Recently my husband referred me to an article from the New York Times:
The author talks about his struggles of finding vegetarian meals living in the Midwest, as well as the “meat-loving” attitude of the region. I don’t have a lot of experience to go off of, just 4 months thus far. Last week I did have two very different restaurant experiences, both at “burger joints” here in Omaha.
Friday night we went to Blanc Burgers + Bottles in Midtown Crossing. Being that it is a burger place I was not expecting much, maybe they’d have a salad or soup or some sort of fried vegetable appetizer? There were two vegetarian main course options on the menu, a marinated portabella burger and a spiced lentil burger.
When I tried to order the spiced lentil burger without the yogurt the waitress asked “are you vegan?” and my instinctive answer was “yes”. Apparently I should have said “no, I just avoid meat and dairy”, because this girl was determined for me to eat vegan! She explained that there were eggs in the lentil burger (which I would have been ok with that night) and that the portabella burger had already been contaminated by the cheese. She was very excited to tell me about their vegan black bean burger, a new item that will soon be permanent on their menu, which consisted of a black bean burger on a ciabatta bun topped with spicy green chili sauce, spinach and avocado. This sounded pretty good, so I agreed, but mainly to appease her. I didn’t want to argue that “well I’m mostly vegan but sometimes I’m ok with a little egg and I won’t freak out if cheese has touched my mushrooms”. I felt pressured to eat vegan which was a new and weird experience for me. At the end of our conversation the waitress explained that she understood because she has friends who are vegans.
In the end I was very pleased with my forced selection, quite possibly the best black bean burger I have had in the past four months! It was soft in the middle (not mushy) with a crispy, slightly breaded exterior, and the ciabatta bun was wonderful! So I give Blanc a thumbs-up for their one vegan burger and for having two vegetarian burger options in addition.
Monday night we headed to Brewburger’s with a group a friends for the national title game. I was half-expecting to order a side salad for my meal, but was pleasantly surprised that they offered a vegetarian portabella mushroom burger. Our waiter was friendly, and was skilled at encouraging everyone to completely gorge themselves. I was worried when it came time for me to order. I started out asking for some guac and chips, which went over ok. He definitely gave me “the look” when I ordered the vegetarian burger, especially when I specified no cheese. “I know, I’m one of those people”, I responded. He tried to come up with a side for me to eat but I fear I disappointed him horribly by turning down his offerings of gravy and cheese drenched fries (all specialties there). Even though the waiter dismissed the vegetarian burger, I was thoroughly impressed when it came out. The portabella had an amazing marinated flavor and great texture; it was topped with cooked carrots, zucchini and green beans. If he has any future vegetarian customers I think he should be a little more excited about what they have to offer. I guess that’s my beef with this guy…I have one option to order on the menu, so at least play it up and pretend that it’s good so I can look forward to my meal. I must mention the giant chalice of freshly pounded guacamole that was presented to me, also quite delicious. It gets 10 bonus points for presentation!
I apologize for not having any pictures, but this way you can make up your own image in your mind of what a chalice of guac looks like.
In summary, eating out in the Midwest is sometimes a challenge, but I have yet to find a place where they offer no vegetarian or vegan options. Most places are use to working with food preferences and allergies now days, so it’s not hard to get what you want. Obviously Omaha has more options (and I’m guessing more vegetarians) than the rest of the state, and I have yet to attempt to eat out in small-town Western Nebraska, so I can’t speak to that. The pro-meat attitude is something that is very pervasive in the area, but I feel like a lot of people are at least interested and understanding when you say that you are vegetarian/vegan for “health reasons”. I hear “I could never give up meat” a lot, which I too thought at one point (I really don't think I can convey to you the depth of my love for bacon before September 2011). But you can eat more vegetables and fruits, and when you start filling your plate with these, you have less room for the meat and processed foods. Most people can handle the idea of moderation a lot easier than complete withdrawal from animal products. So fellow Mid-westerners, I encourage you to slowly cut back on your meat consumption, and embrace vegetables as a delicious and enjoyable option when eating out. You can eat to your heart’s content and not feel bloated and miserable when you leave the restaurant…just extremely satisfied! Props to both Blanc and Brewburgers for having the tastiest veggie burgers I have tried thus far! Even you carnivores might want to give them a try for something a little lighter on the stomach next time.