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Dining Out, Vegan-Style

Identity Crisis!

Today, my name is Katie Crunk, and I can be found on my friend Bianca’s blog.

She, in turn, can be found right here! Stick around as we attempt to sort out this mix up ;).

 

Hey everybody! This is a Dirty South Crunk takeover of the lovely Miss Chocolate Covered Katie’s blog (with her permission, of course). In case you don’t know me, I’m Bianca and I typically do my preachin’ and food porn-sharin’ over at my Vegan Crunk blog.

I hail from Memphis, Tennessee and I’m currently writing a Southern vegan cookbook filled with cruelty-free downhome comfort food favorites. Think ham-free collard greens, Southern-fried tofu, sweet tater fries, and barbecue spaghetti.

Although I do lots of home-cookin’, I do enjoy dining out on occasion. Problem is, Memphis doesn’t have one single totally-vegan restaurant. Not even a totally-vegetarian restaurant. But that’s never stopped me from finding delicious cruelty-free restaurant fare. You see, I live by some eatin’-out rules that never fail to help me find delicious vegan options in the meatiest places. Without further ado, here are my Top 8 Rules for Dining Out Vegan:

#1. Call ahead or check out the menu online — Um, duh. This rule is pretty much common sense, but I have to say it. When family or friends are planning an outing, always scan the restaurant’s online menu for vegan or easily-made-veg options. If the restaurant doesn’t have a website, pick up the phone and give ’em an old-fashioned phone call. Let them know a vegan is coming and inquire whether or not they have anything that is either accidentally vegan or can be made vegan by leaving off cheese or butter. You might want to explain what “vegan” means to be clear. Also, as a general rule, any Asian or Mediterranean restaurant should have ample veg options.

#2. Ask the chef — If the menu is loaded with non-vegan crap, politely ask your server if the chef can create a special vegan dish just for you. Don’t feel like your being a pain-in-the-butt. You have a right to delicious vegan food, and maybe the chef will consider adding the dish to the regular menu. If the chef agrees to make you a special dish, be sure to let him or her know how much you liked it. And tip your server well. On a recent outing at Ciao Baci (a fancy-schmancy Italian place) in Little Rock, I asked my server to have the chef make me a special vegan pizza. The result was this delicious eggplant, mushroom, and tomato pie on a homemade cracker-thin crust. Yum!

Ciao Baci Pizza

#3. Share with omnis — If the chef creates a special meal just for you or even if you find something vegan on the regular menu, offer a small bite to any omnis at the table. I don’t like to share my food. I’m like a rapid dog when anyone comes near my plate, but in dining-out-with-omnis situations, I have to remember that I’m trying to change the world by creating one vegan at a time. They may never know how delicious vegan food is if I don’t share.

#4. Consult vegan apps and websites — Don’t forget that HappyCow.net can be a valuable resource for locating veg options in your city. The data at Happy Cow is user-driven though, so be sure to send the website info when you stumble on an unlisted vegan-friendly place. If you have an iPhone, Happy Cow’s database of restaurants can be easily accessed through the Veg Out app. Also, Vegan Express makes a great iPhone app for locating veg-safe fast food.

#5. Leave off the cheese — When all else fails, most every place has at least one vegetarian dish on the menu that can be made vegan by leaving off the cheese. Think cheeseless pizzas, bean burritos, etc. These mushroom and spinach enchiladas (pictured below) from Cafe Ole in Memphis typically come smothered in cheese, but the cook topped mine with extra tomatillo sauce instead.

Cafe Ole Cozumel

#6. Bring your own vegan food accessories — I often carry small containers of vegan cheese, vegan mayo, Tofutti sour cream, or even guacamole in my purse when I know I’m going somewhere where I’ll be leaving the dairy versions of those things off my food. For example, any time I’ll be ordering the BBQ Tofu Nachos (below) from my favorite Memphis bar R.P. Tracks, I first stop by Taco Bell to order a small container of their guacamole to top my dish. Yes, the people at Taco Bell give me weird looks for only ordering a tiny container of guac. And no, I don’t care what they think.

Tracks BBQ Nachos

#7. Decide how vegan you want to be — I may catch hell from militant vegans for this one, but I’m not a crazy question-asker when I dine out. Especially if I’m dining with non-vegans. I will always ask if a soup is made with chicken stock or if a veggie burger contains eggs. But I’m not going to throw a fit if my bread arrives buttered. I’ll eat it, but next time I’ll know to ask for that butter to be left off. I think being a super militant vegan makes our lifestyle look too hard for an omni. I don’t want to turn any omnis away from a possible vegan future.

#8. Bring your own dessert! — Most non-vegan restaurants don’t offer egg- or dairy-free desserts. But my vegan friends and I often bring our own cupcakes instead. We never really ask if its okay. We just do it. If you’re ordering dinner, most servers could care less if you bring your own cake … especially if you can’t eat the cake on the menu. My friend Stephanie, the best vegan cake maker in the world, brought a big batch of these banana cupcakes with chocolate vegan cream cheese frosting (below) to an outing at our fave Vietnamese joint.

Steph Cupcake

Well, that’s it folks. I hope my tips are helpful. I realize much of the above is common sense, but you’d be surprised how many non-vegans or new vegans ask me for tips on finding vegan food in meat-heavy Memphis. I’m sure many of you live in not-so-vegan-friendly cities too. We can’t all be lucky enough to live in Portland, right?

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Thank you so much, Bianca!

Everyone, be sure to check out Bianca’s “Vegan Crunk” blog. She’s a terrific writer, a funny storyteller, compassionate soul, and a future cookbook author to boot. Bianca, we might have a problem: I like your blog so much, I might not wanna go home! You can’t make me!!

Katie is the baker, photographer, and author of the popular blog Chocolate-Covered Katie. Her favorite food is chocolate, and she believes in eating a balanced diet that includes dessert every single day. More about Katie—> 
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  1. Great tips! Especially bring your own cake – love it!

  2. Great advice! The first year I was vegan I lived in small-town Indiana which is also not very vegan-friendly. But I did find with checking ahead and making special requests like you mentioned, I could even get a good meal in a steak restaurant (baked sweet potato, roasted asparagus and sauteed mushrooms with no butter).

  3. Great tips and guest post!

  4. Great tips! I am not vegan, but am vegetarian and try to limit my dairy consumption.

  5. Thanks for the tips! This is super helpful!

  6. Great tips! Thank you for sharing. You’re blogging always teaches me so much! :)

  7. Lisa says:

    Thank you for the tips! I can’t eat dairy so sometimes its frusterating when I go out! P.S. That cupcake looks unbeleivable! =)

  8. 40apples says:

    Awesome tips. I completely concur with bringing your own desserts. In addition to the vegan guarantee, it’s a.) cheaper, b.) healthier (maybe…), and c.) cheaper. Seriously, who needs to pay $8 (+) for dessert anyway?! Unless it’s specifically why you’re there. In which case bring your own entree 😉

  9. Awesome advice!! I’m not vegan, but I use some of these tips to make sure the food’s not prepared in beef/chicken products and what not.

  10. Kiki says:

    This is such an awesome and useful post! I’m not vegan yet because I’m afraid that I won’t be able to go out to eat… but you just made me reconsider :)

  11. I love that you have a non-militant attitude. I think that is so important when other non-vegans are observing and makes them more open to eating differently.

  12. Jessica says:

    Thanks for the great tips. We don’t eat out much, but when we do these tips will certainly come in handy. By the way, thanks for having Katie post on your blog. She did a great job! It would be neat if you guys could do a dessert cookbook together. (hint!) lol

  13. Stefanie says:

    Great tips. I always check out menus before I go out to eat. It makes ordering easier and faster. I never thought to bring my own food accessories. I’ll rememeber thought for the next time my family wants to go out to eat. Those cupcakes look really tasty. :)

  14. Jami says:

    I have gotten some really great vegan meals in some truly non-vegan places by asking the chef to make something special for me. They seem to like getting a chance to be creative and a break from cooking the same dishes everyday. It never hurts to ask. I like the BYO dessert idea and can see myself doing that as well. Thanks for the tips!

  15. BroccoliHut says:

    Great tips! I usually find that my dish is the envy of the table when I request a special veg dish from the chef. I share with the omnis…sometimes.

  16. I love this identity-crisis switch! It’s like a tv show crossover (especially since I follow both of your blogs but didn’t know you were friends!)

  17. I love the Freaky Friday moment! Great tips, Bianca! Now if only I could stop being such a germaphobic so I could actually eat out every now and then!

  18. Melissa says:

    Good tips.

    I can’t imagine ever purposefully eating dairy, though. Don’t you get horribly ill? If I get slipped dairy or eggs, I feel like death warmed over. :( I honestly want to curl up and die/cry, I feel so so bad. So, eating butter would so not be a thing I’d do – I like to avoid that kind of pain. I also would feel emotionally bad. I’d just give the non-vegan item to an omni dining out with me. :) That seems the best – you don’t have to eat non-vegan food (ewww) and you avoid returning food to the kitchen.

    Though, honestly, if your omni dining companions judge you for being *actually vegan* and caring about what you eat, then I’d say screw ’em. My friends and family all know I’m vegan, they know why, they know eating animals makes me feel ill and sad and they’d not bat an eye at my asking questions or not eating food that came out with dairy or some such on it. This is, of course, due to them respecting me and my ethics enough to be sensitive and compassionate to my needs.

    Honestly, if seeing a vegan ask questions at a restaurant turns someone off veganism, I think they probably couldn’t handle it themselves. Asking questions/reading labels is just part of our lifestyle and not really a big hassle. It’s no different than someone with allergies or religious dietary restrictions. We do what we need to to stay healthy and eat what we feel best eating/supporting. If seeing me ask about ingredients is enough to make them declare it “too much work/too hard” then they aren’t receptive to the idea. But in time, they might be. I used to think it was too hard, too, as an omni/veg.

    I just don’t like bugging waitstaff. :/ I feel like a jerk. Still, feeling like a jerk is better than eating non-vegan food, IMO. I apologize like mad and tip REALLY well if I have to send food back. It’s been fine so far. :)

    And, really, calling those of us who are trying to be as actively vegan as possible “militant” isn’t necessary. Vegans don’t eat animals when they can avoid it. Period. Not eating buttered bread at a restaurant is not a huge deal in my book. It won’t kill me to avoid the bread and give it to another diner, I have other vegan food to nom!, so I will. That doesn’t make me “militant” it makes me vegan. :) I dislike that militant gets tossed around as a semi-insult when really, we’re just trying to be consistent in our behavior.

  19. I have also eaten dairy as a vegan on a few occasions, mostly when friends have tried to cook me a vegan dinner and not understood fully what a vegan is and have included a small bit of eggs/dairy in their recipes. After going to a huge effort to cook something especially for me, I would never throw it back in their faces. I have, in the past, felt quite ill a couple of times if I’ve eaten dairy, but I wouldn’t go eating huge amounts of it just for the sake of pleasing someone / not letting them down. And I definitely politely inform them so that they won’t make the same mistake the next time. If my bread arrived buttered, I probably wouldn’t eat it though, as I’m not that big a fan of bread anyway. And if I was desperately hungry maybe I’d either scrape it off as much as I could, or give it to someone else and order some more unbuttered bread. I am a firm believer that as long as you try your hardest to be a vegan, the occasional slip up (whether on purpose or totally unknowingly) shouldn’t be an issue. As long as you try to make a difference to the world 99% of the time, then you’re doing damn good! Hell if everyone on this planet even just ate vegan 50% of the time then the world wouldn’t be half as bad as it is now! So just do your best… that’s all anyone can ask. Do what you feel is right.

    Great post, Bianca! Brilliant tips. Love the idea of bringing your own supplies! :) x

  20. jamie says:

    I would love to share this, as well as some other of your articles with a couple of my other vegan friends. However, I dont see a link to share it. Would u ever think about adding that to your articles? I love reading your blog!! Thanks!!

    1. Hi Jamie,

      I’m a little confused… all my posts have links. Here’s the link to this post: http://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2010/08/31/dining-out-vegan-style/

      Chocolate hugs!! :)

  21. Amal says:

    Thanks for the tips! I like the BYO dessert tip the best. I have a tip from Chef AJ about eating out at a non-vegan restaurant that never fails. Get a steamed potato (white or sweet), a side of steamed veggies and a salad with no dressing.