Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Taste of Brooklyn

Back in April, an invitation arrived for J-Fur and I to attend a wedding in Brooklyn. We were stoked. We started making plans for a weeklong tour of the city. I bookmarked the sh** out of all the vegan restaurants in the area and began taking detailed notes about the different dishes I wanted to try. She scoped out tattoo parlors and laundromats (or whatever it is that she is into now-a-days). But then my job came calling, offering me a pretty unique two week summer gig. And Google came calling J-Fur, asking her to do a bit of technical support. Just like that our weeklong trip to Brooklyn became a two day one. That Brooklyn eating extravaganza I dreamed up? Reduced to a period of about four hours.

With only four hours to eat, I had to make my calories count. I sought out things that I can't get in Tampa. Our first stop was Dun-Well Doughnuts. Up until recently, there were absolutely no good vegan donuts in the Tampa area. With the opening of Buttermilk Provisions, and their one type of vegan donut, this might not be the case anymore. I say might because I have yet to give the vegan donut at Buttermilk a whirl. Anyway, Dun-Well doesn't play the whole regular donuts with one vegan option game. Everything at Dun-Well is vegan. This includes the lattes, ice cream, milkshakes, sundaes, donuts, horchata and egg type things. I really wanted to try everything that Dun-Well had to offer. I wanted to come back six days in a row, sampling a different thing each time. The doughnut sundae caught my eye. So did the milkshakes and the lime doughnut. But having just a four hour window forced me to make a decision. I only had one go at this, I had to make it right. So I went with the one most recommended on Yelp, the Peanut Butter and Jelly doughnut. J-Fur ordered a straight chocolate donut. Because there was a ten dollar minimum for credit card usage, J-Fur also ordered a tea and I tacked on a lavender lemonade. Our bill...ten dollars exactly. One thing about Dun-Well's brand of doughnuts, they are certainly not cheap.

The chocolate frosted and peanut butter and jelly doughnuts.

I bit into the PB&J and did a bit of a mind gasp. I'm not a doughnut fan in the least, but this one, it was delicious. The peanutty glaze was not sugary, like I feared, it still had a strong peanut taste. The doughnut was fluffy, sort of like a dough pillow for the rich peanut topping to rest it's weary head. The jelly inside the doughnut was a nice sweet contrast to the rich peanut glaze and doughy doughnut. I offered a bite to J-Fur who remarked "It's way too sweet" after she tasted it. I shook my head in disbelief. I think her tastebuds have just been worn down by all the Dr. Pepper. J-Fur and I both agreed about the chocolate doughnut, it was too salty. Had it been a chocolate and sea salt doughnut, it would've been right on the money. But because she only wanted a chocolate doughnut, it completely missed the mark. I'm not sure if Dun-Well offers a salted chocolate version but, if they do, perhaps it was bartender error that led to the less than stellar doughnut.

My last foray into the world of lavender lemonade came at Kaleisia Tea in Tampa and I wasn't super impressed by it (don't construe this as a knock on the lavender lemonade, it is more a celebration of how awesome the matcha limeade is). The Dun-Well Doughnut version was just how I like it. The lemonade wasn't super sweet and the lavender offered a slight little flavor boost to the drink. It was very refreshing on a sweltering day. 

While returning the handcrafted pottery plate that our doughnuts were served on to the dish collection area, I overheard the bartender talking about Champs Diner. This was one of the places that I had bookmarked. I decided to approach him with my own take on one of those deserted island questions. I said "If you only had four hours in town, were vegan, and really wanted to experience what New York vegan food was all about, where would you go?" He replied, "Champs Diner" is really worth it. So we headed that direction. 

Champs is only about a block away from Dun-Well Doughnuts. Like Dun-Well, Champs is completely vegan. The diner describes itself as serving "Americana comfort food with a no-fuss, laid-back attitude." I contemplated filling the table with various dishes so that I could just sample a bit of everything. I wanted some mozzarella sticks and buffalo wings and seitan asada fries and a grinder and reuben and Philly Cheesesteak. S**t man, I wanted the whole menu. When I realized that Champs was a cash only joint, I had to temper my desires a bit. I had come with limited cash so I'd have to stick with one menu item for me, one for J-Fur and one for Z-Bot. I settled on the buffalo chick'n hero, J-Fur ordered an Awesome Bowl and we ordered Z-Bot the mac and cheese.

Buffalo Chick'n Hero

The Buffalo Chick'n Hero consists of spicy buffalo chick'n, greens, tomatoes, sautéed onions and ranch dressing on a hero. I've eaten a version of this at my house and I love the combo of spicy buffalo sauce and creamy ranch dressing. For some reason, and I couldn't place what it was, the Champ's version seemed overly salty. I remember having the same type of issue with a lot of the items on the Chicago Diner menu back in the day. While the sandwich was still good, it fell short of the perfection that I was hoping for. 


The mac and cheese

You know what didn't fall short of perfection? The mac and cheese. This dish was total bomb squad. It was cheesy and creamy without the weird texture or aftertaste that a lot of vegan cheeses seem to suffer from. My daughter only ate a few bites so we took the leftovers home. Later in the evening I pregamed for the wedding by eating the rest of it. About the only negative with the mac and cheese is that it is very oily. Be careful with it, especially if you take it to go. You don't want your three year old to swing it and hit you and ruin a pair of your shorts. 

The Awesome Bowl

The Awesome Bowl was full of quinoa, tofu scramble, bell peppers, garlic sautéed kale, home fries and hollandaise sauce. With that list of ingredients, it sounded like it should be one of the greatest things I've ever tasted. It was. But a large reason for that is because I ate from the side that was not drowned in Hollandaise sauce. Unfortunately, for J-Fur, she couldn't finish the dish because it had too much sauce on it. She loved the part that had only a smattering. Next time, she'd do it on the side.

By the end of our meal at Champ's, I was stuffed to the point of almost being uncomfortable. I knew then that I would be unable to hack a beet burger, New York style pizza or Chinese food. I threw in the white flag and headed home, satisfied, but not downright floored.

Check out my other Tastes of posts:
New Orleans
New York