In the first of what I hope to be a robust series, I’d like to give pointers and tips to newbie vegans, or those thinking of making the switch. I’ve been vegan since October 2009, and in that time I’ve learned a lot. Every year brings new insight, and I want to share what I know in order to help support those who may be struggling.
My first Veganism 101 tip is: just ask! If you are in a place that doesn’t have a vegan-friendly menu, the best thing you can do is ask them to help you create a custom dish.
Perfect example, I went to The Lion’s Share last week for a work-related happy hour. The Lion’s Share is a prohibition-style bar that serves hand-crafted cocktails and, unfortunately, a meat and cheese intensive menu, specializing in exotic meats like kangaroo and antelope. Take a look The Lion’s Share’s menu to see how there really isn’t anything vegan-friendly on it (except the bruschetta some days, on this day it had feta in it).
There were a couple things I could modify, mostly salads that would work with key items removed, but I worried that they wouldn’t be satisfying. So when the server came over with my coworkers’ meat and cheese boards, I pulled her aside, told her I was vegan, and asked if there was anything the kitchen could do for me. She gave me a huge smile and responded that they had a girl who was vegan on staff that has a special dish she created for her shift meal. I asked if I could order that and the server was more than happy to comply.
My plate came out and I was greeted with a gorgeous meal of roasted veggies, wilted greens, half of a giant avocado and a side of herbed pita bread. My coworkers all exclaimed that my meal looked amazing and they wished they were eating it. My dish was satisfying and healthy, it left my sated without feeling bloated or tired.
So, just ask! Don’t be afraid to ask the kitchen for help in creating a dish, especially if you are new to the game or if you don’t feel like customizing something on the menu. And don’t be afraid to build your own dish using components you see on the menu – I could have created the dish I received by carefully reviewing what was offered with other dishes, but I didn’t feel like it that day and was curious to see what they’d come up with. I won’t lie and say that you’ll always have as great an experience as I had at The Lion’s Share, but you’ll be surprised at how accommodating and friendly most establishments are. Remember, restaurants are used to dealing with special diets and food allergies, so your request isn’t as out-of-place as you might think. I was a food server for over 12 years, and any kitchen worth it’s salt should be capable and happy to accommodate you.
I will create a whole post about how to custom order in the near future – it is an art form that took me a year to master! In the meantime, ask your server to work with you and reap the rewards of healthy, delicious vegan meals!
Oh, and I highly recommend The Lion’s Share if you are in San Diego – though pricey, the cocktails are absolutely worth the cost. I can only drink one or two alcoholic beverages nowadays, so I don’t mind spending a little extra for a special drink. My absolute favorite is the Federal Buffalo Stamp, I can’t recommend it enough if you like bourbon. They also make a stellar Whiskey Mule if you ask for it (see, just ask!). The ambiance is romantic and cool, great place to hang out with a pack of friends or go on a date.