Happy 2014! I hope your new year is off to a fabulous start!
I’m excited to begin my first ezine of the year by telling you about an historic event we’re having at Florida Avenue Grill in Washington DC, the WORLD’S OLDEST soul food restaurant.
As you can see from the big ol flyer below, I’m teaming up with Florida Avenue Grill for its first ever all-vegan soul food dinner in 70 years.
It’s going to be a fabulous, history-making evening, and I hope you can join us! Click here to get all the details.
Now on to this week’s topic: Is there butter in those grits?
This subject is prompted by what happened to me on New Year’s Day. Some good friends and I went to brunch at one of our favorite restaurants that serves vegan and omnivore meals. I ordered the grits, which the waiter told me did not have dairy butter in them. I also asked for vegan butter on the side, to which the waiter replied “Vegan butter is so unholy.” I let that comment slide, but it turned out to be strike one.
When the grits came, they did have dairy butter in them, which I discovered after my first nauseous spoonful. Strike two.
When I told the waiter, he presumably went back to the kitchen, then came back and said the kitchen decided that morning to add butter to the grits, and let’s just chalk it up to human error. Strike three.
And to top it off, our food took 45 minutes to arrive and the orders were messed up. Strike four. He was way out!
Needless to say we had a long chat with the manager, who tried to make things right (which included making the waiter apologize), but our brunch had already crashed and burned. Not a good way to start out the new year.
So I searched for lessons in all of this. And one was to share these tips on how to eat out vegan at non-vegan restaurants.
1) Know before you go. Check out the restaurant’s menu online to see if they offer any vegan meals. And if you’re unsure if something is vegan, call the restaurant ahead of time to ask.
2) While you’re on the phone, talk to the manager and ask how they ensure that the vegan food stays vegan. For example, do they use separate grills, pans, utensils, and counters? How do they train their kitchen staff and waiters? If this is a restaurant that you plan to eat at often, it’s worth the ask. And remember, you’re on the phone, so it’s anonymous (at least it used to be), so go ahead and ask away.
3) Keep in mind that even these questions are no guarantee that the vegan food will be vegan. Last year, I had dinner at this same restaurant I went to for brunch, and there was dairy cheese in my salad. I happen to know the owner and when I emailed him about it, he assured me of their practices to avoid cross-contamination (for lack of a better term). And yet, it happened again. But to their credit, I have eaten there many times over the years, and it has only happened twice. And usually their waiters are superb.
4) If you’re already at the restaurant (and you haven’t looked online or called ahead of time), look through the menu to see if it has icons denoting dishes that are vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, organic, etc. Many more restaurants are adding these menu markers, in response to customer demand.
5) If the menu items are not clearly labeled, you can also ask the waiter what items on the menu are vegan–or if specific items are vegan. And here’s where you want to be sure the waiter knows the answers. If you get the sense that the waiter is unsure, just ask if she or he wouldn’t mind checking in the kitchen to be sure.
6) It’s definitely ok to ask what kind of oil the French fries are cooked in, and whether the pita on the falafel is whole grain. But don’t be that person at the table who asks 5 or 6 questions about each dish they might want to order. You’re not at a vegan restaurant, after all, so there are certain icing-on-the-cake things you’ve already decided to give up by eating there. (And, besides, that’s what checking in advance is for.)
7) And my final tip, eat at more vegan restaurants! To find them in your area, check out my post on How to Find Vegan Restaurants Anywhere You Go.
Have a wonderful week, family.