Sunday, July 06, 2008

Vegan in North Carolina: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Last week I was in North Carolina for 5 days. Musty and I both have family there, but this time we were visiting his mother in western NC.

On our long drive from the Charlotte Airport to the small community of Lake Toxaway, we stopped for lunch in the town of Shelby. Passing up our share of barbecue joints, Chick-fil-A's, and other fast food spots, we decided to check out a regional chain called Fatz. There was plenty for Musty to eat - he embraced the southern spirit with fried chicken and fried green tomatoes.

On the other hand, Southern food isn't famous for its vegan options. I ordered a green salad, which turned out to be a rather pale shade of green.

I also ordered the only vegan vegetable side dish: a plain baked potato! Ha ha. This picture cracks me up. It's certainly not the first time I've been reduced to the plain baked potato, and it probably won't be the last. The way I see it, it's all part of having a good attitude and feeling good about the choice I've made to be a vegan. I poured some ketchup on this bad boy and ate it right up. But I'll admit, I had a Lara Bar too - just for a little sumthin' sumthin'.

* To Fatz's credit, I noticed on their daily soup menu that 4 days a week they do offer either "Minestrone" or "Four Bean Vegetarian Chili" that were both noted as being "Vegetarian and Organic." Very sadly, the day of the week that we were there was a meaty soup day. Maybe next time!

Meals like that are the downside of eating vegan in rural North Carolina... but it's not all bad. One day we made a trip into Asheville, which has a lot of vegan friendly options. Asheville is a super cute little town - I definitely recommend it as a fun spot to visit. It's got a lot of character, good food, good attractions, lots of unique local businesses, beautiful natural spots nearby, and a generally vegan-friendly attitude.

We made a special point to eat at The Laughing Seed. Last time Musty & I were in Asheville, a few years back, we ate dinner here and loved it so much that we stayed around the next day in order to eat there again for lunch! So sadly, we weren't nearly so impressed this time around.

We were there on a Sunday, and were given the brunch menu, which was much smaller. It was 2:00 pm and we were hungry! Musty ordered the vegan omelet, which was filled with various veggies, and topped with some sort of savory sauce. We both agreed that it wasn't that great: way too salty, veggies seemed overcooked, and the omelet was dry and uninspiring.

I ordered the "Tofu Benedict," which was a biscuit, a piece of tofu, a tomato slice, and a few leaves of spinach. It was more or less okay, but - again - way too salty, and not nearly filling enough. Plus, really, one piece of tofu? One slice of tomato? That's pretty lame in my book.

Musty's mom ordered a giant salad, and she seems to have made the best choice. It was huge and she was totally pleased.

I guess if you're in Asheville, I'd still recommend checking out the Laughing Seed, but I'll admit that my heart was a bit broken. The service wasn't great and the food wasn't great. They were out of vegan pancakes, which made me grumpy from the get-go. They were also SUPER busy, so that may have been a factor in the food/service quality. I even passed up on the dessert menu, figuring that after those meals, the calories and dollars would probably be better applied elsewhere. Overall, I do think it's important to judge veg*n restaurants by the same standards we would use for any spot... and not forgive them their faults "because it's a veg*n spot." You know?

We don't know if the food was really that much worse than the last time we were there, or if my understanding of vegan food and my culinary skills have just improved by leaps and bounds since then. This isn't the first time I've been disappointed by an old favorite. As Musty put it, "All your heroes are falling."

I did pick up a nice big box of local blueberries at a little market in Asheville though. The man behind the counter assured me that "These are better than that crap you get from California at the store." Ha. I guess my NC-native-blending-in-tactics were working, since he obviously didn't know I was from California. These berries were fine, but I'm sorry to say, not nearly good as the organic ones I get here in California. Sorry dude!

So, enough of these sob stories... wasn't there anything great to eat in North Carolina?
YES! one of my all-time favorite culinary treats, available on roadsides across the Southern US:

What's inside??? Dare I ask??

Booooyah! It's BOILED PEANUTS! I love me some boiled peanuts big time. This guy was super friendly, with an authentic regional accent. And, I must say, one of the finest boiled peanut recipes around. Those were some darned good peanuts. He gave me two big scoops for only $2. My kinda price!

*Side Note if you are ever in the Brevard/Hendersonville area
Allow me to heartily recommend Poppies Market in Brevard. Musty's mom brought us here, and I was able to pick up all sorts of vegan frozen foods, snacks, Temptation ice cream, and even some special vegan items from their prepared foods deli. I was totally surprised and delighted by the selection and quality in this market. And with an emphasis on local produce, I picked up some organic broccoli and a local melon too. Right on, Poppies! I'll *definitely* be stopping there next time we go to Lake Toxaway.

16 comments:

  1. Another great post. I felt transported to North Carolina.

    The starkness of that potato photo ... Yikes! That's brutal. Demonstrating once again that a picture is worth 1,000 words.

    And your tribute to the homey thrill of boiled peanuts ... pure pleasure.

    Love and kisses from your greatest fan.

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  2. Plain tater, ouch! The boiled peanuts sound interesting though.

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  3. That baked potato looks so sad!! Haha. But hooray for boiled peanuts and local blueberries! Yum!

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  4. The blueberry comment cracked me up! Must be your natural California ways weren't giving you away. ;-) I still want to check out The Laughing Seed one of these days (you know, when I'm in the neighborhood!)...maybe you just hit an off day? It's a bummer when old favorites don't live up to the memories.

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  5. Boiled peanuts? I've never heard of that. You just... boil peanuts and that's it?

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  6. I'm so surprised that you had a less than enjoyable experience at Laughing Seed! My husband and I went to Asheville in May for a week, and we ate there at least 5-6 times. I even ordered that omlette that you had and it was our favorite thing that we ordered out of all our times eating there. Maybe you caught them on an off weekend or something? We're hoping to go back next year. I hope it's still good!

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  7. I agree the blueberries were the best vegan food find! I'm sure your homemade meals are FAR better than any restaurant fare.

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  8. Iceberg Lettuce! Nooooooooooo...

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  9. I've seen boiled peanuts so many times while traveling through Florida and Alabama. I'm going to have to stop and pick up some the next time.

    Bummer about the Laughing Seed. Someone else had mentioned it to me when I told her I was thinking about a trip up to Asheville. Maybe it was just an off day for them.

    That potato - wow. I've certainly been there though (I think all vegans have)! Great idea to eat it with ketchup.

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  10. that stinks that the foods ya had in Asheville were salty and kinda "meh". that baked potato made me laugh, too - i've been there before! when that happens i ask if they happen to have any salsa (or A1 sauce).

    the boiled peanuts are making me drool! i looooooooove boiled peanuts! yay!

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  11. Boiled peanuts are the best!!! I lived in NC for a time and can totally relate to the lack of options. I'm a vegetarian and I found it hard to find options there. I remember many a dry baked potato. You made the best of it though which is awesome. I wish I could get boiled peanuts here in TX.

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  12. Ah, then salad and baked potato meal. Been there more than a few times. It's not so bad as long as it's every once in a while.

    Too bad that you were disappointed at the laughing seed! I've read pretty good things about them, so hopefully it was just an off day or something.

    BOILED PEANUTS! I love boiled peanuts, a lot. I actually just had some last weekend for the first time in many moons. So good.

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  13. Oh dear, I had to laugh at the salad and baked potato. Hopefully the berries and boiled peanuts made up for that a bit...

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  14. Hey there! Just happened across your blog via Google. Hey, if you are ever in the Shelby, NC area again, try out "Hallelujah Acres" Health Food Store and Cafe, on South Post Road. Their lunch hours are from 11am-2:30pm Mondays-Saturdays. They feature mostly raw/partially cooked foods. They have one main cooked/hot dish, and a full assortment of raw salad bar fixings and toppings, almost all of which is organic. You can find their menu at http://www.hacres.com .... anyways, just wanted to let you know!

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  15. I've lived in Brevard for over 12 years now, and know what you mean about the dearth of vegan offerings. Two updates: Poppies has closed unfortunately. There is a similar type of store that has opened in that same location, but NOTHING like Poppies was. I've gone there once, but have not returned.

    Also, Asheville has a new, all vegan restaurant open (Plant Restaurant, on Merrimon Avenue). It is OUT OF THIS WORLD delicious!! And, since they've opened, I've noticed that Laughing Seed's quality has REALLY improved (lets hear it for competition!!). Laughing Seed used to be superbly good, and then there were several years where they were just "blah". But the last two visits there have found once again, high quality food, great creative dishes, and ample portions.

    And, as Jamie D mentioned, if in Shelby, head for Hallelujah Acres. 100% vegan, and very tasty food.

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  16. Anonymous10:47 AM

    :) Oh, the good ol' south! :) I've gotten used to the weird looks, comments, and better yet, offers of fish and chicken when I decline to eat meat (because they aren't REAL meat, I'm told). In defense of the blueberry vendor, I'm sure that California blueberries are awesome in California, but their cross country trip doesn't do them justice. So I'd be likely to agree with his description of what is sold in most grocery stores :)

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