I LOVE TODAY'S PROMPT!!! We're tasked with talking about what our first vegan meal was, or one we remember very well. I remember so MANY great vegan meals, and while I may not remember my first vegan meal (seriously, I mean, I've had many vegan meals before I even knew what vegan was....most of us have) but let's talk about my first experience as a vegan at a 100% vegan restaurant. It practically blew my mind, and I still reminisce about it.
My first vegan meal at a 100% vegan restaurant was at a place that is long gone. They were so far ahead of their time. This was a very long time ago, when vegan food was not nearly as prevalent as it is today, and when vegan restaurants were very far and few between. This wasn't just "plant based" eating, this was a place run by 2 ethical vegans who spoke of the ethics involved. They spoke about vast injustices towards animals, people and planet. They would come out of the kitchen to meet their customers. They prepared all the food themselves without any prep cooks in the tiniest kitchen you could imagine. They made their own staples of seitan and things like that. I remember walking in there as a vegan, sitting down, picking up the menu, reading it, and being jubilant. I could have ANYTHING on the menu! I was with a non-vegan; I wanted to be "cool" but my effervescence bubbled over. I ordered loaded potato skins, nachos, a garden salad, Southern Cajun seitan with collards and mashed yams, chocolate cake, and peach tea. I'm really serious about this.... I ordered all that. On a date.
When the loaded potato skins came out, I actually gasped.... they had vegan versions of bacon and cheese. They were perfectly crispy, and absolutely delicious. I don't remember if I shared... I'm serious about my food, that other person may have a fork mark scar on their hand knowing how I am. I was full after the first app, but remember all the other stuff I ordered was still on the way. Nachos were next, I do remember sharing.... loaded up.... jalapenos, vegan cheese, tomatoes, onions. OMG. Dinner had not even arrived, and there I sat beyond stuffed. Then the entree came. This place became a staple for me after that first visit, and I always ordered their collards and other greens. I've never had any place do greens any better, I think they cooked them with fresh lemongrass or something... they had a subtle flavor I have no idea what it was, today I might be able to identify. But, this was back in a time when I didn't cook at all, I hadn't a clue (we've already talked about that). So, I ate the greens not caring how they were prepared, they were vegan, and they were perfect. The seitan was unbelievable, it was the first time I even had seitan. I don't know how they prepared it, but it was fried. It probably had panko because it was so crispy, plus it was spicy. Chunks of heaven, with mustard sauce. I had the audacity to order chocolate cake and peach tea for dessert. On the ride home I honestly felt sick I had eaten probably more than ever my whole life, but it was so good, and did I mention, I COULD ORDER ANYTHING ON THE MENU!!!
I made a feeble attempt tonight to recreate the entree. Very feeble. The day got away from me here, we were volunteering medicating Key deer with Doramectin (that nasty screwworm is still around, but the fatalities have plummeted, the eradication efforts and medication is working!) so I'm sure anyone reading this will understand that the deer are a priority.
Here's a picture of my feeble version of my first vegan entree at a vegan restaurant, approximately 17-20 years ago, give or take....
|My feeble version of one of the most memorable meals I ever had....|
Southern Cajun seitan, smashed yams, sauteed greens
I actually hoped to bring you a video today on this, but turns out obviously there's no video, but not even homemade seitan. Worse yet, I bought strips not cubes because the strips were on sale, so the feeble got more feeble.
That restaurant experience totally changed my outlook on food. It made me realize my thoughts on vegan food were FAR off base, and I needed to up my game, as well as my expectations. Those ladies opened my eyes and mind to so many other ethical issues, not just my simplistic view of going vegan "for the animals." I used to drive almost 1 hour each way to eat there, and when they closed to move on to other ventures I actually cried. To this day I remember their menu, their regular specials, the art on the walls, the smells, and the joy I felt every time I made plans to eat there. In time, the other happy vegan made the trek there with me. He wasn't even vegan back then, but going there was always something he would look forward to although certainly a non-vegan probably will never understand the joy of being vegan at a vegan restaurant and that realization that nothing on the menu is off limits.
By the way, that chocolate cake was the best I've ever had too. One year, the other happy vegan actually drove all the way to that restaurant to pick up a secret chocolate cake he had ordered for me. Again, this was back in a time when practically no place did vegan baking, not to mention an entire custom order cake. Damn, they made good cake.
Some days I sit and think that the world is going backwards, that we will never have a vegan world, and I feel very helpless maybe even occasionally hopeless. But, when I really stop and think, there's been huge steps of awareness as to the reasons we need to go vegan, as well as the growth of vegan companies and availability of vegan foods. Thinking back to this very first vegan meal at the very first vegan restaurant I ever set foot in makes me realize how far we've come... and reminds me how high the bar was set even close to 2 decades ago.
I owe a debt of gratitude to those pioneers for many things, least of which is the great vegan meals I ate for years at their place, as well as the complexities that come with farmed food.
If they were still in business, they'd be getting tons of referrals from me, and you can bet I would still be eating there even though I'm thousands of miles away. I'm known to plan vacations around restaurant hours, who knows if they were still in business I may have never even moved here.
Plant strong forever!