FatFree Vegan Pigs Out in Chicago

by on August 2, 2007
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“Chicago: Seitan maker for the world.”–updated Carl Sandburg

Chicago with view of City Center Hotel

There’s so much that I left out of my last post about the BlogHer conference. Like…I saw Amy Sedaris practically hijack a session about craft blogging, and I heard Elizabeth Edwards make candid comments that I can’t imagine any other spouse of a presidental candidate saying. I can only hope that being around outspoken, funny women rubs off. This blog could use a little controversy to perk it up!

But I promised I’d tell you about the food. Thanks to some great reader comments and links, I had a list as long as my forearm of vegetarian and veg-friendly places to eat in Chicago, and if I’d stayed for a week and eaten out 3 times a day, I still wouldn’t have gotten to them all. I really regret not having been able to eat at Amitabul, the all-vegan Korean restaurant (long-time readers know that I’m a Korean food addict living in a state with no Korean restaurants), but we needed to concentrate on the places we could get to easily. I’m hoping to be able to go back soon and hit all the places we missed.

Our first outing was to the Chicago Diner, where we sat out on the patio and perused a menu that made my head spin. If you’re a vegan who’s used to having to scour the menu for the one vegetarian dish that can be adapted (chef willing) to be vegan, when you’re presented with a menu chock-full of vegan delicacies, your brain goes into overload and you either take a hour to figure out what you want or start ordering everything on the menu. We, of course, took the latter course and ordered WAY TOO MUCH.

Barbecue Seitan Wingz

We started with appetizers. E wanted potstickers, which we gobbled up so fast that I didn’t get a photo. (Hint: They looked like potstickers.) I don’t know what was in them, but it was good. Next came the BBQ Seitan Wingz, pictured above, which were very tasty and tender. (Not that I got many of them; while I was busy taking photos, E and D were snatching them off the plate!)

Lasagna Bolognese

The entrees arrived very quickly. The Lasagna Queen, of course, ordered the Lasagna Bolognese, which turned out to be a little spicy for her. She compensated by drinking lots of water, but she only managed to eat a quarter of this huge piece. I thought it was tasty enough, full of meaty seitan, but D, who wound up eating what E left, thought it was a little dry.

Raw Tamale with salad

D. decided to try a raw dish for the first time, and he was very satisfied with the Raw Tamale and salad that came with it. (He said it made him feel all virtuous inside, but that was before he finished E’s food!) I thought the tamale itself was a little mushy and bland, but the salad was wonderful. It was getting dark by the time we ate it, so I never got to see clearly what was in it. Delicious, though!

Great Wheatballs of Fire

I’m a sucker for a funny name, so I ordered the Great Wheatballs of Fire, which came with mashed potatoes, gravy, and roasted root vegetables. The seitan-wheatballs were delicious–not spicy but well seasoned–and the rest of the plate was extremely filling. I think I made the best choice.

Of course, we didn’t stop there. The vegan dessert menu was calling us, even though we were stuffed. E had a mint-chocolate chip sundae while D and I shared a slice of chocolate chip cheesecake. (Sorry, no photos because by then it was too dark on the patio.) I never thought I’d say this, but there was too much chocolate on the cheesecake. Now, chocolate lovers hear me out. I’m one of you, but this was a slab of chocolate about 1/2-inch thick that covered the entire slice. I really wanted to taste the cheesecake, but all I could taste was chocolate. After just a couple of bites, I was satiated, and D (we call him the Human Recycle Bin) had to finish the rest. I kept looking over to the table next to us, where someone had ordered the raw cheesecake, and wishing I’d gotten that.

Karyn's Cooked

You would think that with so much gluttony, we wouldn’t be hungry the next morning, but you’d be wrong. Bright and early at 11:00, we made the 14-block walk from our hotel to Karyn’s Cooked for their Sunday Brunch.

 Rainbow Mexicana

I’d hoped that at least one of us would order one of the sweeter dishes, like the banana-stuffed French toast or the cherry blintz. But for some reason, all of us were in the mood for scrambled tofu, so instead of pretty shots of artfully styled baked goods, all I have are photos of crumbly tofu. What you see in the photo above is the Rainbow Mexicana that I ordered. It came with tortillas to wrap around the tofu and seitan chorizo, and the two sauces that accompanied it were just out of this world. I think the orange one is supposed to be a chipotle sauce and the white one a soy sour cream, but they were both lightly spicy and delicious.

Breakfast Skillet

D ordered a skillet scramble, which he thought was good, especially when drizzled with the salsa that came with it. Then he managed to eat all of his as well as E’s and my leftovers!

Blissed Out

After a peach shake, E was positively craving the breakfast plate that included scrambled tofu, “sausages,” and grilled potatoes, and by the end of the meal, she was doing a little dance of ecstasy that somehow transported her into a psychedelic state. I didn’t get a good shot of her food, but the blissed-out expression on her face is more descriptive than a plate of yellow tofu anyway.


That night, after spending the afternoon on a boat tour of Chicago (see more photos), we took the train to Evanston to meet up with some friends who graciously took us out to the restaurant of our choice, the Blind Faith Cafe. This time, I left my camera at home (sometimes the company is more important than the food, you know), but I can tell you what we ate. I had the Tofu Veracruzana (panko crusted tofu filet served in a traditional Mexican olive, caper and tomato sauce), which was good, but I’m not a big fan of the “big hunk of fried tofu in the middle of a plate of sauce” school of cooking. I mean, the tofu was really huge, like take a package of tofu and cut it in half horizontally–that kind of big. D’s dish was delicious, though I had only two bites since we weren’t sitting next to each other. He had Seitan Marsala (seitan again!), and the sauce was divine. I didn’t get a chance to taste anything else on his plate or any of E’s food, but I did have room for dessert, a chocolate-peanut butter cake that was incredible and beautiful–multiple layers of chocolate cake alternating with the creamiest peanut butter filling. Probably the best thing I had all trip. It was so rich that I had to pass it over to D long before I wanted to.

We had to be ready at 5:30 the next morning to catch the shuttle to the airport, but we all wished we could have stayed longer. I loved Chicago and found it very veg-friendly–if you know where to look.


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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tina Willer July 8, 2010 at 12:42 am

Hi. I wanted to let you know about a FREE Vegetarian Festival in Chicago, http://www.veggiefestchicago.org .


2 Leslie Ramalho May 13, 2013 at 2:58 pm

Jackson Galaxy posted a pic of Karyn’s Cooked lasagna and I wondered if I could possibly get the recipe, or a reasonable facsimile? Thanks…it looks delish and I love finding more vegetarian/vegan recipes to use for myself.


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