans can eat at Chili's ... kind of.

I decided what to eat here based on an extremely informative post on the blog Vegan Restaurants Master List.  They have a great post about Chili’s here.  As you can see, that post is from 2007, but as far as I could tell from the questions I asked at the restaurant it still holds true.  On my plate above is the following: pico de gallo, guacamole, corn on the cob, black beans, and rice.  Off to the side of the picture (you can see them in the first photo of the post) is a dish of corn tortillas.  I made myself some interesting taco-like constructions, but the tortillas kept breaking open (as corn tortillas are apt to do) and I got frustrated and just started eating stuff with a fork.

And now, for your reading pleasure, I shall break the meal down bite by bite.  First, corn tortillas are weird.  They don’t wrap the way that flour tortillas do and they split open and you get guacamole all over yourself (don’t ask how I know that).  It seemed that the restaurant did the best they could to soften them, but they quickly got hard and icky.  I would say don’t even bother.  Second, the pico and guac are mediocre at best.  I personally prefer a nice, chunky guacamole, and this was basically a puree.  It didn’t taste fresh at all (likely because it wasn’t).  But hey man, it’s Chili’s.  Third, the corn on the cob was awesome.  I was so pleasantly surprised.  It was really sweet and tasted “grilled” if that makes any sense.  It blew my mind.  Make sure you order it with no oil or butter.  If you pick the corn up and there is a pool of yellow liquid underneath it, that’s oil and butter, send it back.  I know because this happened to me (not like the guacamole-tortilla-shirt mess, which totally did not).  Finally, the beans and rice … the beans are not as awesome as many other black beans I’ve had, partially because the liquid they’re in is really thin and watery, but that rice.  I could eat nothing but that rice for a week and be happy.  I don’t know what they put in it but I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of crack cocaine.  Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Bottom line: if you’re sitting around asking yourself “where can I get some awesome vegan dinner tonight?” the answer is not “Chili’s.”  But if your crazy uncle Phil is in town and change makes him act like he’s gone off his medication (or you just don’t want him to ask the waitress what “TAPE-nade” is), humor the man and go with him to Chili’s.  Who knows, he might even want a bite of your delicious delicious vegan super rice.  And you will tell him to back off because you need every last grain.

Chili’s

Multiple locations – they are everywhere!

Website

Vegetarian Menu (PDF) – you may find this helpful in making a food choice.  It’s a new addition to their website, which used to only have an extremely confusing and unhelpful allergen list.

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Calypso Cafe August 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nashvegan @ 4:06 pm
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Beans and Three

Beans and Three

Ah, Calypso Cafe.  You are so vegan-friendly.  Possibly the greatest thing about Calypso is the fact that all vegan menu items are clearly marked.  Plus, the food isn’t half bad.  I had “beans and three” on my most recent visit–you get Cuban beans with three side dishes for $6.  In the photo above, you can see that I chose St. Lucian Rice, Martinique Callaloo, and Spiced Sweet Potatoes as my sides.  They also have a Boca Burger, for less adventurous vegans.

This food was okay.  It didn’t blow my mind or anything, but it was filling and there was a lot of it.  The greens were especially good, and I usually don’t like greens.  Other sides to try are the Bean & Corn Salad (with garbanzo and kidney beans, black eyed peas, and corn in this super amazing dressing) and the fresh fruit (but only April – September so hurry!).  I personally want to try the black bean dip, but I always seem to miss out on ordering it.  Their website is really informative, with a full list of all their vegan offerings (including condiments).  Take your omni friends and, while they enjoy their charred flesh, shove your delicious sweet potatoes (with shredded coconut!) in their faces and make them savor the flavor.

Couva Calypso Cafe

Multiple Locations – Vandy, 100 Oaks, Belle Meade, Cool Springs, East Nashville

Website

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