Food and work (kinda)26 Mar 2010 06:06 pm

While I spend my evenings trying to perfect calligraphy on wedding invitations (not very well, I might add), my colleague and blogging buddy Ben Gelinas has generously provided a post for my blog. As I have blogged for his video game blog Button Mash once or twice, I was happy to have him reciprocate here on Crazy White Girl with a Kitchen.

Ben (who happens to be vegetarian) recently spent a few weeks on the road in his little Nissan sedan, visiting friends across the United States on an epic road trip from Edmonton through Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico and Nevada to name a few states. Fittingly, he ate some interesting food along the way.

A 9,500 km road trip across the belly of the United States took me to friends living in random cities like Chicago and Vegas in March. Along the way, I visited eateries where all manner of strange regional delights were plated. They said a vegetarian would have trouble finding good food in the less-populated parts of the country. They were wrong. Here are some highlights:

In Minneapolis, I walked the chilly University of Minnesota campus and found a malt shop called Annie’s Parlour on the edge of the Dinkytown strip. (ed. note: I once at at Annie’s as well, many moons ago! Place is epic.)

Peanut butter banana malt at Annie’s, a University of Minnesota institution

Annie’s had malted milks: a thicker, sweeter milkshake with malt powder, the server said. She recommended mixing peanut butter cup with banana. I ordered the half-size, which was still more than any shake I’ve ever finished. It was a treat, when I was able to suck any up of the speckled goo up the straw. A bubble tea straw might have worked better.

As I continued on to Chicago in the dark, I rolled into a suburb of Madison called Monora, and stopped for dinner at Noodles & Company. This expanding American franchise basically does for pasta what Quizno’s does for subs.

Powerade as a fountain drink choice alarms me. A noodle based restaurant sounds comforting, though.

The menu’s only rule: the dish must have noodles. It was split into three categories: American, Italian and Asian. Think mac & cheese, spaghetti & meatballs and pad thai from the same line. I had the mushroom stroganoff with blue Powerade. This place was incredibly vegetarian-friendly and the stroganoff wasn’t bad. Not like mom makes. But decent considering it came four minutes after I paid.

In Chicago, my friend Sean and I ate first at Hot Doug’s, a trendy hot dog restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

A very busy day at Hot Doug’s in Chicago

I had a veggie Chicago dog (mustard, onion, sweet pickle relish dyed neon green, pickle, tomato, and celery salt). The second veggie dog I loaded up with sauerkraut, pickles and mustard. Sean and I each took a trip to the bathroom before we ate to discreetly take a swig of Pepto from a bottle he smuggled inside his man-purse.

Vegetarian hot dogs? Say it ain’t so!

Dinner at Jerry’s in Wicker Park was a wise choice. The Baba R sandwich is unlike anything between bread. Ingredients: peanut butter, apple, basil, fried onion and chipotle chutney. Don’t make that face.

A sandwich called the Baba R. Included ingredients: Peanut butter, apple, basil, fried onion and chipotle chutney

The Baba R. is delicious, one of the best vegetarian sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.

There was also the Chicago deep dish pizza at Exchequer downtown, one of poor Ebert’s favourite until, y’know.

A “small” deep dish pizza.

I couldn’t finish it all (I expected a small to be manageable. This was a tourist moment) so I gave three pieces to a homeless guy outside. He was thrilled.

Then I ate a burrito in Pilsen, a Hispanic neighbourhood that was historically inhabited by Chicago’s Czech population.

It was overwhelming.

In St. Louis, my friends and I explored Soulard Market, where they had crocodile for sale. Also, this booth, which is self-explanatory:

(ed. note: The format of my blog makes it difficult to embed images of any decent size, but those are ducklings in the cage and one of the sizes of beaver available is “jumbo”)

Somewhere between Amarillo and Tucumcari, in the village of San Jon, I came upon the Dhillon truck stop, which I first thought closed because the gas pumps were torn up. But an open sign buzzed in the window.

In the parking lot, I met an Indian trucker running his rig. He said he comes to Dhillon every time he drives the old Route 66. They serve great Indian food, he said.

Inside, a dirt-coated old man with dark red eyes sat at one booth scratching lottery tickets, as an Indian soap played at high volume on the television in the corner.

For a vegetarian, Indian food is heaven because there are so many options. The woman who runs Dhillon with her husband made up a special meal for me when I told her I didn’t eat meat.

I wish gas station food was always this good.

What you see here is fresh roti, a black bean sauce, yogurt and aloo gobi masala, with rice. I was thankful for the yogurt. This was spicy stuff.

On the Navajo reservation in northeastern Arizona, I scratched another must-try food off my list. I’d eaten a hot dog in Chicago. Now I would eat a green chili in the southwest.

In the small town of Kayenta, south of Monument Valley, I found the Golden Sands Cafe. The decor was distinctly western and the food was simple. I ordered the green chili omelet with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Green chili omelet

The green chilis were at first so mild. But the more I ate, the more kick they packed. I enjoyed the combination of egg and chili. Great dish.

And I’ve gone on long enough. I could also talk about how easy it is to get a good vegetarian meal in midtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, or how I had one of the last meals ever at Restaurant Charlie in Vegas. The menu lacked a veggie entree, so I challenged the talented kitchen to surprise me. They made turnip, my least favourite vegetable. It was honestly the first time I’ve ever enjoyed turnip. I’m not sure exactly what they did but it was a small miracle. Too bad the place is closed now. R.I.P. Restaurant Charlie. You were too expensive.

Ben has a blog for the Edmonton Journal called Button Mash. It’s about video games.

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