Thursday, July 18, 2013

Guest Post: Vegan in Birmingham

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you've met my friend Cassi. She's newly vegan and lots of fun! Anyway, while I was in Miami last weekend, Cassi was on a road trip to Birmingham. She asked if she could do a guest post about vegan options there. So here it is!

Hi, I'm Cassi, some of you may know me from such posts as Grills Gone Vegan for the 4th, Vegan Bake Sale, or as I am referred to in Vegan Divorce Party, "the bitch that stole Bianca's foursquare mayorship."

Over the weekend, Bianca and I both ventured out of the tri-state area. She headed to Miami, and I headed for Birmingham. I know what you're thinking, "Who goes to Birmingham 'just because'?" Well, my "ex" — we'll just call him G.I. Joe — has drill there every month, and he asked if I would join him. I agreed, because I jump at any chance I have to get out of the city.

Now, being a new vegan is hard enough, but being a new vegan while traveling is a horse of another color. So I hit the web in search of eats and stumbled upon The Southern Vegetarian blog. It is LOADED with great info. I picked two places from that website to visit.

Our trek to Birmingham was SUPPOSED to start at 6 p.m. on Friday. I'd planned to find something quick for dinner once we got there, but G.I. Joe was late, and we didn't hit the road til about 7:30 or so. I fought the fat girl in me as long as I could, but about 9:30, I couldn't take it anymore and asked him to find me food.

We pulled off in New Albany, Mississippi in search of a Taco Bell. As he was ready to turn around and go in the other direction, in the distance, I spotted my favorite type of food — CHINESE! We pull over to China Buffet (yes, that is the name), and we are greeted by a great staff! I looked over the menu — pretty meaty but there were two tofu options. Of course me being me, I asked for an item not on the menu, my all time fave Chinese dish, Chow Mei Fun. Sadly, they were out that night, so I ordered Bean Curd Family Style.

I made sure they did not use fish sauce. She even made me a fresh eggless batch of fried rice, informed me that it was made in the same wok as the normal rice, and to be safe, she gave me a side of white rice! All 30 minutes before closing on a Friday night! This dish was amazing! Fresh, crisp veggies, and she even fried the tofu so it wasn't mushy. Needless to say I fell in love with this place.

On my first morning in Birmingham, I was ready to hit the streets. I dropped G.I. Joe off at drill, and I loaded my destination into the GPS — The Golden Temple Vegetarian Cafe.

I arrived 10 minutes early, only to read the sign and see that on Saturday, they don't open til 10 a.m. It was only 7:50 a.m.! So back to the hotel I go for a bit.

Normally, on Saturday mornings, I go to the Memphis Farmers Market. Since I was in a new city, I figured I might as well check out Birmingham's farmers market.

Let me tell you, the Jefferson County Farmers Market was like stepping back in a time in a good way! This market reminded me of the Scott Street Market we had in Memphis. It had everything I remembered from my childhood visits with my grandma, right down to the pea huller!

Being a good granddaughter, I bought everything my grandma would have bought, right down to the Chow Chow!

I headed back to The Golden Temple Cafe to try breakfast once again. This time they were open! As soon as I walked in, I was instantly in love. There is a book section! No Cookin' Crunk, but plenty of books. They have a small frozen food section, as well as shelf goods. Then I rounded the corner, and they have CLOTHES! LOVE that this place is a one-stop shop! Then I remembered I came here to eat. So I ventured to the cafe side and looked over the menu. I'm told they don't start food service until 11:30 on Saturday, so I ordered a smoothie from their build-your-own smoothie menu. I choose Mango, Pineapple and Peaches with Almond Milk, and for an extra $1.50, I added Perfect Food Powder.

With more than an hour to burn, I hit the streets of Five Points just to see the sights. Then I went back to the cafe to eat. I decided on the Golden Temple Salad and the soup of the day, Vegan Black Bean Chili.

Now this was the king of salads. It was huge! It was loaded with lettuce, spinach, black olives, cucumber, tomato, guacamole, hummus and cheese. Of course, I asked for Dayia. I am not a lover of beans, but this chili made me change my mind. It was spicy, loaded with black beans, and even had the beef-flavored veggie protein that they sell in the cafe store.

I still had a few hours to burn before picking up G.I. Joe, so I headed to the winery. Yes, Birmingham has a winery! The Vizzini Winery is a family-owned winery right off of I-65. They gave a short tour and even had a tasting. I decided on the Alabama Red, and it did not disappoint.

After a little poolside reading at the hotel, I headed to pick up G.I. Joe from drill so we could go to dinner. I was looking forward to Bottletree Cafe because it was a mostly VEGAN BAR! Again walking in, I fell in love with this bar, because on the projector screen, they were showing my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz! There was no sound, but that didn't matter. I know the lines by heart and happily recited them aloud.

This bar is great. It has a ton of vintage memorabilia, and they even have a shelf of board games! So G.I. Joe and I picked one to play while waiting on dinner.

When ordering, my goal was to eat like Bianca. She calls me the "healthy vegan," and she is the "deep fried vegan." To start, we ordered chips and salsa and beer.

Yes, even though my soul wanted wine, I picked a beer. I went with a draft because we wanted to taste the local brews. G. I. Joe chose Good People Bearded Lady. It is a summer wheat ale, too bitter for my taste, but he liked it. I decided on Bells Oberon, which is an orange wheat. It tasted like a Corona, so I asked for a lime, and I was happy.

For dinner, I decided on the Spicy Thai Burger. This black bean burger was topped with a spicy soy and ginger sauce, sriracha sauce, jalapenos, and cliantro. Spicy and filling. G.I. Joe decided on the "meaty" The Real Deal, which he raved about with every bite. Needless to say, we both left full and happy. Just a note — Bottletree is also a music venue on Saturday night, so check the website to make sure there is not a cover.

Sunday afternoon, we hit the road back Memphis. I batted my eyes, and asked G.I. Joe if we can stop back at China Buffet. And because I am a princess, he does. Again, I ask for Chow Mei Fun, and sadly, they still are out. So I settle on Veggie Chow Mein with Tofu. But guess what I find in my container when I open it? CHOW MEI FUN!

They made it just for me! They also gave me a side of fried rice WITHOUT eggs. They remembered! Needless to say, every time I go through New Albany, I will stop here.


Wendy said...

Hi-I'm not asking this to be a vegan jerk, but is chow mein vegan? I always avoid those types of noodles because often they're made from the same type of dough that egg roll wrappers are made of, which generally does have egg. I used to love the "crispy noodles" but I've avoided them since I went vegan, so if I can indeed eat them, that is awesome!!

Cassi c said...

Chow mei fun are rice noodles but lo mein are normally egg noodles. There is a market i go that sells the noodles, so i just flip the package over & read it.

Bianca said...

Yep, that's my understanding too. I avoid lo mein. Chow mein can different things in different regions actually. There's the crispy kind (known as Hong Kong style) and the steamed noodle kind (like rice noodles but egg noodles can be used too). Depending on where you live (east or west coast), one or other other is more often referred to as chow mein. It's totally confusing. Best to ask the restaurant if they use egg noodles to clarify. Also, those crispy ones can be vegan sometimes. I buy the Kroger brand of crispy chow mein noodles, and they are vegan.

Amber said...

Looks awesome! That's one of my favorite things about Chinese restaurants - the customization, and, often, how incredibly nice and helpful people are. I'm not vegan, but I am kind of particular (I'm also not a bean person, which is really understating my singular and intense hatred of them) so it's really nice to have so many options! Great guest post!

Tender B. said...

Awesome that they remembered you. That is so cool. I'll have to add Birmingham as a place to visit now.

Cadry's Kitchen said...

A bar with vegan fare and a screen playing The Wizard of Oz? Sounds like my kind of place!

That's so sweet that they surprised you with Chow Mei Fun! That's what I call great customer service! :)

mshrcfit said...

Great post, Cassi!

BeyondKawaii said...

I'm so excited to see that you visited Birmingham! I live in this area, and I felt my heart racing when you talked about going to Golden Temple, the favorite of my days at UAB. :D

Harikesh Chauhan said...
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