Wednesday, September 18, 2013

VeganMoFo Day #18: Sugar Apple Natural Foods: The ONLY other commercial VEGAN kitchen in the Keys!

As long as I've been visiting, and now living, in the Keys, a place called Sugar Apple Natural Foods has existed in Key West. They serve our community in a way NO OTHER place does.... other than Deer Run (me) they are, as far as I am aware, the ONLY other business in the entire Florida Keys with a vegan kitchen.

I hear angels singing.

The Sugar Apple is a natural foods store with a small vegan kitchen and juice bar attached. The juice bar has a bistro table outside. Inside there are a few bar stools up against the counter. The juice bar does a very brisk take out business; more often than not, I prefer to eat at the store. I like the way it smells in there, I like the people that work there, I like that it seems so many locals meet here, and I really like to be in places that don't serve dead.

The natural food store section does not sell meat. They sell dairy, but NO meat. I guess technically it falls under the "vegetarian" category. Once, I read somewhere that someone had complained about the fact that Sugar Apple was "forcing" their values on customers, and should sell meat. I sat there and thought for  a moment. I wondered why that person was so adamant that the ONLY place in Key West that has a vegetarian store should be mandated to conform to someone else's standards, when EVERY OTHER PLACE sells meat. Quite frankly, I could just as easily complain that every single other store in Key West is "forcing" their torture and death upon ME, no? I adore Sugar Apple, I really do.

This is the counter where you pay.
Typically they also offer vegan banana bread for sale here at the counter,
organic produce in little bins, and Cole's Peace Bread.
Sugar Apple has the best sandwich in the Universe on the menu. They make a tempeh reuben that is by far the best I have ever had. Most times it is made on rye bread, but sometimes it comes on multi-grain. This is life on an island.... sometimes there will be compromises. But, make no mistake, the sandwich remains the BEST no matter the flavor bread. I have told the people working at the store probably more than they care to hear, this is the best in the Universe and I want some of the fairy dust they sprinkle on that sandwich. It's tempeh, sauerkraut, sauce on bread that is either pressed or grilled. I make tempeh reubens at home, in fact I have given you the recipe for a beer battered tempeh reuben that is fantastic, remember? But, it's NOT the Sugar Apple version, nope. Everywhere I go that offers a vegan reuben, that is always what I will order. I've eaten A LOT of reubens, nothing compares to the Sugar Apple version. Nothing.

On my actual birthday, we went to Sugar Apple for lunch.
I could have gone anywhere, so said the other happy vegan.
Fancy, or not, it didn't matter... it was my birthday.
I wanted Sugar Apple.
They now carry Virgil's "Dr. Better" soda.
I used to be a huge Dr. Pepper and Mr. Pibb fan, those days are LONG gone.
Now this is available. Be still my heart.
This is my birthday tempeh reuben.
Their sandwiches are served with a really nice BIG side salad.
That's key lime vinaigrette in the picture.
Perfection on a (paper, not foam) plate.
While I was eating my sandwich, this little mister came by on the planter for a visit.
Isn't he just adorable?!
This is the juice bar when you walk in.
You order here, they give you a ticket and you go to the store section to pay while they
prepare your morsels from heaven.
These are their daily specials boards.
Eye spy a tempeh reuben on there!
This is the view looking out from the  juice bar.
Look to the left, there's the little bar stools across the counter.
See.... NO animal products used!

There's lots of stickers around the register, these are some of my favorites:

You said it!

I pledge allegiance to the Earth too.
This says it all.
I've written about Sugar Apple before, dedicated entire posts to them in fact. Through the years, faces have come and gone, but many have remained the same. The store has earned a loyal consumer base. It's not a big store, but what is in there is incredible as far as offerings. Once, I needed Irish Moss for a recipe. Irish Moss? No one sells that, right? WRONG! Sugar Apple does! Boom, in and out, I had my Irish Moss. Problem solved. Another time I needed a spice called Asafoetida; a guest was coming in who could have no onions, garlic or such. In short order I learned through the power of the internet that something I'd never heard of called Asafoetida was a suitable spice substitute for those items in recipes. I could ORDER it on the internet, it would take 2 days, and a boat load of shipping for 1 tiny jar. I called all around, finally making my call to Sugar Apple. They had it. In stock. I bought it off the shelf, just like that. Problem solved, again.

I met the great Diana Nyad at Sugar Apple a couple years ago. I wrote about that extensively on a post back then. I was star struck (as usual). I desperately wanted a photo with her, but didn't want to impose. So, I didn't ask. I'm still kicking myself over that, especially since meeting Diana a couple weeks ago all those photos completely TANKED! Certainly nothing diminishes the thrill of meeting her. The fact she shops and eats at Sugar Apple REALLY shows she's not only rock star fierce, but she's a genius too.

I believe the small business owner in this Country is under attack, as is our way of life. Corporations roll into towns, and steamroll the mom and pop places that have been around for decades to serve the communities. It is imperative that we support small businesses. I cannot imagine what life would be like without the Sugar Apples of the world. I would rather travel to Key West for Sugar Apple, a 45 minute drive each way, than shop at that big supermarket on my island. Granted, that's not good for the carbon footprint, so I make sure I get what I need on my trips to Key West to avoid a special trip down, but you get my point, right?

Lots of vegan chocolate options.
Torture for a chocoholic like me who happens to be (mostly)
off sugar (birthday food does NOT count!)
The cold cases across the back have lots of GREAT vegan choices.
The cold case on the farthest right even has some raw selections!
I am a BIG fan of tea.
I LOVE roaming down this aisle... its ALL TEA!
So many flavors and brands.
One of my favorites is Yogi Tea, Mayan Cocoa Spice.
Nice variety of personal care items through the store,
so many vegan ones to choose from!
There's a window shelf that has what I consider a "community bulletin board."
Here you can find business cards, fliers, and information about local stuff.
And, there's usually things like incense holders and incense here too.
Makes it smell nice while I look at the information, thanks Sugar Apple!
So, the grocery section is vegetarian with of course natural and organic products. They sell items for the home, some cosmetics (!!!), incense (LOVE!), magazines, and food. Then adjacent to the store is their juice bar with vegan kitchen. VEGAN KITCHEN. This means everything on the menu is fair game for us! EVERYTHING! They have a small selection of specials everyday, some of the items are "staples" like the tempeh reuben. Another of my favorites is their pesto, whether it's on tofu with salad, or rice. I could live off that stuff (pesto.... another item I've written about that I crave!) They can make magical smoothies and juice blends with all sorts of great things like Spirulina, wheatgrass and (vegan) protein. They make vegan "hot dogs," vegan "deli sandwiches", vegan "BLT" and more. Oh, wait, let's talk about that vegan BLT. The  Sugar Apple actually won a spot in PETA's 2012 Top Ten Vegan BLTs in the Country, the COUNTRY! They have their little sign framed, hanging in the juice bar. Could any of my food someday be given such an honor? Not only would I frame it, I'd probably have it plated in gold (the sign, not the food).

See? They have their award framed!
Top 10 BLT's in the COUNTRY!
When Wyland was in the Keys re-painting his walls earlier this year, I went to the Sugar Apple for lunch (of course) with the other happy vegan before we went to watch Wyland paint. We both had tempeh reubens. Then we ordered one "to go" for Wyland so I could give it to him. I had been at a charity event a few days earlier at which Wyland was painting and donating 100% of the money to the local community college for marine scholarships. While I was there, from across the room, I saw him eat a corn dog. I wanted to cry.

He NEEDED a tempeh reuben.

The sandwich was made with love and care, and packed into a bag by the loving hands of those at the Sugar Apple. I tucked in a few of my Vegan Dream cookies that I made and carried down specially for him, and off we went to the Wyland Wall in Key West. I will never know if Wyland ate the reuben and cookies, but I REALLY hope so. If he didn't, he sure missed out on something good.

The Sugar Apple is special in that they have founded their business, and succeeded, on an idea that was generally not accepted (vegetarian/vegan) as going to be successful. How do I know this? I know from personal experience. I've said this many times before, when we bought this place and took it vegan, too many people had no problem "telling" us we were "destined to fail." It's important when you have a vision, that you be true to it. I think the Sugar Apple marches to that drummer. Thank goodness.

Sugar Apple has followed their heart and brought us a vegan kitchen.
Oh happy day!
Ok, you can follow your heart OR the bananas
and you'll still end up at Sugar Apple!
With all the creativity that cooks and chef have in their souls, I wonder all the time why don't more places take it vegan? It opens up an entirely different way of cooking and looking at food, and brings far more ways to innovate while not celebrating on the death of another sentient creature. I applaud Sugar Apple for having the balls to do their thing, and then do it so well.

Did I mention Sugar Apple has the best sandwich in the Universe? They do. It's called a tempeh reuben. Get there. Get some.

Thank you Sugar Apple for being here to truly serve our community. I will always love you, I will always be loyal to you. Thank you for having a vegan kitchen, for being aware, for being compassionate, and for pumping out some of the best food in the entire Florida Keys.

Sugar Apple + Happy Vegans = True Love Forever.

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