Traveling with a vegan has its disadvantages. Sure, it’s getting easier. You can go online and read menus in advance, or even check ingredients. Did you know that Burger King has an all vegan sandwich? It’s true. Even the bun is dairy-free. Between the internet and phone aps, it’s much easier than it was 10 years ago. But even cool little aps like “urban spoon” can sometimes spin you wrong. That Indian place, that was so good? Well, 2 months ago it turned into a Cuban place that doesn’t understand what “vegan” means.
“No, like vegan.”
“What does that mean?”
“No animal products.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“No animal products, like eggs, or cheese, dairy… like that.”
“This is a restaurant, not a hardware store. We serve food here.”
There are two vegan meals that most restaurants will make a big deal about and yet, they are not necessarily “deal” worthy. They are the 1) humus plate/platter (usually served with pita and kalamata olives) and the 2) portabella mushroom sandwich.
Now for those of you who eat dairy and meat regularly, you might be thinking “that doesn’t sound so bad.” Well, try that for every meal for fourten days straight. That was our trip to Canada. Thank God for Taco John’s.
If you want some variety in your meals, you need to get creative. You try to do more than “hold the cheese.” Sometimes restaurants, if given enough time, will make special meals. We are lucky enough to live in an area where we have amazing restaurants, and since folks know Kriner, they make an effort to “step up” and be open to entree items that take a chance and step away from a humus platter and a portabella mushroom sandwich. In fact, when we’re in really good hands, we just make a call and say “Kriner and I are coming in tomorrow” and the chef makes whatever he/she wants. Sadly, you can’t take your favorite restaurants with you when you travel. Sometimes, when you travel, you kind of have to make “a deal” out of ordering, which is incredibly difficult for my husband. My husband is incredibly averse to being the center of attention for anything. He doesn’t like it when people look at him, he doesn’t like to be embarrassed and he doesn’t like special treatment and yet, he married me.
Over Easter, we went to the Twin Cities, and we spent Good Friday as most good Christians should, by shopping at Mall of America. We were all really hungry, tired and crabby; I decided rather than the food court, we should get a proper, sit-down meal and treat ourselves, something I am particularly good at. Kriner mentioned something about Noodles and Company, but I cut him off. We made our way over to this “upper crust” restaurant with hip and trendy decor. It looked like it “should” have been able to feed a vegan. We got a table, and I said to the server “You can feed a vegan, right?” I was met with a blank stare and a moment as the wheels spun. ”You know, no meat, no dairy, no eggs?”
“Vegetarian?” he asked.
Kriner stepped in “No animal products. I see you have a portabella mushroom sandwich. Just hold the mozzarella and I’ll have fries too.” The guy left, clearly unsure of what happened, and Kriner shot me an evil look for coming dangerously close to “making-a-big-deal-out-of-it.”
Five minutes went by, and the server came back and said, “OK, we got you covered. There’s no cheese on the bun,” and I said, “and hold the cheese on the sandwich, right?” This poor guy shot me another look that screamed, “I’m confused but will try my best to look cool.”
Now it’s easy to make fun of servers and that’s wrong. I worked too many years as a waitress to understand how awful it is to not know what your costumer is talking about. For years, I thought “Egg Beaters” was a fun and unique way to say “Scrambled” only because no one told me what Egg Beaters were. Seriously. “You Figure it Out” should have been the title of the training manual at Country Kitchen, only if there were a training manual. Neither the manager nor the head waitress ever said anything about it; I just went on keeping on until some woman with in a wheelchair and a respirator complained that her eggs tasted too good. (Proving my point education never hurt anyone…but fatty, buttery eggs can.)
So, Kriner admonished me with his eyes, I turned to my cocktail (and yes, it was lunch) and Em was reading her book. What’s a girl to do but pull out her Kindle and read the latest mommy-porn best-seller? Within two minutes, the waiter, the head chef, and the hostess came to the table. It was like a little parade for “The Clean Linen Wearers of America.” I heard Kriner whisper “shit” and I girded my loins.
The chef was all smiles. “Hey, heard you were a vegan. We have this portabella sandwich…” Kriner started to wave them away with his hands and said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ve been over this. That’s fine, just please hold the cheese.” The hostess beamed, “Well, our chef has something really great in mind, he wants to create something special just for you.” She was like a cheerleader at that point, very perky and happy.
The hostess was working some happy-magic on me, so when I heard that this chef wanted to make something special for my husband, I blurted, ”YES! That would be awesome!” Again, Kriner shot me a look. For me, special = special. For Kriner, special = very bad.
At this point he was so mortified he just wanted them to go away. He was perfectly OK with the portabella mushroom sandwich and fries, but apparently it got mucked up for him. I reminded him that maybe it will be worth it, maybe he will eat something fabulous.
Just moments after Emily and my goat cheese and basil pizza was delivered (which, by the way, was fabulous) they brought out this crazy looking mortification on a tray. The hostess and the waiter both delivered it (people are now staring at us as if we were important, or, at the very least food critics. Kriner was halfway under the table.) On this long rectangular tray, sat three pieces of lettuce, with a mushroom on each, a healthy dollop of salsa on the side, and on top, the pièce de résistance, a teaspoon of humus. The chef called it “a deconstructed portabella sandwich” and the hostess beamed. No bread, no fries, no carbs at all, which are very, very necessary for a hungry vegan. Just three little piles of fancy crap on lettuce. (Actually, come to think of it, he did get a bowl of “root chips.”)
You know that look that Walter Matheau gives Jack Lemon in pretty much every movie they ever did together? Well, that’s how Kriner was looking at me. I wiped pizza sauce off my chin. At that point, he was so hungry he would have downed dirt, so he ate it, but I could tell he was pissed. I made sure to pay the bill and not let him see the total.