What Happened In Early 2012: Something I Thought I’d NEVER Share, + Let’s Talk About Chicago (Finally)!
Kristin | On 20, Jul 2013
I’m calling a brief timeout before diving into this post. It’s time for: Kristin’s Brutally Revealing “Comedy” (?) Hour.
Okay. ::deep breath::
First, I must admit that I’m pretty well ashamed that it’s taken me over a year to write about the Chicago area, despite my love for this architecturally stunning city (have you ever taken one of Chicago’s history of architecture boat tours? It’s pretty great). But… aside from being silly busy (especially right now), there’s actually another reason that it’s taken me so long to write about.. well.. all of Illinois. [Full disclosure, I have written about a few restaurants in and around Chicago before now. But those were somewhat random.]
It was in Chicago (about four or so months into the road trip) that I had a mini breakdown. Sort of. Actually, wait.. let me clarify…
SIDE NOTE: I had no idea I was ever going to share ANY of this publicly until I started writing the intro for this post, just now.
My then-travel buddy, Ethan and I had been exploring vegan eats throughout the Northeast. It was a bit of a slow, scattered start because we were still sorting things out, getting the van ready, doubling back to some places for pre-road-trip commitments, all while—as new friends—learning how to coexist in a space the size of a small walk-in closet. We went back to Upstate NY a few times and one last time to have Thanksgiving with my parents. Then there was a bit more circling before making a B line to the Chicago suburbs, to spend Christmas with Ethan’s family.
Due to some unforeseen circumstances we ended up staying in the Chicago area for about six weeks. Feeling somewhat stuck coupled with a few other personal developments, I reached— what I can only describe as—a breaking point that I did not see coming. But, instead of working through it openly I kept it all in, way down deep until it manifested in the form of a depression that I’ve never known.
I was in the middle of my Dance-a-Day Project, which made the situation equal parts better and worse. Better because the simple act of dancing every single day—and seeing how it was unexpectedly impacting others—helped me release some of the negative energy I was holding onto. Worse because I was somewhat forcing myself to appear happy. Plus the recording and production of the dance videos themselves ended up creating some friction between me and Ethan given the amount of time and (video editing) learning curve required to make them happen.
After some time, I let one emotional jolt layer atop another and another until whenever I was behind a closed door (alone at last) I’d cry and cry. And then pull myself together before opening the door again (and yes, I do mean a literal door).
While working through the latest internal (and external) conflict—and after having already given it some thought—I came to the difficult decision that the only way Will Travel For Vegan Food could keep going is if I continued the journey alone, as it was originally intended. Many people don’t know that Ethan was a rather last minute addition. He was also a huge factor in the success of the launch of the road road trip. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to continue alone, and that somehow the act of forcing myself out into the “wild” by my lonesome would help me better understand what was going on inside and how to work through it all.
When Ethan and I had the “talk” it felt like we were breaking up. Which, I guess is ultimately what happened even though we were just friends.
In early February we drove back to Boston. Ethan removed his belongings from the van, and just a few days after Valentine’s Day (2012) I was on the road again. Alone.
In a way it seemed as though I was starting from the very beginning. In fact, within just a couple of days—while visiting some friends in Portland, Maine—I all of a sudden realized that I was sitting in the same exact chair, of the same exact restaurant, in the very first city that Ethan and I had our very first “Will Travel For Vegan Food” meal. I was sitting alone and it was, in every way, completely unplanned. How wild is that? Like I had been handed a ‘get out of jail’ card and plopped back at the start.
Before Ethan was back in Boston, he and I did visit every single (100%) vegan restaurant in all of Illinois. And the reason I couldn’t bring myself to write about Illinois until now? Whenever I’d get ready to write about a restaurant in Chicago I’d get an awful knot in the deepest depths of my gut. One that would leave me emotionally (and sometimes physically) paralyzed for hours. Anything unpleasant about that period of time would come rushing back. Each restaurant, and road, and national landmark brought it all back. I could hardly bring myself to think back on that portion of the trip let alone write about it.
Now, after countless hours spent driving around the country, I’ve had plenty of time to learn from that experience. To reflect on it. To grow from it. And most of all, to let it go.
I know I’ve (purposefully) left out a lot of the details and what’s and how’s and why’s, but some things—out of respect for myself and the other parties involved—I believe should remain between those directly involved. It also just doesn’t feel right to rehash a lot of that past crap, that’s well… in the past. Ya know?
Now that you know (a little) of what had been going on behind the scenes during the early stages of Will Travel For Vegan Food, I feel comfortable, and more prepared to dive back into all that I know and love about Chicago vegan noms. :)
With that in mind… let’s start with my FAVORITE restaurant in this city: The Chicago Diner.
One of the first vegetarian restaurants in the entire country, The Chicago Diner opened in 1983. They used to have a huge mural on the side of the building that said, “Meat-Free since ’83!” Upon my last visit I was sad to see that it had been painted over. I’m guessing it has something to do with the city regulations.. or maybe rebranding. Either way, the food is still as amazing as ever.
The atmosphere at The Chicago Diner is just as you’d picture any good ol’ MODERN diner to be. Booths, 50s and 60s themed decor, and the sexiest, tattooed servers you’ll see this side of Lake Michigan. ;)
Oh, I’m sorry. Were you expecting more than just the food pics? Haha :) I feel like the above photos do all the talkin’ necessary to get anyone’s tooshie in the door of this expanding restaurant. Speaking of.. did you hear? They’ve opened a second location! It’s in Logan Square and I can’t wait to check it out when I visit Chicago this September for Chicago VeganMania. Wooo!!!! (Pssst – I’m speaking on a panel at that event. Come check it out!)
Okay, so… really, the only thing you NEED to know about The Chicago Diner is that if you eat there and you don’t get one of their milkshakes then we can no longer be friends. What? I take my milkshakes seriously! ;) And trust me when I say that The Chicago Diner has hands-down, no competition, THE best milkshakes you’ll ever, ever, ever have. I mean, did you SEE that thing up there? C’mon! Just looking at it is enough to dismiss any “competition.” Don’t get me wrong, I love me some milkshakes from (you know who, and yeah.. that other place too) but do your tastebuds a favor and give The Chicago Diner’s milkshakes a fair.. uhh.. shake. :)
I’ve been to The Chicago Diner about a half dozen times or so, over the last four years, and to be honest I’ve never had anything I didn’t like. I do recall a few dishes that seemed a bit too salty for my taste. Conveniently I don’t recall what they were (taste is subjective after all). That fried chick’n up there though.. you see it? With the creamiest mashed taters and heavenly gravy? Yeah. Get that (you can thank me later).
But above all, remember … to … get yer a$$ to Mars… err.. I mean, get a milkshake! :)
Moooooving right along…
Amitabul (6207 N Milwaukee Ave) prepares Korean “Buddhist Healing Vegan Cuisine” using fresh, farmers’ market derived produce.
Ethan and I shared a booth with his mom and cousin Eebee, while we all enjoyed a little bit of everything from Amitabul’s menu. It’s been a while but from what I remember, it was quite tasty. Some of the most popular dishes (recommended by Yelp! reviewers) include Kimchi Noodle Soup, Mandoo Dumplings (pictured below), Bi Bim Bop, Wolfman Dream Treats and the Sunset Smoothie.
Ethan and I swung by the Congress Theater Farmers’ Market to visit the friendly father-daughter team behind Bot Bakery.
First entering the food industry with a restaurant, then a cafe, Co-Founders, Betty and Josh Alper opened Bot Bakery in an effort to bring together delicious, vegan, gluten-free treats to showcase its scrumptious versatility. “People view vegan and gluten-free baking as more limiting, but it’s just as limitless as any other baking,” said Betty.
About four years into her ten-plus year vegan baking career, Betty was self-diagnosed with celiacs. Finding it too difficult to continue working in the bakery world, and yet determined to keep her love of baking alive, with her family by her side, Betty opened Bot Bakery.
The other cool thing about the Alper family is their veg history. Betty has (now) been vegan for over thirteen years, both of her siblings became vegetarian when they were each just twelve years old, respectively. And their parents followed suit. Together, the Alper family continues to forward the much needed vegan, gluten-free baked goods movement.
Thanks for all you do, guys! :)
This next place is somewhat random mostly because it took me a while to remember stopping in. I couldn’t find any photos (on any of the three external hard drives that I store all road trip photos and docs). So, I did some research and after viewing a few pics from others who have been there it sorta came back.
If memory serves me right, Ethan and I had stopped in Delicious Cafe one afternoon, (he) grabbed a coffee, (I) probably a baked good of some kind, did a little work on our compoopers, and then left. I believe we stopped in because it was recommended even though I’m unclear on if they’re totally vegan or are vegetarian and just happen to have some vegan snacks and things.
Either way, I do remember it being cute and having unique stationary and cleverly designed greeting cards in one corner. Hooray for that!
Photos by Cupcakes & Quinoa
Toward the end of our stay in Chicago Ethan and I stopped by the Chicago Vegan Family Network‘s January potluck. Talk about a cool get together! I’m not a huge fan of kids in general (sorry, it’s true), nor do I plan to have any (on purpose) but these kids were pretty cool, and we did get a neat dance video out of it.
One of our first trials with video interviews was with John Beske and Marla Rose, founders not only the of the Chicago Vegan Family Network but also Chicago VeganMania (now entering it’s fifth year). Here’s our brief interview with Marla and John:
Thanks so much to the Chicago Vegan Family Network for allowing two kid-less folks into your meetup, and for all you do to help spread the good vegan word. We were blown away by how well spoken and veg-knowledgable your kids are. Rock on, y’all!
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Do you love or hate any of the eateries listed above? Tell me about it in the comments below.