Native Foods Cafe: Evolution

Native Foods Cafe has been a mainstay in the Chicago vegan cuisine scene for almost a decade which is why it’s high time they shook things up a bit! And I’m not talking about straying from their animal rights ways. On the contrary. This national vegan food chain is edging towards a new menu, one that focuses on whole foods, or what they’ve coined as “plantiful.”

Native Foods has been one of my favorite haunts since they started springing up locations around the city. Their Soul Bowl, sweet potato fries, and Chicken Run Ranch sandwich kept me coming again and again and again. The cruelty free ingredients, tasty flavor combos, and casual atmosphere made this my go-to spot for a taste bud tapping, filling meal. Something that Native Foods Cafe has in common with most of Chicago’s other vegan food nooks is a heavy reliance on faux meats. But that’s all about to change.

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Rather than focusing their menu on highly processed meat substitutes or deep fried concoctions, Native Foods is laying the groundwork to serve healthier, more holistic fair. That doesn’t mean that they’re going raw or shirking some of their most popular items. On the contrary. They’re respecting the following for their cult classics but also rounding out their offerings to provide a greater variety of heartier veggie-based dishes. The fare is simpler. More roasting,blending, and steaming, less highly processed over-seasoned “meats” and mystery “cheeses.” The focus is to offer a truly plantiful spread, one that showcases the natural and robust flavors of the veggies, roots, fruits, and fungi. It’s about focusing on foods that celebrate a plant based diet rather than working so hard to replicate the taste of (sorry I have to say it!) flesh. A welcome evolution indeed!

As someone who can’t fill up on smoothies or leafy greens alone, the news of Native Food’s menu evolution is warmly welcomed. I love the idea of having the option of satiating my hunger healthfully with something beyond a salad. The new menu items are just as inventive as to be expected of the restaurant chain. We noshed on the new Buddha Bowl, which is filled with roasted veggies, avocado, brown rice, shiitake crisps, and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds. We filled up on warm and steamy arancini balls, the ultimate comfort food on a cool autumn evening. On a second visit I scooped up the new barbecue sandwich, made with jackfruit in place of processed burger patty, and followed that with zucchini patties, which to my surprise, also came with a small (and delish) little side salad.

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The menu is not the only thing Native Foods is tweaking. The Wicker Park location, the national incubator for the chain, has also rolled out new decor, more grab and go items, and will soon be debuting biodegradable take out gear. The cleaner, more sophisticated space sways away from the family friendly diner feel of old in lieu of a sleek, minimalist approach that leans on industrial farmhouse chic. The Wicker Park storefront does a good job of balancing their more mature look while still retaining the warmth of their sister locations by providing casual cafe style seating towards the front and peppering tables and displays with living succulent centerpieces. I’m eager to see how the Wicker Park NFC’s transformation informs the other three Chicago locations.

Call me impressed. The new items offer just as much, if not more, of the eclectic flavor heavy elements that make Native Foods such a popular and burgeoning vegan business all across the country. As the new menu continues to be rolled out at the Wicker Park location (it will go national as the spring draws near) I’ll be at the head of the line eager to try more of their tasty concoctions. And as timing should have it – they just sent me a $10 reward to use on my birthday this Saturday. Nice! Buddha bowl here I come!

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Vegetarianism & Variety

Beet & Goat Cheese Jewels

Beet & Goat Cheese Jewels

Vegetarianism is no longer the obscure lifestyle choice it used to be 10, 15 or even 20 years ago. With campaigns such as Meatless Monday and protein alternatives abounding in grocery stores, the choice to abstain from meat is one that’s much more mainstream than in years gone by.

Which is probably why I’m always caught off guard when confronted with the “oh – you’re vegetarian” face. “Don’t you get bored with only eating vegetables?” Is a commonly asked question. As is, “How do you get all the protein you need?”

Well I’m here to say, once and for all, that there’s no lack of variety or nutrition in a vegetarian diet!

Veggie BBQ Bowl

Veggie BBQ Bowl

David and I have been meat-free since we exchanged wedding vows in 2006. We made it a gradual shift, first choosing to only purchase ethically raised meats. Then we shifted to no meat at home – but eating it at restaurants. After three months of this gradual decline in consumption, we completely eliminated all meat from our diets. “We don’t eat anything that has a face” is the way I once explained it to my dad. And do we suffer, even a bit, since making that decision over 8 years ago? Not one bit! We couldn’t be happier, healthier, and more satisfied with the food choices we make each and every day.

Brussels Sprout & Avocado Rolls

Brussels Sprout & Avocado Rolls

Whether you have an octo, lacto, raw or vegan preference, are doing it for reasons of ethics, sustainability or faith, choosing to eat compassionately is not only good for you, it’s also good for the planet and all the creatures in it.

So for those of you who still grapple with  going vegetarian, thinking it will subject you to a life of bland palettes or nutritional deficits, cast those fears aside! There’s way more variety and health benefits out there than you can ever imagine! Give it a try for a day, a week, and then a month, and you’ll see that there’s nothing forlorn about living this compassionate lifestyle.

And should you need inspiration or a place to start, check out this Pinterest board which includes some of my all-time favorite veg-head recipes.

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash

Is there a blog or website that you love from which you like to collect vegetarian recipes? If so – share the link in the comments!

Healthy Hippie Bowl

Healthy Hippie Bowl

 

DIY Autumnal Wedding

The last week of October I embarked to South Carolina to spend eight wonderful days in the presence of my dearest friends. All of us flew in for a week long celebration of love, family and friendship. The occasion? A wedding of course! Traveling from Seattle, Chicago, Portland, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Madison, New York and even Poland, the wedding guests came in from around the globe to witness the union of a beloved couple: Natalie & Reid.

The bridal party arrived in Beaufort several days early to prepare for a grand task: Plan the ultimate eco-friendly, vegan and local wedding soiree. So in true DIY spirit, we spent hours crafting, consorting and conniving all in the name of throwing a handmade shindig for our two dearest friends.

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Events: Renegade Sneak Peak

I always promise myself to stick to what I know in the weeks leading up to big events like Renegade – but then inspiration hits – and I can’t stop myself from making something brand spanking new! This past week alone I’ve made at least four new creations that I’ll be debuting this Saturday.

One is the “Bow Peep” belt which I hand-crafted using fabric scraps, unbleached elastic and a hook clasp. I made something similar a month back using t-shirt remnants, but this morning I gave the design a twist by making the bow out of a different cotton fabric. The result is better than I anticipated! I love how the solid color of the belt brings out the geometric chevron print of the bow. A job well done (if I’m allowed to say so!).

I’ll be making a bunch more of these for this round of Renegade. If you’re in Chicago – be sure to swing by my booth (#48) to see them in person!

Meat-Free Memorial Day

Photo from The Enchanted Spice

If you’re anything like my husband, you can’t wait to light up the grill and throw some edibles onto the grates. For vegetarians and vegans, Memorial Day can conjure up deeply repressed meat missing emotions – if not just for the sake of nostalgia. That’s why I’ve put together this handy guide to a Meat-Free Memorial Day for veg-heads and carnivores alike! Continue reading