Sunday, March 27, 2016

Vegan in Tampa: A Guide to Eating Vegan in Wesley Chapel, New Tampa, Lutz and Tampa Palms

I've been living in the Wesley Chapel, New Tampa and Tampa Palms area of Tampa for almost ten years. I have been vegan for four of them. Through research, trial and error and online recommendations I've been able to find some really good vegan friendly dishes, drinks and desserts in this area of town. Here are some of the fantastic vegan options you should check out next time you’re in this part of Tampa!

Capital Tacos #2 |  27209 FL 56 
Wesley Chapel

Because Capital Tacos #2 has an out of this world collection of burrito (or if you prefer taco/salad/nacho/bowl/wet burrito) flavor combinations it has become one of my go-to's when out-of-towners come visit. It is really hard not to find something for everyone here.

You want Tex-Mex? Done. Seafood? Got it. Fried Chicken? They've got those too. But what do they have to offer vegans? While Capital Tacos #2 does not have any vegan combinations on their menu as is, they are perfectly willing to adjust their two vegetarian options to make them dairy free.

The first option is the Simon Pure. This burrito contains grilled portabella, black beans, pico, bombera salsa, Mexican street corn, jack and cheddar cheese and rice. Ask for it without the cheese and Mexican street corn (cooked with butter) for a vegan version.

Even after taking off the cheese and street corn, the Simon Pure is still bursting with flavor.

The other vegetarian option is the Mean Verde. The Mean Verde consists of breaded and fried avocado, refried pintos, queso, lettuce, pico, jack and cheddar, crushed chips and poblano ranch salsa. For a completely dairy free version ask for the avocado to not be fried, replace the poblano ranch salsa with a dairy free version and subtract the jack and cheddar and queso.

Capital Tacos #2 offers a number of dairy free sides to compliment your main course. Make sure you don't leave without trying out their chips. They are not your typical scrawny little yellow tortilla chips that seem to be the standard at Mexican restaurants. Capital Tacos #2's version are deep fried and golden and much thicker.

You can't go wrong with any of the salsas (mild, medium and hot) or the guacamole. Just ask them to hold the cheese (which they will sprinkle overtop).

Kwan Ming | 27607 State Road 56 Unit 105 
Wesley Chapel

For the most part fresh and Chinese food seem to exist on opposite ends of the spectrum. Kwan Ming has made it a point to fuse the two together. They have six options that are labeled vegetarian on their menu. Some of these can be made vegan.

My dish of choice, by default, is the tofu with black bean sauce. This dish contains fresh veggies and tofu (that is not breaded) cooked in a black bean sauce. It is served alongside a plate of rice. Why the default?

Because my real number one, my bae so to speak, is the garlic fried rice. 

It is loaded with fresh cloves of garlic that are sliced and fried until they are golden brown on the outside. They are then tossed with your typical fried rice veggies to create a masterfully blended dish. Not too salty. Not too fried. Just bite after bite of blacking out in Tampa and waking up in Gilroy, California. I happily breathe this dish for hours afterwards.

The garlic fried rice is my wife's bae as well. So instead of ordering two of the same dish, I default to the tofu in black bean sauce. Make sure to ask for the fried rice without egg.

Nutrition S'Mart | 1821 Bruce B. Downs 
Wesley Chapel

Keep your eyes pinned to the ground as you walk through Nutrition S'Mart. That way you won't see all the overpriced vegan/vegetarian friendly items they have on the shelves. You don't need that stuff. You can do better (and cheaper) elsewhere.

The important part of Nutrition S'Mart is the far back corner. It is here that the Wesley Chapel location of this chain got wise and built a juice bar/sandwich area.

It is in this juice bar/sandwich area that one can procure some of the cheapest (and tastiest) kombucha on tap. One twelve ounce glass can be yours for just $2.79 plus tax. That's not a mistake, that's the real deal. 

Nutrition S'Mart serves Kombucha Tampa brand kombucha. Flavors on regular rotation include the Blueberry, Hibiscus Berry and Mango.
Don't bother with the growler as, unless my math is wrong, it is a worse deal than just buying a twelve ounce cup.

As far as the rest of the juice bar/sandwich area goes, they have a number of vegan options. These include build your own sandwiches with vegan cheese and a bevy of smoothies. I can't vouch for any of these because I've never gotten past the kombucha.

Ciccio Cali | 17004 Palm Pointe Drive 
Tampa Palms

There are a lot of things I don't like about the Ciccio collection of restaurants. I don't like their weekend brunch menus or their jacking up the prices for dinner. I don't like that they consistently seem to remove my favorite things from their menu with no warning.

Ultimately, as is the case with any restaurant, if the food is done well it can make everything else moot. I must admit, I've never left disappointed or underwhelmed by what I've eaten at a Ciccio restaurant.

Ciccio Cali in Tampa Palms has a menu that is littered with wraps, bowls, pizzas, salads and stirfrys. These items feature a large variety of fresh vegetables, some of which I've never seen offered at any other restaurant. These include kale blends and spaghetti squash.

Ciccio Cali meets the needs of their vegetarian and vegan customers by providing the option of switching out any meat for a veggie and broccoli mix (I don't understand why more restaurants don't do something like this).

My meal of choice at Ciccio Cali is the Fire Bird. The veggies are tossed in buffalo sauce, paired with rice, then wrapped in a pressed tortilla. Delicious! 

Other vegan options include the vegan, thai, fitness and citrus bowls (replace the chicken with veggies in the latter three), all the stirfrys and the entire line of side dishes.

Cappy's Pizzeria | 16019 Tampa Palms Blvd.
Tampa Palms

Since the beginning of time pizza has remained virtually the same, the sum of four amazing parts (sauce, crust, topping and cheese) joined together as one.

Some people like to mess with this perfection. They subtract or alter one of those elements to see just how dreadful the result is. I must admit, I'm one of those people. I love me some pizza. I don't love me some cheese.

Cappy's is one of the few places in Tampa that can pull off a vegan pizza. 

This is because their flaky deep dish Chicago style crust and their tangy, slightly spicy, red sauce are flavorful enough that removing the cheese doesn't hinder them.

I usually top my deep dish pizza with fresh spinach and artichokes. Make sure to specify that you want it vegan, otherwise they may sprinkle Parmesan on top of the sauce.

365 Caffe Italiano | 28211 Paseo Drive, Suite 10 Wesley Chapel

Need a vegan dessert in the Wesley Chapel/New Tampa/Tampa Palms area? 365 Caffe Italiano is the place to go. Each and every day (365/7) this shop offers at least 3 different dairy free gelato options. Some days they even go all crazy and stretch it to four.

If you are in to chocolate and mint and desserty flavors like that and are dairy free, well, you are out of luck. At 365, those all contain the animal stuff.

But if you are like me and hate those flavors with a passion, no big deal. It is the fruit options at 365 Caffe Italiano that contain no dairy. Mango and berry blast are just two of the vegan versions I've tried. Sweet, cold, refreshing and tasty.

Buttermilk Provisions | 2653 Bruce B Downs Blvd
Wesley Chapel

Buttermilk Provisions can best be described as a bakery, coffee and tea shop. The shop is located in a strip mall just north of Wiregrass Mall. Buttermilk Provisions offers four rotating donut flavors per day. At least one flavor will be gluten free. Some days they offer vegan donuts, other times vegans will have to forgo the donuts and try out some of the vegan banana bread.

Whether it is donuts or banana bread, Buttermilk Provisions makes it a point to have at least one vegan option daily.

Most days they offer a vegan banana bread. I wasn't a big fan of it during my first go round. But subsequent go rounds have me pretty blown away by it. I like how the banana bread is dense and has only a slight banana taste to it. It isn't overly sweet. There are chunks of vegan chocolate and walnuts spread throughout. They help break up some of the denseness of the bread.

The vegan chocolate glazed, chocolate donut is baked, like all Buttermilk Provisions' donuts are. The donut is moist, something that is often times the downfall of vegan desserts. It looks, feels and tastes more like cake than a donut. Just know this. If you are vegan and expecting a donut that feels like a donut, uh, go to Brooklyn. I was pleased that the donut did not have any weird lingering aftertaste of earth balance or something fake tasting like that.

Buttermilk Provisions serves about ten different flavors of artisan tea from Kaleisia. Their coffee consists of a cold brew, an espresso and a hot brew all from Buddy Brew. Lattes can be made with almond milk, currently the only vegan milk that Buttermilk offers.

Ice Dreamery | 23912 State Road 54 #2

Ice Dreamery is an ice cream lounge in Lutz that makes small batch ice cream. That means they produce one (or is it two?) painstaking gallon(s) at a time. Why? So you can have the freshest hand dipped ice cream around.

I know what you are thinking. Ice Dreamery set up shop right across the street from Dairy Queen. If I want my chocolate or vanilla ice cream why don't I just go there? In short, you should. I mean those flavors are too ordinary for Ice Dreamery. This place is into flavors that are unique and bold. Take, for instance, their inclusion of adult only flavors. Both times I visited, Ice Dreamery's menu featured at least two different ice cream flavors that incorporated alcohol. Rum Haven, Nutty Drunken Praline and Bailey's Coffee Chip are just three of the alcohol/ice cream combinations they have featured. The kid friendly flavors are just as edgy. You could get your hand on some Butter Beer, Cookie N Dream, Mango (with a jalapeno ice cream cone pairing in the works), Chocolate Bacon Toffee or Smooth Chocolate Velvet (which features just a bit of Nutella).

So what does all this have to do with vegans? Nothing. But this next part does. Each day Ice Dreamery offers at least two different coconut based ice cream flavors that are dairy free. During my two visits these flavors were the almond joy (almond extract, chocolate powder and coconut ice cream) and a plain coconut version.
The vegan ice cream was soft and creamy with little flakes of coconut in it. I had a hard time believing that it was dairy free. 
That's how convincing Ice Dreamery was.

If that's not bold enough for you, try this on for size. Via their website or an in person visit to their lounge, Ice Dreamery will take flavor suggestions. Yep, that's right, you the customer can partially control what comes next. If they choose your suggestion, they will blast your name all over social media and let everyone know that it was you who came up with it. So go ahead, come up with something crazy, something so bold and daring that you think it can't be done. I'm sure Ice Dreamery is up for the challenge.

FYI: I've already suggested a lavender coconut vegan version so if you were thinking that, just stop now and head back to the drawing board.