A friend's wedding has brought me out to Chicago for a few days and while in town I figured it was my duty to sample and blog about some local vegan cuisine. I put the call out to my Facebook friends for recommendations and immediately received about a dozen tempting responses. Thanks everybody for coming through for me!
It was a tough decision prioritizing that list with favorites including Ethiopian, veg soul food, falafel, an organic bakery, and of course the legendary Chicago Diner. But after my previous day of teaching, cooking, flying, and driving, followed by a bridal shower and Korean karaoke, I decided that the theme of the day would be "recovery." So, I headed to Karyn's Fresh Corner, a raw cafe located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood to be pampered with healthful indulgence.
This was a wise choice. My lunch began with a thick and creamy coconut milkshake made with fresh young Thai coconut. It was icy cold and refreshing, not quite pureed smooth so that I was chewing while drinking, with a hint of natural sweetness from the coconut and no added sweetener.
It was tough deciding on an appetizer since everything tempted me, but because I need to stay away from gluten, the menu simplified my selection process by marking items containing gluten which I avoided. I decided on the Cauliflower and Red Pepper Hummus with Flax Seed Crackers and Crudites mostly because I wanted something crunchy and I was intrigued by the inclusion of cauliflower in the hummus. The smooth and rich concoction did not disappoint, and it also added a surprising kick of chipotle to the mix.
For my entree I chose the Empanada with Mexican Mole and Basil Gastrique. The spongy "crust" was made with ground flax seed and corn that had been dehydrated and stuffed with a savory and spicy walnut, jalapeno, and mushroom pate. This was topped with pickled red onion, dehydrated jalapeno, and fresh cilantro springs. My description cannot do this dish justice because I couldn't possibly come close to capturing the depth of flavor of each component, not to mention the symphony of flavors that composed the entire dish. This was not only one of my favorite raw vegan dining experiences, but perhaps one of my favorite all-time meals.
Not only that, but there are the desserts. Next door to the cafe there's a little wellness shop with a smoothie/juice bar, raw desserts, and grab-and-go items. The gorgeous display of sweets made for yet another difficult decision, all of which provided the promise of "sinful desserts without the guilt." I opted for the Mint Carob Cake, which had the density of a fudgey brownie made with pecans, cashew butter, coconut oil, agave syrup, dates, and carob powder. Yes, these were entirely raw as well, made without any refined flour or sugar, and yet oh so good. In fact, these were so decadent you wouldn't even miss the chocolate.
Anyone who has ever had qualms about vegan food being bland or boring just needs to take a trip to Karyn's (yes, it's worth the drive/flight from anywhere). This is what turns skeptics into believers. And it will probably change the way you think about food when you realize how tantalizing vegan cuisine can be.
As I crossed the street, I looked down upon this message, perhaps sent to such skeptics who had previously been turned off by bland, beige, limp, lifeless vegan fare and vowed to shun it henceforth. Second chances make all the difference.