Chicago Vegan Fest

logo_LOGO-Chicago-Vegan-Festival-v3I wanted to share some thoughts about the Chicago Vegan Food & Drink Festival. As you probably recall, we hit the Phoenix fest pretty much by accident when in town for the half-marathon. Then we got out to Portland for their second annual fest and last weekend, with a lot of anticipation, it was off to Chicago for their festival.

After arriving and getting settled on Friday we met up with my younger son, who lives in Chicago, at The Chicago Diner for dinner. We went to the Halsted location. Parking was a nightmare. The food was good, but, I have to admit, I had a better faux Philly earlier in the week when Rick and I were doing taste tests on some of our recipes. A Philly with a faux cheese sauce just isn’t up to snuff, in my book. Throw some of that faux provolone in the skillet and let the whole thing turn into a cheezy, gooey mass, that’s the way to do it! The Cuban was interesting, but I’m not sure I loved the fried yucca chips as an exchange for ham nor the peperoncini in exchange for a good pickle. Maybe I’m just being too picky? We also sampled the quinoa chili and, while interesting, it was the jalepeño corn fritter that got the most attention. And don’t even get me started on the Mac & Teeze™. I think my thoughts about faux Mac and Cheese are pretty well known. Suffice to say it went uneaten. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I didn’t like The Chicago Diner or that I wouldn’t go back. I did like it and I would definitely go there when in Chicago, but it has become clear to me that the Midwest palate for plant-based eating is a bit different than the East or West Coasts. We have such a deeply ingrained meat and potatoes culture that getting people to consider going plant-based means you have to offer a palatable pathway to get them started. The Chicago Diner has been doing that for years; I just think it can be a little bit better.

The Chicago Vegan Food & Drink Festival was held in Grant Park. From the outset, the Chicago Festival had a very different vibe than the Phoenix or Portland Fests. The ticket price was much cheaper, which was a bonus, but there was nothing inexpensive after that. Whereas the Phoenix and Portland festivals had lots of things you could taste for free (including the amazing kombucha area in Portland), everything at the Chicago festival had a price and they were pretty steep. I admit that some of my issues with the Chicago festival had to do with the location and the vagaries of the weather, but it was a very hot, sunny day in Chicago and the festival was totally devoid of any shade, except around the extreme margins of the park, which took you well out of the festival itself. With 4 sides of tents and food trucks selling food and drinks, it would have greatly benefited from a large shaded area in the center. Also, the distribution of trash and recycling containers seemed random, almost guaranteeing that you’d walk around for some time with a handful of trash looking for a container. The tickets promised free drink tickets, but it turns out that was an 8 ounce cup of one of 5 local beers, which was totally inadequate for the heat of the day. Logistics aside, however, the overwhelming vibe of the Chicago Festival was one of commerce, which was a sharp contrast to Phoenix and Portland which had a very strong community feel. Portland was more like “we’re doing this cool things, come try them and hang out with us” and Chicago was “we have this food, come buy it”.

Speaking of food, we tried the Doomies faux Big Mac that has gotten so much attention. At a whopping $15, it should. Clearly designed to feed more than one, we fortunately had 5 people assembled to take on the burger. I would agree with the consensus that it was fresher and tastier than a real Big Mac, but the faux beef patties were far too large and the whole thing would benefit from a scaling back of the process. We also tried an alternate “bacon cheeseburger” and I have to say it was not as well done as I’d like. First, let’s talk about faux bacon (fācon, if you will). It’s mostly a giant nope. The only fake bacon that I’ve had that is reasonable is Claryn’s recipe for Vegan Bacon Bits on HellYeahItsVegan.com which is the best way to use up TVP that I’ve ever found. Artificial as hell, this recipe totally recreates Betty Crocker’s Bac-Os. Everything else I’ve tried has been a sad effort. Like with Mac & Cheese earlier, if the faux alternatives are awful, just quit. I get that people miss bacon, but time to move on. Faux cheese is a different story. There are some pretty decent alternatives out there, I’d recommend a trial of Chou brand to anyone who hasn’t tried it. I’ve also had some almond based ricotta that was amazing and I’ve made a salsa con queso that is very decent. So why would you use a terrible faux cheese on your bacon cheeseburger at a vegan fest? No good answer for that.

On the positive side, we had two pretty fabulous desserts. One was a slice of cashew cream based key lime pie that won rave reviews. The other was an oatmeal cream cookie (two giant oatmeal cookies with vanilla “cream” between them) that was decidedly delicious, but probably had more calories than any 4 people should have in a day. Fortunately, we still had plenty of people to share it with. The sun and the heat conspired against us all; we found ourselves with waning appetites. Personally, I was disappointed that kombucha was no where to be found. I’ve developed quite a liking for that odd beverage since Portland.

One of the nice things about the festival was to meet some of my son’s friends. So here’s a shout out to Hector and Zach, both of whom seem to read my musings. I didn’t get a lot of time to talk to Hector, but I appreciated Zach’s input on the restaurant concept. Look for a post in the very near future on eggs to try to answer your question!

Driving back, we found the best kept secret in Wisconsin vegan dining. If you’re traveling I-90/I-94 take a quick detour through Wisconsin Dells (I know, right?) and stop at The Cheeze Factory restaurant. The entire menu of this delightful little spot is vegan friendly plant-based. Honestly, it was the best dining we had on the trip and I highly recommend the place.

 

Soy Epilogue: GMO Soy

Yesterday’s post about soy looked at the claims that soy is not good for you and then compared the claims to the science. The claims, as is often the case, were found lacking. But the post got long and I did want to spend a little time talking about genetically modified (GMO) soy because it’s an important part of the soy discussion.

I will admit that I’m not an expert on genetically modified crops, in fact, far from it. It was not a topic that I had given much consideration when I was working as a surgeon; after all, learning better and safer ways to do surgery seemed more pressing that what the farmers were planting. But as I learn more and more about genetically modified crops, I am definitely concerned that this is another example of corporate greed getting the better of common sense. For a well reasoned discussion of genetically engineered crops, I refer you to this article from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Our old friend the USDA reports that about 90% of the soy beans grown in the U.S. are genetically modified. Moreover, almost all of that 90% are the same genetic modification called “Roundup Ready” from the Monsanto corporation. Monsanto, a multinational agrochemical and agrotech company is, of course, the maker of the ubiquitous herbicide Roundup, so frequently advertised for household use to rid your lawn and garden of those pesky weeds. But, as anyone who has used it around the house knows, the over spray from Roundup is an indiscriminate plant killer. Since American farmers use quite a bit of Roundup to prevent weeds, the folks at Monsanto came up with a plan to genetically modify some common crops so that they are resistant to Roundup, meaning that farmers could spray directly on the crops and kill the weeds, but the crop itself would not be affected. Sounds like a great plan; what could possibly go wrong?

Well, Roundup Ready soy turns out to be different than non-GMO soy in more ways than just being resistant to Roundup. This 2014 article from Food Science analyzes the compositional differences between organic, conventional, and GMO soy and came to the following conclusions (glyphosate is the active compound in Roundup, AMPA is what glyphosate breaks down into):

 

  • Glyphosate tolerant GM soybeans contain high residues of glyphosate and AMPA.
  • Soybeans from different agricultural practices differ in nutritional quality.
  • Organic soybeans showed a more healthy nutritional profile than other soybeans.
  • Organic soy contained more sugars, protein and zinc, but less fibre and omega-6.
  • This study rejects that GM soy is “substantially equivalent” to non-GM soybeans.

So, in a nutshell, Roundup Ready soy beans have less of what makes soy such a nutritionally balanced food in exchange for high residues of glyphosate and AMPA. A February 2016 article in Environmental Health entitled “Concerns over use of glyphosate-based herbicides and risks associated with exposures: a consensus statement” does a nice job covering the issues of glyphosate exposure and human health including, but not limited to, the fact that the World Health Organization has recently upgraded glyphosate to “probably carcinogenic to humans”. So this is not an insignificant point.

It’s pretty clear that the 10% of soybeans that are not GMO are clearly labelled and sold as such. Any trip to Whole Foods or a similar store will  show items like these tofu packages, both clearly marked as organic and non-GMO. organic_firmorganic-extra-firm-tofu So what happens to all that Roundup Ready soy? Where does the 90% go? Most of it is processed and goes into one of two products: soy meal, which is almost exclusively fed to livestock and oil, which is the primary ingredient in most “Vegetable Oils” you might buy at the supermarket. Wesson Vegetable Oil and Crisco Vegetable Oil are 100% soy, whereas Mazola Vegetable Oil is a soy/canola blend, with soy being the larger component. Fortunately, it appears that glyphosate is not soluble in oil, meaning that it concentrates in the soy meal and not the oil.

So what about all the glyphosate being fed to livestock? This 2012 article in Current Microbiology documents that glyphosate is toxic to some bacteria in the gut of chickens, but not to others, which has the significant potential to change the gut microbiome. And, you can be sure, if it can happen to chickens it can happen to cows, pigs, and people. The whole concept and understanding of the human gut microbiome is an exciting and rapidly evolving field of study. A PubMed search of “human gut microbiome review” will get you about 12oo papers written in the last 5 years. And while there may be opportunities to alter the microbiome in positive ways to help treat a wide spectrum of diseases that would seem to have no obvious connection to the gut, it seems equally clear that to have a probable human carcinogen (glyphosate) make changes through inadvertent absorption through the food chain introduced solely for the profit of agribusiness is not a good idea.

So, to slightly expand upon my recommendations for soy: minimally processed non-GMO soy is a nutritious compliment to a diet, whereas processed soy proteins and GMO soy should probably be avoided whenever possible. Soy oils are likely safe, from a glyphosate point of view, but remember that oil is a processed food that should be used in extreme moderation, if at all.

 

What about soy?

I’d like to talk about soy today because I get a lot of questions about it. There is a lot of information and disinformation available out there and it’s hard to cut through the chaff to get to the wheat, so to speak. But I think I’ve gotten a decent handle on the information and the sources of disinformation and that I can offer a decent recommendation. As I often do, I’ll offer the abbreviated version first, then a longer look into the arguments and data.

Short Version

Let’s start by reminding everyone that soy beans are a legume, similar to beans and lentils. The health benefits of legumes are legion. The web, and particularly the blogosphere, is rampant with articles both for and against soy. Almost all of the anti-soy arguments are derived from a single source, the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), who advocate full fat, raw dairy, heavy meat consumption and advise you to pay no attention to your cholesterol. The WAPF bases their arguments around 4 basic tenets:

  1. The phytoestrogens in soy (i.e. isoflavones)
  2. The goiterogenic (anti-thyroid) properties of soy
  3. The presence of phytic acid in the husk of the soybeans
  4. The presence of trypsin inhibitors in soybeans

I’m guessing that almost everyone has heard of the first one and not about the other three. The quick summation of the data is:

  1. Phytoestrogens (plant based estrogen-like (NOT estrogen) substances) can be beneficial for breast cancer, menopause symptoms and prostate cancer. There is no evidence that they cause early menarche, alter normal breast development, cause gynecomastia in men, or have any effect on male fertility. Note for non-plant based readers: cows milk has very high levels of actual estrogens, not estrogen like substances. Forgoing soy products because of phytoestrogen concerns and then drinking cows milk is truly ridiculous. “The present data on men and children indicate that estrogens in (cow) milk were absorbed, and gonadotropin secretion was suppressed, followed by a decrease in testosterone secretion. Sexual maturation of prepubertal children could be affected by the ordinary intake of cow milk.”
  2. There is some evidence that soy can effect thyroid function of some animals, but there is no evidence that it causes thyroid problems in humans.
  3. Phytic acid can bind to some metals (iron, magnesium, etc.) and may block absorption in the intestine. This is the basis for the WAPF argument. Newer research (most since 2000 and ongoing) shows a number of exciting effects of phytic acid in human health including: a powerful anti-cancer agent and a powerful anti-inflammatory. Further, phytic acid is present in all grains and legumes, not just soy.
  4. I can find no data to suggest that the small amount of trypsin inhibition in soy is of any concern to human health.
  5. Soy has a significant effect in lowering cholesterol, clearly helps protect against heart disease, moderates blood sugars in Type II diabetes, helps protect the kidneys, and is a complete protein for humans. It’s not a panacea for an otherwise bad diet, but is an excellent adjunct to a nutritious diet.
  6. Final thought: the less processed the soy (like all foods) the more nutritious it is. Tofu, tempeh, miso, tamari, soy milk, soy nuts and edamame are all good ways to eat soy. Foods with “soy protein isolates” should be avoided; think of them as the equivalent of high fructose corn sugar as compared to whole corn.
Long Version

With that out of the way, a little background. I have talked to a lot of people who avoid soy like the plague. They’ve read too much bad press about soy and have come to believe it is really bad for you. Trying to understand this fear, I turned to the internet and Googled “is soy bad for you?” and got an amazing number of hits. But as I worked my way through these sites (Authoritynutrition.com, paleoleap.com, and foodrenegade.com to name a few) I found an amazing similarity to the information being provided. Literally, it was always organized in the same way and the same claims, with more or (usually) less documentation and source references. And, if you went and read the references, they were usually quite old and based on rodent studies and all of them, ultimately, led to the Weston A Price Foundation (WAPF). I was completely unfamiliar with WAPF, so I, of course, started digging. I invite to you read the Wikipedia page here. From the Wiki page I noted a dissenting article by John Robbins, the host and founder of the Food Revolution Summit that I reported on back in May. So I bought John Robbin’s book “No Happy Cows: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Food Revolution” and read the chapter where he walks the reader through the WAPF arguments and presents a cogent, well researched and well written rebuttal. Finally, I turned to Dr. Michael Greger of Nutritionfacts.org for his take on isoflavones and found, almost by accident, some data about phytic acid. This led me back to the PubMed database and a quick search confirmed Dr. Greger’s assertions. Enjoy!

First, let me say that I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the benefits of soy. I outlined them in point #5 above and I’ll say only that there is ample data out there for anyone who is interested to confirm. I’d suggest the PubMed database or Dr. Greger’s NutritionFacts.org.

  1. Isoflavones (phytoestrogens). Everyone needs to understand, from the beginning, that soy does not contain any estrogen. It does have some compounds called isoflavones that act a bit like estrogen in the body. To get a better understanding of what this means, think of a lock, some keys, and a locked door. Many cells have estrogen receptors, which are like locks. Just like when you have a lot of keys on a key ring and you don’t know which one opens the locked door, some of the keys will actually fit in the lock, but will not open the door. This is what an isoflavone does. It binds to the estrogen receptor on a cell, but does not activate the cell the way estrogen does. Estrogen is the key that opens the lock on the door. It fits in the receptor and then triggers a number of responses in the cell. Isoflavones, no matter how well they fit the lock, won’t trigger the same responses that estrogen does. Understanding this explains a great deal of the confusion that surrounds isoflavones. I can’t stress this enough – isoflavones ARE NOT estrogens. WAPF has the following statement on their Soy Alert site: “Soy phytoestrogens disrupt endocrine function and have the potential to cause infertility and to promote breast cancer in adult women“. So, let’s look at what we really know about soy isoflavones.
    1. breast cancer: isoflavones do not cause breast cancer nor do they increase the risk of breast cancer. In fact, that’s exactly backward. This review of the literature, published in April 2016 concludes:
      “Clinical trials consistently show that isoflavone intake
      does not adversely affect markers of breast cancer risk,
      including mammographic density and cell proliferation.
      Furthermore, prospective epidemiologic studies involv-
      ing over 11,000 women from the USA and China show
      that postdiagnosis soy intake statistically significantly re-
      duces recurrence and improves survival.”
    2. menopause: isoflavones not only don’t make menopausal symptoms worse, they are now considered “first line” treatment according to this June 2016 article in Gynecological Endocrinology.
    3. menarche (age of first menstruation): again, there is no evidence to suggest that soy intake induces an early menarche. As an aside, early menarche is associated with increased breast cancer risk, so given what we learned above, we would not logically associate soy with early menarche. Interestingly, the two nutritional factors that have been linked to early menarche are red meat consumption in this 2016 Journal of Nutrition article and cow milk consumption in this 2012 American Journal of Human Biology article.
    4. gynecomastia (breast development in men): a common theme I, personally, have heard. “Don’t eat soy or you’ll get man boobs”. But, as noted above, isoflavones are not estrogens and there is no evidence whatsoever that soy has any feminizing effects on human males. This 2010 article from Fertility and Sterility pretty much shut the door on that argument.
    5. Sperm counts: this got a lot of press a while back, when the Massachusetts General Hospital published this article in 2008. The study shows a statistically significant decrease in sperm concentration in men who reported higher soy intake. They did not find any statically significant differences in total sperm counts, sperm motility or sperm morphology. So, you have to ask, how can the total sperm counts be not statically significant, but sperm concentration can? Well, as you might guess, there was a trend, but not a statistically significant one, toward higher ejaculate volume in men who ate more soy. More to the point, even if you just look at the only significant finding of sperm concentration, the lowest levels were 76 (millions/mL), well above the low normal level of 30.
  2. Anti-thyroid effects of soy: Again, WAPF states: “Soy phytoestrogens are potent antithyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and may cause thyroid cancer. In infants, consumption of soy formula has been linked to autoimmune thyroid disease”. But, for all of the hype, there is decidedly little written. It appears that this has a lot more traction in the lay literature than the medical/biomedical literature. I did find this 2007 article from the journal Thyroid that pretty much dispels this concern. I think it’s important to point out that soy based infant formulas were first introduced in 1929 and have been in widespread use for the last 85 years. There is no evidence to suggest that soy based formula is linked to autoimmune thyroid disease or any thyroid disease at all.
  3. Phytic acid: This was probably the most interesting/humorous part of the research. WAPF states: “High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking. High phytate diets have caused growth problems in children.” It’s hard to know where to even begin with that statement, so I’ll just refer you to this 2016 Journal of Food Science article entitled “Phytic Acid: From Antinutritional to Multiple Protection Factor of Organic Systems”. To sum the article up, there is no evidence if any significant “antinutritional” effects of phytic acid and there are now so many well documented anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits it’s hard to find justification for WAPF’s continued stance against phytic acid. Michael Greger, MD, in his book “How Not to Die” sums up phytates (phytic acid): “Phytates do have side effects, but they all appear to be good. High phytate intake has been associated with less heart disease, less diabetes, and fewer kidney stones. In fact, some researchers have suggested that phytates be considered an essential nutrient.”
  4. Trypsin inhibitors: WAPF states: “Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. In test animals soy containing trypsin inhibitors caused stunted growth“. As I said in the short version, I have nothing to say here. My search of the PubMed site yielded no evidence of any issues with human health or digestion related to the small amount of trypsin inhibitors in soy. In fact, soy is known as one of the only “complete proteins” in the plant kingdom, providing all of the amino acids necessary for nutrition.

Final words: soy is a legume and has all of the health benefits of the legume family. Soy can and should be incorporated into a nutritious diet in one of the unprocessed forms I listed above.

Portland Vegan Beer & Food Festival

portland-vegan-beer-food-festival-76

It turns out that one of the great things about opening a restaurant, particularly one with an unusual (to some) menu, is that it requires a fair bit of research. And research, it turns out, is a tax deductible business expense! So, we were off to Portland for the 2nd annual Vegan Beer & Food festival featuring 30 restaurants serving vegan food.

I’ve not spent a lot of time in Portland. In fact, I was there for just a couple of days when my son looked at two colleges in the area. I got a much better feel for the town this time. We stayed at an AirBnB in the Brooklyn neighborhood of SE Portland. Easy access using public transport with the MAX Orange line. Definitely in walking/biking distance of a lot of interesting stuff in SE Portland, including a very vibrant vegan scene. Contrary to the Twin Cities, where vegan dining is basically non-existent, it’s a thriving culture in Portland. I don’t know how many vegan only or very vegan friendly restaurants there are, but I’d guess there must be at least 40. Obviously we didn’t try them all, but I will share what we did try if you find yourself in the area.

  1. The Loving Hut in downtown Portland
  2. Portobello Vegan Trattoria, SE Portland
  3. Junior’s Cafe, SE Portland
  4. The Sweet Hereafter, SE Portland
  5. Sweetpea Baking Company, SE Portland
  6. Veggie Grill, downtown Portland
  7. Burgerville, PDX
  8. And, of course, the Vegan Beer & Food Festival

The Loving Hut is world-wide vegan chain with a several stores in the US. It was unpretentious, inexpensive and delicious. I highly recommend a visit if you find yourself in downtown Portland. It seems that most of the Loving Hut locations have their own menu, so I can’t speak for other locations, but if you’re in Portland, definitely give the Black Pepper Wonder a try. It is listed as “spicy” and really wasn’t, but the flavor and textures were amazing.

Portobello was very nice for dinner. Heather Klein, another local Twin Cities vegan chef who was in Portland for the festival, went for brunch on Saturday and was not as pleased as we were. Maybe the most surprising thing was the fact that the restaurant personnel seemed genuinely surprised that they were busy on a Friday night with the big influx of vegans for the festival on Saturday. Since we were there for the tail end of the asparagus season, we enjoyed the asparagus “fries” with cashew cream sauce. Definitely worth an order if you’re there in season. The gnocci and cauliflower manicotti were both good eats, although I would have made some changes. I’ll cut them a little slack in that they were obviously much busier than they expected and sort of struggling with the crowds.

Vegan breakfast is probably the most overlooked segment of the market. There are so few places that do a good breakfast, as if vegans don’t like to go out for breakfast like everyone else? Junior’s did a decent job; good enough that we tried to get breakfast there on Monday, but they were closed because of the owner’s birthday the day before. Major disappointment. Twin Cities readers take note, we will definitely be doing a kick-ass vegan breakfast on Saturday and Sunday. Details to follow.

The Vegan Beer & Food festival was fun. It was held at Zidell yards on the banks of the Willamette. Can someone please explain to me why that’s not Will-a-mette (just like it’s spelled) and not Wil-lam-et (as it is not spelled). Are Oregonians descended from Wisconsin (home of the emphasis on the second syllable)? I digress. The only downside to the locale was that it was a bit windy (can’t change the weather) and incredibly dusty. Seriously, we’re talking dust bowl dusty. The kind that takes two weeks to get out of your shoes, nostrils and hair. The festival was nicely set up, with a stage for bands at one end and the food at the other. That way you could eat without having to shout at each other over the music. Down by the stage end there were a number of booths for non-food, non-drink vendors (t-shirts, jewelry, etc.). The beer/cider was across from the food. The organizers should take a page from the Beer Dabbler playbook and let the beer vendors use their own tents. That way you could tell what you are in line for before you get up to the pouring station. Being the Pacific NW, every brewery featured their IPA. Many also had a fruited wheat beer, oddly many of them with watermelon, not a combination I favor. As you might have guessed, the beer part of the festival was not the highlight, although it was amusing. Centered between the beer and the food was the square Kombucha area. I admit I am a relative newcomer to the drink, but there must have been at least 50 different varieties to choose from and we tried to sample many. If you are out in Portland and looking for a tasty Kombucha, try the Humm brand coconut-lime flavor. Pretty much hands down the favorite.

Then there was the food. By far and away, the Twin Cities own Herbivorous Butcher was the most popular food tent. They were serving up a variation of Chicken and waffles, with  a piece of fried seitan (I believe) based chickin’, mashed potatoes, gravy and a splash of syrup in a waffle bowl.  The line to pick that up was at least 30 people long all afternoon.

Chicken_and_Waffles_new_1024x1024I had the good fortune to meet up with Laura VanZandt, the social media director for the Herbivorous Butcher, on Sunday evening at the Portland premiere of the movie “Everyday Vegans” and she said they made twice as much as they thought they’d need and sold out! Bravo!

Upton’s Naturals from Chicago was there with chipotle jackfruit nachos that were very tasty. Watching everyone lick the cheaz sauce from their fingers, I’d say they nailed that part of it. Also several good vegan pizzas. If you’re looking to try a non-dairy cheese sauce for nachos and are not adventurous enough to make it on your own, we sampled some from Heidi-Ho Organics that is now available at Whole Foods. Definitely worth a try if you’re aching for a nacho. Hint: look for some very tasty nachos over in St. Paul later this year! 😉

Later we ventured over to The Sweet Hereafter, a busy SE Portland (dive?) bar with an all vegan menu. The place was busy, chaotic, noisy, and some of the most interesting people watching around. The drinks were decent, but if you find yourself there, I’d strongly recommend the Buffalo Sub. Of course, I’m thinking you don’t have to travel all the way to Portland to enjoy something so tasty, right? That would be silly!

Sunday we biked over to the “vegan mall” on Stark Street. The Sweetpea Baking Company is right next to Herbivore, a vegan dry goods (clothing) store, which is next to Food Fight!, an all vegan grocery and then a vegan tattoo parlor. (I didn’t realize that non-vegan tattooing was a thing, but apparently there used to be some animal products in tattoo ink. Of course, we also used to light our homes with whale blubber. Almost all tattoo inks are now plant-based, mostly because they’re a lot cheaper and work better). It was pretty cool to have 4 vegan shops in a little block area. The day was beautiful, Mt. Hood was visible, and vegans were swarming around the area eating delicious sandwiches at Sweetpea Bakery and soft serve ice cream from Food Fight!Mt. HoodThat evening we ventured over to downtown Portland to visit the Veggie Grill. As the most successful vegan fast-casual chain in the country, I felt an obligation to see what the fuss was all about. It was fine. And I mean that in the most Minnesotan female way possible. Seriously, it was just like going to Noodles & Co. with garishly colorful furniture. The food was prompt, well prepared, and tasted good. The people working there were very friendly, but the place had no soul.

After our unsuccessful attempt to get breakfast at Junior’s again on Monday morning, we had to hustle over to PDX for our flight out. Turns out the MAX and all public transport was very delayed that morning because of the Rose Parade (apparently Portland is the City of Roses). Thank goodness for Über! We just had time to grab a bite at the airport and found Burgerville PDX right next to our gate with a promising sounding Anasazi bean burger. Getting them to make it without the mayo and cheese was a bit of a hassle. Do yourself a favor and skip it; it’s definitely not worth it.

This weekend off to Chicago for the Chicago Vegan Food and Drink Festival at Butler Field. For those of you familiar with Chicago and Grant Park, it’s just north of the Buckingham fountain and south of the amphitheater and Maggie Daley park.

A poll!

I added a poll to the page and would love to hear your opinions. It shouldn’t take more than, say, 10 seconds to answer the question. The image below is a “community table”, or a table in restaurant that seats at least 10 people. The poll is simple; do you like community tables in your restaurants or not? I really appreciate the feedback.community tables

Back in action!

169 N Victoria
This is the place! Doesn’t look like much now, but it will be stunning!

Looking back, my last post here was on May 11. Hard to believe that’s over 3 weeks ago. Oddly and quite unexpectedly, the very next day, May 12, I ran a fever, pretty much out of the blue. Being a physician and knowing how these things usually work, I did the sensible thing; I ignored it. There is no way I could have possibly anticipated 12 days of fever at that point. Long story short, after about a week I gave in and went to the doctor. 24 hours later and a number of blood tests and I had my answer: infectious mononucleosis. Mono, at age 53? WTF? Besides, I had mono when I was 16, I thought I had life long immunity. Turns out that mono in “older adults” is a somewhat different entity than in the younger crowd. Typically there is little to no sore throat, little to no lymph node enlargement and the disease is characterized by fever and fatigue, both of which I had in spades. The fever finally abated and the fatigue is slowly fading. I’ve had a couple of days in a row now without a nap, but sleeping ridiculous amounts is still necessary for function.

That does not mean, however, that progress on the restaurant has slowed at all. It was just fortunate that I went down at a time when a lot of other stuff was happening and it didn’t impact progress. So the great news to share today is that we have a lease! For those interested, the current address of the property is 169 N Victoria in Saint Paul. Much easier, however, to say the corner of Selby Avenue and Victoria Street. If you’re driving by, I’m the space with the papered windows and the billboard on top. Looks like it will more or less stay that way for a couple of months.

I’ve had a number of meetings with my architect and design team of Aaron Wittkamper and Amy Reiff along with my chef, Rick Berdahl. On Wednesday morning I approved the tentative design for the space, kind of the rough draft of what we’ll look like. Amy and Rick will be working on tweaking the kitchen plan and, with a bit of luck, we’ll get that plan submitted to the Department of Health within a week. The kitchen plan needs to be approved by the Department of Health before any sort of building permits can be submitted. But, basically, getting that approval is the green light to get things moving, so we’re anxious to make that happen. After that, I should have some renderings (pictures) of the space which I will certainly share with you.

Financially, things continue to develop in positive ways. The basics of the financing are in place and I have approval for the Small Business Association (SBA) loan to round out the package. Planning to go live with the loan on or around June 15. This means that, with some seriously good fortune, we could be open on October 1, but that seems a bit optimistic. I do believe that we’ll be open for business some time in the 4th quarter of this year and I’m very hopeful that it’s sooner rather than later.

Don’t worry, no more prolonged absences. Lots of things happening on the restaurant development front and I’ll keep you apprised. Lots of interesting health and nutrition news to catch up on as well!