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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Restaurant Review: Healthy Sins Vegan Cafe & Naked Sprout Organics Market in Lockport

            Hello, one and all!  Sorry for yet another delay but since I’ve returned from my cousin’s wedding, I've been working constantly up until this last Friday.  10 days in a row sure can fly by when you’re not looking.
            Since I last left you, a lot has happened.  First of all, I booked a vacation for this fall to Ecuador and Peru!  It’s going to be amazing.  Or at least I hope it will be amazing!  It’s the first time my wife and I have been to either country but it’s part of our world domination tour.  We’ve been to Ireland (nearly all of it), Northern Ireland, London, Germany, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica (to name but a few) so far.  I’m really looking forward to finding new vegan places in each country and reporting back on them.
            You’d think that’d be all, but you’d be wrong.  We also booked our (last major) vacation for 2015.  Brussels, Amsterdam, Bruges, Paris, various cities in Luxembourg, and wherever else we can manage to visit are all on the list.  This will mark the first time we’ve been to all of these places.  I told you: world domination tour.  I say it’s our last major vacation because after that, we might stick to small trips here and there.  We just wanted to go out with a bang.  It might seem a bit crazy but we generally live like misers for most of the year.  Plus, my wife never uses her vacation time so that helps to pay for our tickets.  I just didn’t want you all to think that the title of my blog was a bit misleading.  I still wear the same clothes I’ve had for over a decade.  See? Broke.  With that being said, I may be posting fewer restaurant reviews in an effort to save money.  SAD, I know.
            Anyway!  Now that you’re all caught up, let’s get to the heart of the entry.  I wanted to get to a restaurant we went to in Lockport, IL a short while back.  I just never got around to mentioning it thanks to all the craziness going on in my world.  It’s a shame because the restaurant in question is quite good and worth the trip if you’re even remotely close-by.  You see, we went to Healthy Sins Vegan Café for a raw lunch.

            I’ve never been to Lockport despite the fact that I’ve lived about 45 minutes away for most of my life.  I wish I had visited it sooner because it looks like nothing has changed since the 1930s.  You half-expect Bonnie and Clyde to run out of a bank at any moment.
I found the speakeasy!

            It’s got a small but cool main street and you can walk along the Illinois and Michigan Canal that runs next to their main street.  It makes for a peaceful Saturday if you’re looking to get away.

            The restaurant itself was very cool and unexpected given the 1930s vibe from the town.  The restaurant has artwork hanging up along the walls and the tables themselves are in the shape of leaves.  I’ve felt that the one problem with raw restaurants tends to be that the meals look smaller than you would want for the price you pay for them.  Don’t get me wrong – I love raw restaurants and Chicago has/had a few that are quite good.  But, as the Broke Vegan, it’s not a type of restaurant I’d go to each week.
            That being said, this restaurant’s portions were decent.  I did spend quite a bit but that’s mainly because I wanted to make sure I had enough variety to give a decent review.  We ordered two appetizers, two main meals, and two desserts for about $60.  By comparison, we ate at the Loving Heart (see the review further down the blog) for about $25-30 and ate like kings.  If we were just going there any other normal day we probably would’ve only spent about $45 or so.  That being said, we went for lunch and were full for most of the day.

            Our first appetizer was an order of bagel bites.  The ‘bagels’ were dehydrated bread slices (probably made of a combination of flax and some sort of seeds if I had to guess).  There were six slices and each slice had its own topping.  There was a pesto, a pumpkin seed cheese, a taco ‘meat’, an egg salad, a tuna, and a ‘sloppy joe’ topping.  I would have to say that my favorites were probably the taco meat, the egg salad, and the sloppy joe.  I loved the variety and the unique ways they were able to create raw, vegan toppings.

            The second appetizer was an order of nachos that featured dehydrated chips.  The dish came with taco meat, guacamole, salsa and onions, and sour cream drizzled over it all.  These. Were. Fantastic.  The menu says it’s a meal in itself and that’s no joke.  We probably could’ve just had the two appetizers and two desserts and been content.
            My wife ordered the pizza after much debate and was really impressed with it.  It looked delicious and I probably would order that the next time we went.  The waitress had recommended it to her and said it was a popular choice.  So if you’re new to the raw scene and don’t know what to get you might want to check that out.

            I ordered the sloppy joe’s because I grew up addicted to sloppy joe sandwiches and whenever I see a sloppy joe option on a menu, I have to give it a shot.  It wasn’t too bad but not my favorite raw dish.  I was originally going to go with a raw pasta dish and probably should’ve because I think after eating all that other raw taco meat, I was on raw vegan meat overload.  It was an interesting take and I dig their attempt at it but by the end of the meal I was about ready to explode.  The dish also came with a small side salad and a small fruit salad.
Why can't I eat the picture?!?

            The dessert I had was a raw apple pie, which – and I cannot stress this enough – was amazing!  It tasted like it was cooked and was probably one of the best raw desserts I’ve had (not counting homemade).  That was worth the trip to Lockport alone.  Just look at the picture!  I’m drooling even now.
            All in all, I would definitely return here and I recommend it to anyone who wants good food and is looking for a little indulgence (as far as spending a little cash goes).  The staff was super friendly and the décor and vibe were cool.

Just down the street is Naked Sprout Organics Market, which makes its own juices and smoothies.  I would also recommend stopping inside to grab a drink before you head back home.  I had an oatmeal cinnamon smoothie, which might sound odd but was pretty good!  It had a bit too much nutmeg for my liking but was tasty none-the-less.  My wife, however, had the strawberry-lemon cheesecake smoothie and – hot damn – it was so, so, so good!  It was like I was really drinking a mashed up cheesecake.

            I promise not to be gone for as long as I have been for my next entry.  I have a few things lined up to talk about.  Hope everyone is well!  Until next time, keep calm and vegan on!

You can check out Healthy Sins Vegan Café HERE.  They are located at 928 S. State Street, Lockport, IL, 60441.
You can check out Naked Sprout Organics Market HERE.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The 3rd Annual Veggie Pride Parade

            It’s been quite the last few days!  For starters, we just got back from my cousin’s wedding in Indianapolis yesterday.  What a fun time and unlike the experiences of a few vegans and vegetarians out there, we ate like royalty.  We were expecting a meal to be created especially for us but we kind of screwed up once we were able to eat.  The food was set-up on a few tables and since we weren’t told any differently, we just joined everyone else and looked through the various dishes to see what was vegan.  Surprisingly, quite a bit was.  We had pasta (not cooked with butter), salad, fruit, rolls, and grilled veggies.  I walked back to our table with two plates in my hands, as did my wife, and we proceeded to eat our meals.
            That’s when my uncle walked over and asked if we had been served our meals.  With a bit of a confused look, we told him we thought that the food we had gone up to grab had been the meals we were supposed to have received.  Turns out we had been wrong. Whoops!  A minute or two later and we were brought out individual plates that were set down in front of us.  What was presented was a plate of potato wedges with herbs, grilled veggies, and a pastry that was filled with mushrooms and some sort of sauce (which was amazing!).  That by itself would’ve been great.  Three plates!  Since I wasn’t going to waste good food, and since I am a bottomless pit when it comes to food, I nearly finished everything.  Which helped since I needed the food to soak up all the liquor I had.  We had a great time!  It was such a beautiful wedding.

            HOWEVER, the real reason I am writing this entry is to discuss the third annual Veggie Pride Parade that was held in Grant Park in Chicago last Saturday.  It was our first time going and I would’ve missed it again had I not seen Dr. Oppenlander send a tweet out about the event. (I’ll be discussing Dr. Oppenlander in the near future)  We had been meaning to go to the last two but just could never go with the way our work schedules were.  With much excitement, we headed out on a wonderful Saturday morning and arrived at the lakefront with plenty of time to spare.  How sad is it that I’ve lived in the Chicago area for most of my life and I’ve never really been to Grant Park before?

            The event was held across the street from the famous Buckingham Fountain with a tent and stage with music playing in the background.  On one side of the stage there were a few tents up for sponsors and on the other side a few tables up for various groups and activities.  We walked up to the registration table and signed in so we could walk along the parade route and we received our nametags.  After walking around the area and taking pictures for a few minutes we were asked to form a line behind MissChicago, Marisa Buchheit, and a few others who were leading the parade.  That’s right.  There’s a vegan Miss Chicago.  How rad is that?

Can't beat that background!

            I must say that I enjoy the vegan/vegetarian community.  I like it in all of its shapes and sizes.  I love the hipster vegans in all their stereotypical glory.  I love the wacky and wild vegans that wear anything that’ll draw attention to themselves.  I love them all.  It’s always fun to see who shows up and wears what.  Outsiders might see some people at these events and go, “What was he/she thinking when they wore that?” but I quite like it.

            We started the parade by going north on Columbus Drive, around the Art Institute of Chicago, down Michigan Avenue, up Roosevelt Road, and then back down Columbus Drive to where we began.  It was a longer walk than it appeared to be on the map, that’s for sure.  However, it was fun!  There was a lot of chanting, waving of signs, various noise-making, and a whole bunch of good vibes flowing.  Since I’m a bit of an introvert, I felt a bit odd drawing attention to myself as we chanted random vegan slogans (“Go vegan, go veg!”) but the more we walked, the more relaxed I became.  Plus, it helps that my wife was there to wave the metaphorical vegan flag.  There were plenty of cars driving by with people honking their horns, waving, or taking pictures as they passed.

            Who knows how many people were actually curious to find out more about a vegan/vegetarian life just by seeing us but it was fun being around people who had the same interests as me.  It’s kind of the same feeling I get whenever I go to vegan or vegetarian restaurants.  There are so few of us out there that it is nice when you get the opportunity to surround yourself with others that are like you, enjoying the same things as you.
Hope Bohenac

            After the parade, we listened to a few speakers including Karyn Calabrese, Marisa Buchheit, Hope Bohenac, Mikael Nielsen, and Vadim Moskalin. Dr. Terry Mason, the Chief Operating Officer of the Cook County Department of Health, was supposed to speak but I didn’t see him on stage.  So I can’t say for certain if he was there or not.  He may have appeared when I went to grab a falafel. Bummer.  I was really excited to see Karyn Calabrese speak since we’ve been to every one of her restaurants here in Chicago.  Every one of her restaurants has something unique about it and each has delicious food.
Karyn Calabrese!  Gives sixty-year-olds a good name, eh?

            I enjoyed listening to Mikael Nielsen, the national volunteer coordinator for Mercy For Animals, because the organization he’s apart of does such amazing work (more on them in the future).
Mikael Nielsen

            I also liked hearing Marisa Buchheit since it is cool to have a local celebrity who is vegan and can talk about her lifestyle to groups other vegans might not reach.
Miss Chicago, Marisa Buchheit

            All were entertaining and interesting speakers.  It was great listening to other compassionate vegans speak out about topics they love.

The winner of the costume contest:  a block of tofu!
            There was also a vegan fashion show and a costume contest after the speakers were done.  They even had a raffle that I had entered when we first arrived at the parade.  I didn’t expect to win anything because I have the worst luck.  It’s just nice to support the cause, either way.  However, I was quite surprised to have won a few cool prizes!  I got a $25 gift card to The Chicago Diner (anyone who has read my restaurant review entry knows how much I love that place), a $10 gift card to FlatTop Grill (not a vegan restaurant but it has several vegan options), and – the best one of all – a $50 gift certificate for a produce delivery service (basically, a week’s worth of groceries).  How cool is that?  We are definitely going to be eating well in the near future!
I especially like the fact that FlatTop Grill was there to promote their vegan options.  I think that’s SUPER important!  They’re not vegan but they know that vegans like to eat. D’uh!  Just be being there and raising awareness in the vegan community, they just increased their business.  If more businesses promoted vegan options to the world, imagine how much more money they would get, too?  And you know what?  I have never been there and I don’t know if I would’ve ever gone, but because I have a gift card, I’m definitely going.  And what if I like the food?  They just got themselves another repeat patron just by showing up to some event the majority of other businesses ignored.  And that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that I’d clearly tell others and would promote the restaurant to other vegans or vegetarians who might not have known about them.  They were the ONLY ones there who weren’t 100% vegan or vegetarian.  Bravo, FlatTop Grill!
After the raffle, we pretty much packed it in for the day.  It was a fun event and I would urge everyone to make it out next year!  Show your support for all things veg!  Even if you don’t walk in the parade or are vegan or vegetarian, GO.  You’ll have a nice, fun afternoon near Chicago’s lovely waterfront.  Did I also mention it’s free?  You can check out the Chicago Veggie Pride Parade’s site HERE.  You should also join the meet-up group while you’re at it and meet other vegans and vegetarians in the Chicagoland area.
I want to send a thank you to all the volunteers that worked to put this thing together.  Your hard work paid off!  And to everyone else – keep calm and vegan on!

You can follow Karyn Calabrese on Twitter at: @KarynCalabrese
You can find Marisa Buchheit on a number of places but you can follow her on Twitter at: @marisabuchheit
You can follow Mikael Nielsen on Twitter at: @MikaelRNielsen
You can find Mercy for Animals on a number of places but you can follow them on Twitter at: @MercyForAnimals
You can follow FlatTop Grill on Twitter at: @flattopgrill
You can follow Dr. Richard Oppenlander on Twitter at: @DrOppenlander