The vegan guide to bar food

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Come for the drinks, stay for the morally superior food.

A few years before becoming a balls to the wall plant eater, a friend asked me why I wasn’t completely vegan, and all I remember is this momentary horror movie playing in my mind: Cartoon mozzarella sticks skipping joyfully down a sidewalk in the rain before getting shoved into a scary van, kidnapped forever. A giant wheel of aged cheddar rolling away for me before plummeting off a cliff into an abyss. Orange cream frosting on Sugarplum cupcakes locked behind bulletproof, impenetrable glass as I kick and scream to get through for just a taste. No way I could be vegan, and give up all the things that make me happy? Screw that. Tell me that you’re vegan, I would have said all of these:

Here’s the thing…you, my friends, can have it all. Seriously. You can treat your body, the earth, and the animals with respect without compromising one iota of your happiness. And we feel we are totally credible in the ‘if we can do it anyone can’ department considering I would receive cheese and meat as birthday gifts for much of my life and I have seen Evan’s morning be ruined over a poorly cooked egg.

The true test and proof that vegans can eat out really is navigating a menu at a bar. It can seen counterintuitive that a vegan can order anything since a bar menu will  typically read like a list of the leading causes of heart disease, but vegans are just like everyone else – some of us like to drink until we make poor eating/life decisions.

Our Portland friends were down for the weekend and gave us a perfect excuse to drink at the local brewery, Standing Stone, in Ashland, OR. The beauty of bar eating in a college town is the menu almost always has special options that are at least vegetarian to start and only take a few requests to veganize. A few tips for ordering vegan at a bar:

  • LOOK FOR FRENCH FRIES OR TOTS . It’s still good to at least ask the staff how the fries are made as the rare restaurant will use beef tallow or lard in processing fries (and always ask if there is an allergy), but 99% of the time the fries are good to go and you can request them to be made with special flavas, such as these fries with curry powder. Just avoid all creamy sauces and stick with ketchup, mustards (we heart dijon), and vinegars for dipping sauces.

Ask for additional spices like curry powder, garlic, or for additional dipping sauces available.

McMenimans spicy tot basket of glory.

  • LOOK FOR ALTERNATIVE MEATS AND DON’T ASSUME. If a veggie burger is available, many bars will allow you to substitute the veggie burger for hamburger on any menu options. Just be sure to check that the veggie burger isn’t made with eggs, a common binder. Really progressive bars will also offer tempeh, seitan, or tofu to be added into a dish.
  • STIR-FRY AND SALADS: If you have to order quick or are too drunk to study a menu, look for these two words. Don’t just stick with the salad listed and pull out the meat and dairy; instead, shop the ingredients available from other salads or entrees and request those items be added to your salad. The same concept goes with stir-fry…do you see they have brussel sprouts to order? Add it to the stir fry. It may cost a little more, but will add some gusto to a mix that may be short on fill once the meat is removed.

Tempeh stir fry “bar food’

  • FRIED VEGGIES. Okay, fried food may not be the best for you, but I really doubt you give a shit if you’re choosing to eat at a bar in the first place. Even my most carnivorous of friends find fried zucchini, fried pickles, or fried, well, anything delicious and just as easily irresistible as the meat options. This brewery just had ‘seasonal vegetables’ listed and when we asked, they said they were frying brussel sprouts..for reals, these puppies were amazing! My prego friend Sarah probably housed the whole plate guilt free…and I couldn’t have been more proud.

These babies will make any unwilling adult eat their vegetables.

  • HOPE FOR A CREATIVE COOK. Some of the best meals that I ever had came after I noticed a menu didn’t have any vegan options that were appealing, so I asked to talk to the chef and he was totally stoked for the challenge! He had fun trying something new and I reaped the benefits. It never hurts to play on the ego on a chef by making it seem like a fun challenge. They know their kitchen and are probably sick of making the same shit all the time. Throw in a big tip, write a great review, and enjoy your meal.
  • DESSERT – THINK FRUITY. I don’t consider a meal complete until I’ve eaten dessert, but at a bar this can be next to impossible. While I have had crazy luck asking questions and getting some great food (like the German Chocolate Cake from The Bye and Bye), usually if you can find a sorbet you are good to go. Or just order a Pyramid Apricot Ale, and call it good!

German Chocolate Cake and Oatmeal Stout. It always sounds good at the time.

Happy eating my friends! As always, we love to hear your thoughts, stories, and pictures of good food, especially great food you found in bars. Happy drinking!

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80 comments on “The vegan guide to bar food

  1. Terri says:

    German chocolate cake always sounds good!

  2. Kathy says:

    Man I thought you were going to suggest peanuts (that’s vegan)…. with beer! LOL

  3. “Vegan Bar food” should be a Travel channel series. I look for or create vegetarian options all the time, but I’d never thought about how tough it would be to hunt up something vegan in a restaurant.

  4. Seriously…fried brussel sprouts?

    Um. YUM!!! 🙂

  5. as someone who is allergic to dairy, i often turn to vegan options to ensure i don’t get poisoned. i hope more and more places have vegan option soon – especially vegan desserts!

  6. urban bamboo says:

    Thank god for potatoes! They’ve saved me many times. 🙂

  7. B. says:

    Yay for McMenamins tots! I’m not a full vegan yet but when I was trying it for a month, I had to really look at bar menus carefully. But I realize now once you get past the initial thinking about it, it becomes a lot easier.

    Thanks for this post!

    • I’m vegetarian and LIVE by McMenamins. Most of my writing has been fueled by their coffee and baskets of shoe-string fries. They used to have a sandwich called Van’s Veggie Grill that was delicious (grilled cucumber, squash, onions, etc, etc) but it is since long gone… (at least where I am in Eugene, OR).

  8. 55usblog says:

    I’m not a vegan but I would eat all of the above. And yes, although not good for you, fried is always good.

  9. Great practical advice for vegan eaters! I am not one, but I did send the link to my vegan friends 🙂

    Cheers to you!

  10. Li Li says:

    This is so perfect. I have recently become a ::ahem:: plant based eater but still find it hard when out and about. I forget to ask about cooking methods and the bread– oh gawd the bread. It’s a learning process but I am grateful for this guide. I still try and make bad decisions at a bar every now and again so this is perf. Thanks so much!

    Also, congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

  11. Marti Parham says:

    Great story idea! Congrats on being pressed.

  12. Carlie Chew says:

    The brussel sprouts look killer.

  13. When I used to live in Northampton, Mass there was little local company making Vegan desserts called “Oh Sweet Mama’s” and they were absolutely decadent- and very not-good for you, in all the best ways 🙂 I bet that if your local bar has a lack of vegan stuff, and there is a local little company that makes such things, it would be heroic and satisfying to play match maker; especially if there is a strong vegan presence! Just a thought 🙂

  14. My friend is vegan and forces me to cook vegan whenever she’s around; and you know what? It’s actually very tasty! Especial their fries 🙂 Yum

    Those vegan plates look amazing!

    Katie
    http://katieraspberry.wordpress.com/

  15. Jane says:

    Wow, a vegan finding something to eat at a bar sounds nearly impossible. I know I always struggle to find something to serve to my vegan nephews at holiday dinners. Vegetarians are so much easier… 🙂

  16. Tim says:

    Greetings from the Rio Grande Valley. Sooooo, like what do you eat? Sorry, couldn’t resist. Tattoos of vegetables? HAHAHA

  17. Feit Can Write says:

    The line “vegans are just like everyone else – some of us like to drink until we make poor eating/life decisions.” was awesome.

  18. Bonnielee Cuevas says:

    A little fatty but so worth it when its not often. A great vegan splurge. I am now officially hungry! lol

    ❤ ~ Your New Vegan Friend!

  19. airiseu says:

    I’m not a vegan, but close enough. I draw the line there because I just cannot stay away from dairy. However, I do love the tips that are packed into this post and I’ll keep them in mind, because vegan food is most definitely meat-free, which is what I go for. And you’re totally right; being vegan/veggie isn’t about eating healthy all the time…

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  20. Thanks for the tips. It helps a bit to understand vegans, and what they eat. I would only ask bar staff if the oil used to fry the vegies has been used to fry meat before. A yes would put me off if I was a vegan.

    Great video too! Did you do that yourself?

    • I wish I did that video, it.is.hilarious. I could probably make a mega biopic of some questions I get – I will save that for a future post:) Thanks for reading!

  21. Wow, brussel sprouts that look appetizing! It’s a miracle….the only vegan bar food in London, that I can find, tends to involve fries. I might well pass out if I saw a vegan stir fry on the menu…I enjoyed your post nevertheless.

  22. I just started a 3-day non-meat “diet” (not vegetarian / not vegan) – started yesterday – to “cleanse” myself from all the bad eating I’ve done over the weekend on a NYC trip. This post is motivating! Thx!

    • We are smack in the middle of a 3 day juice cleanse after a vaca in Portland – even vegans need to cleanse from eating pounds of baked goods! 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  23. Franco says:

    Everything looks so scrumptious. I’ve been a vegetarian for seven years and I am flirting with becoming a vegan. This is helping!

  24. I miss french fries. For some reason, I cannot eat them if they are deep fried in oil. However, I can eat them if they are hot air fried without oil.

    My stomach burns afterwards. I did some research to see how oil could cause that and discovered that cooking oils all have a heat point where they turn toxic.

    In addition, I understand that many resteraunts to do change the oil daily meaning that it gets more and more toxic as the days go by before the old oil is tossed and replaced with a fresh batch of whatever they are using.

    Here are a few links on the topic of cooking with oils:

    “Why it’s best not to cook with extra vergin olive oil”:

    http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=dailytip&dbid=261

    When it Comes to Fat, How Hot is Too Hot?

    “Keep in mind that once you’ve heated an oil, the second time around its smoke point will be lower. While most of us probably don’t have large vats of frying fat sitting around, you might want to keep this in mind when reheating oil-laden leftovers.”

    Read more: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/oil-fat-overheat-smoking-point/#ixzz1yNOJSJLz

    http://www.marksdailyapple.com/oil-fat-overheat-smoking-point/#axzz1yNNwmkvT

    “The first thing to consider is an oil’s smoke point which refers to its tolerance to heat. Oils that might be healthy at room temperature might not be healthy when heated. Therefore, oils with low heat tolerance are not suitable for frying or cooking at high temperatures.”

    http://www.recipe4living.com/articles/how_to_choose_the_right_cooking_oil.htm

    Note: When we go out to eat and we order anything that is deep fried, I often ask what type of oil it is and how long they have been using it. I recall that one place we liked to eat at changed the oil only on Monday mornings so we only ate there on Monday and wouldn’t go near the place the rest of the week.

    ps: I’ve been a vegan since 1981 — almost half of my life now.

  25. Alli says:

    Not vegan, but… testing the waters? Aspiring? Regardless, I thought this post was great. Especially since I think lots of folks might not be comfortable enough to ask (especially if they are sort of new to -regrettably- less mainstream diets). I love fried brussels (or any brussels) and thanks for the intro to Sugarplum cupcakes. Congrats on Freshly pressed!

  26. I’m definitely not a vegan but I love how you’ve found ways to enjoy activities like a night at the bar and to enjoy with gusto! My mother eats a mostly vegan diet (for health reasons) and I know how much trouble she has when she is out (and she cheats)!

  27. Interesting post, and congrats on being freshly pressed.

  28. qs1998 says:

    Reblogged this on Sweet, Salty 'N Sour and commented:
    Tips for Vegans! I am a failed vegan myself, soooo gooood luck!!!! :0

  29. pennyparsnip says:

    If you’re ever in New Orleans, there’s a great bar on Frenchmen St that serves some serious veggie bar food. Like a BBQ Tofu Po’Boy, and Tater Tachos (tots with nacho toppings, hold the cheese.)

    NYC comes up surprisingly short on vegan bar snacks.

  30. Rizal says:

    The food look delicious 😀

  31. detanglingme says:

    I am newly vegan and only a week in but I am feeling amazing and loving it 🙂 I really look forward to reading your blog.

  32. iamjimmydean says:

    This is great, as a family of vegan advocates… its not easy to eat out ;P

  33. Clarissa says:

    I am not vegan, but the thing that I generally serve to my vegan friends is sauteed Tofu with fresh green veggies and dash of vinegar and their favorite herbs they love this. Another thing that I personally like is BBQ mushrooms.

  34. mascaradays says:

    Great post. Look forward to reading more !

  35. Reblogged this on digforvictoryjen and commented:
    like!

  36. Jean says:

    Sounds like a great opportunity for enterprising bar owner –vegan choices that aren’t deep fried and aren’t just salads.

  37. Great! layout! I dont think I have seen a moded template as well utilized as this in a looong time 🙂
    great stuff!

  38. This is awesome! My boyfriend’s cousin is a Vegan. His mother can’t quite understand what it means.
    Mother: “I’m gonna make eggs and bacon for everyone for breakfast!”
    My Boyfriend: “But Mom, she’s vegan – she can’t eat that.”
    Mother: “Oh right, so the turkey bacon then…”
    😀 ❤ I love me some cregans! (Crazy Vegans)! Great blog!

  39. Beautiful! I love the challenge of vegan cooking. (Bonus Points: Vegan Cooking without any oils). It’s so cool to see this featured on Freshly Pressed. Eating out can be challenge too. You’ve got great tips on navigating the choppy waters of eating out without eating animal.

  40. Venidle says:

    Personally, I am not vegan, but I am constantly amazed with their (your) ideas and recipies. Most of them – awesome!

    Btw, those brussel sprouts looked like little fried dragons at first 😉 These colours are incredible!

  41. joej627 says:

    I don’t agree with the vegan thing as a lifestyle but I loved the video. That can be broadened to people who eat healthy food in general as well. It’s like..a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with some fat free KRAFT mayo, thats healthy right? right?
    =)

  42. I hate when they say “where do you get your protein”. So much so so much. And then they ask “how long have you not been vegetarian?” as if this is a fad diet or something. And then they as “why did you start?” as if there should be a reason. oh man I could go on!

  43. BlondiesBabble says:

    I cannot wait to get back to Oregon for some McMenimen’s!!

  44. Xiomara says:

    chips and salsa or chips and guacamole are my fav — with a side of margaritas :p

  45. project30in2012 says:

    I’m not vegan (or vegetarian) but these are great tips!

  46. Great post! I’m always trying to find things I can eat on a bar menu. The brussel sprouts look amazing!!

  47. It all looks delicious! I’m not vegan but but do eat a gluten free diet due to medical reasons and can understand the difficulties in finding bar food that you can eat. Great tips!

    http://www.slickclickphotography.com

  48. azita says:

    Not a vegan and loved the entire post and video

  49. Koon すぐにクーン says:

    I love tempeh. 🙂 Nice photographs!

  50. I’m not vegan, but love the video! I sent it to my friend who would love the humor!
    http://christinadesignsart.wordpress.com/

  51. soulfoood says:

    Chose to read this post vs. 100 others 🙂 and loved it 🙂

  52. sqeekchair says:

    High-jacked Mozzarella sticks, Cheddar wheels rolling into the abyss or into various layers of Dantes Enferno, & sugar plum cookies behind a bullet-proof encasing for the sole purpose of taunting the three foods you would take up bounty hunting for is a clever, hilarious, and fresh way of describing this! Love it!!!

  53. kateshunter says:

    wish there was a “love”button!

  54. So uncomplicated! I’m becoming more and more aware of vegan options (especially with this guide), but am still going vegetarian most of the time… it really is hard to deny dairy (as it’s in every chocolate bar, ugh). How did you deal with the transition?

    • I know girl – the dairy was admittedly tough to give up at first. We allowed ourselves a 30 day ‘trial period’ to make a balls to the wall effort at total vegan which helped us adjust and kept the guilt at bay when we made small mistakes. After a few weeks we felt so dramatically different and it just became easier and easier. Good luck and be sure to ask questions – we are happy to share!:)

  55. I agree! My number one rule/taste exciter is to ask for the dips/spreads/sauces and use them creatively! Never fails. Great Post.

  56. kfaulkner82 says:

    Love the suggestions. I’m a vegetarian and my favorite food at the fair is the fried vegetables. I can’t ever decide between the mushrooms,zuchinni sticks or thin cut sweet potato chips.

  57. Corrie says:

    Great list, suggestions and photos! When I travel for work I end up in so many bars and restaurants without vegan options, but also find that some of the best meals I’ve had were from creative chefs who loved to take on the challenge of cooking for me!

    I’m going to have to try your deep fried vegetable suggestion, that’s looks pretty dope.

  58. […] back to the junk food.  What we have learned about ourselves is that if I make a dozen cookies with the best of intention […]

  59. […] have learned a lot since that first day of being vegan like ways to order out at a bar, that fruits and vegetables CAN be filling, that there are magical cookbooks and storybooks to help […]

  60. […] Friends Housin’ vegan bar food at Standing […]

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