Sunday, July 31, 2005

Vegan breakfast in a diner...

Sure, there are vegetarian and vegan "diners" out there, like the Chicago Diner in Chicago, or Kate's Joint in NYC (both of which come highly recommended from yours truly), but sometimes, maybe while travelling or entertaining grandparents or something, you find yourself in a greasy diner that smells of bacon.

What to do? Don't lose heart, dear friends. As long as it isn't some backwards-ass place like Mickey's Diner in St. Paul, there should be a vegetable product on the menu that doesn't contain lard (seriously, there isn't one solid vegan item on the Mickey's menu that I'm aware of, though it is worth visiting in the middle of the night for a cup of coffee if you're in the area. For better or for worse, it is rumored that large amounts of drugs are sold out the back door).

If that's the case, here's what I order.

A double order of hashbrowns, with green peppers, mushrooms, and onions fried on top, and one English muffin, dry, on the side.

It's not on the menu, and chances are no one's ordered this before, so you might have to deal with some raised eyebrows or whatever, and you want to make sure they hear you say "dry" on the english muffin. I usually try to be extra charming when I'm ordering this, what I call the Diner Special: "Would it be possible to get a double order of...blah blah blah? I'll pay whatever the extra is for the sides."

Now, you have to understand that these mushrooms are going to be kind of nasty, straight out of a can, straight off the SYSCO truck, but Jesus, look where you are! Did you taste that coffee yet? I can tell you right now it isn't fair trade. Nobody eats at these places because they want to, but maybe you find yourself in a pinch. This should help.

Seward Community Cafe

Minneapolis is nothing if it isn't swimming in collectives. As a native to this town, I've got some experience with the collective process, and theoretically it's still something I really believe in. Theoretically.

In practice, the Hub Bike Co-op and Extreme Noise Records are the only collectives that seem to actually have their acts together.

Enter the Seward Cafe. When it's good, it's incredible. My favorite breakfast in the world is a well-made Super Green Earth with tofu and soy cheese (hashbrowns, brocolli, and tofu sort of scrambled together on the grill and covered with soy cheese). Here's the problem. The cafe is usually filthy, which as a person of questionable hygiene, I might be able to overlook if I knew my food was going to be good. Unfortunately, the hashbrowns are almost always a sad pile of both burnt and undercooked (read: gummy) shreds of potato. At times the tofu suffers from an overdose of tamari, and it's anybody's guess whether I'm going to get my toast.

The hashbrowns are such a big part of the breakfast menu at the Seward, I have a hard timd understanding how they're so inconsistent. More to the point, it's bewildering to me that, on my last few visits, the hashbrowns have been so consistently fucked up. I feel like, if I'm a cook at the Seward, that's what I do, all day every day, is cook hashbrowns. How hard can it be? Wouldn't you get it right after a while? Wouldn't you have the sense to throw out the ones that you didn't get right, rather than serving them up?

Today I ordered a tofu mock muffin (english muffin, Gimme Lean patty, tofu, soy cheese, sprouts). It's something I can make easily enough at home, but I knew I'd be making gumbo later this afternoon and didn't feel like spending the day in the kitchen. When I received it, instead of sprouts, I was given a pile of spinach. At first I thought it was basil, and a garnish, until I realized there weren't any sprouts. This might be forgivable if a) anyone had bothered to check with me to make sure this substitution was okay with me, or b) the Seward Cafe wasn't immediately next door to a grocery co-op.

It seems that the bulk of the local anarcho-misanthropic-lefty community here in town is content to eat shitty food in a dirty restaurant, and I suppose that makes me a bitch for not wanting to settle. That said, I know I'm not alone; many friends have voiced similar complaints, grievances that up until now have dissolved into empty air.

But I won't settle. I do still believe in collectives, and the Hub's early success (two stores!) only bolsters this belief. What I don't believe is that just because a business is worker-owned and -operated, it need be mired in mediocrity.

I'm sure that some weekend morning, months down the road, I'll forget I wrote this post, wake up with a craving for a Super Green Earth, and end up disappointed once again. In the meantime, I can tell you that the secret to good hashbrowns at home is parboiling and chilling overnight. Now you can save your money.