Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bayou on Bay: 1300 Bay Street

Vegan Options at Bayou

I last wrote about Bayou on Bay back in 2011. At that time, they offered a rather bland vegan gumbo that sometimes came with okra and sometimes did not, served with a side of non-vegan cornbread. And that was it for us vegans. I later unpublished the post because it was out-of-date and I had no plans to go back, so I figured my review was no longer useful. Recently, however, Bayou announced online that their new menu would be veggie-friendly with more vegan and vegetarian options! And this was enough to make me want to try again.

Last night I had plans for dinner with my husband and his family and I suggested we check out Bayou. I was pleased to see one vegan option on the menu (the vegan jamba) and two additional options that could also be made vegan: the sweet potato sandwich and the veggie cheesesteak sandwich. I noticed that the jamba had corn in it, (which made it a no-go for me due to a corn allergy), so I decided to go with one of the sandwich options. The sweet potato was calling my name and I was eager to try it.

The menu clearly states that the sandwiches come with 2 sides: coleslaw and sweet potato fries. Since the sweet potato fries are cooked in the same fryer as the meat and the coleslaw has dairy in the dressing, I asked our server if she could recommend a vegan side to go with the sandwich. She said they could sub in a vegan salad with a vegan vinaigrette, and that was good enough for me.

The Good Points

I love the atmosphere at Bayou and I think it's a very fun place. I still have fond memories of back-in-the-day when it was Stuart's coffeehouse, and so it makes it even more fun to eat there now. One thing to note is that the few times I have ever been to Bayou, the service has always been great and the staff has always been friendly. Last night was no different, and when I asked about suggesting a vegan side or if she could make sure the bun was vegan, our server didn't hesitate to find out what I needed and she was very nice about it. (And in case you are wondering, she verified the bun is vegan, so no worries you will be served a "vegan" patty in a non-vegan bun, as has been known to happen at Aslan Brewing Company...)

When my sandwich first came out, our wonderful server immediately noticed there was a mistake and that my sandwich had not been made vegan after all. She promptly sent it back and apologized and was very sorry about the mistake--I appreciated her catching it before it had gotten all the way to me, and was impressed with how careful she was on my behalf. I understand mistakes can happen and I am very happy when they are caught by a restaurant staff member rather than by me!

The menu described the sandwich as coming with a crystal aioli, and so I assumed this may have been the mistake. I was curious what kind of condiment or sauce would be added to the sandwich instead of the aioli, and unfortunately, the answer was none. The bread was dry and the sweet potato, while cooked well in terms of being cooked-through, had no added seasoning. The onions were cooked in some kind of vegetable oil, but they had not been seasoned either. My salad, on the other hand, was over-dressed, but luckily the greens themselves were fresh and very good, so I decided to try and spruce up my sandwich by adding some of the over-dressed lettuce leaves to the sandwich. I then added some of one of the hot sauces that happened to be vegan to the sweet potato pieces, which also helped a little.

My Recommendations and Wishes

Overall, while definitely not bad, this $11.00 sandwich was nothing spectacular. While I genuinely appreciate Bayou trying to expand their vegan options, I wish my sandwich had had more flavor and wasn't so dry. (Even just adding some chipotle JustMayo would have done wonders!) The good news is all of my dinner companions enjoyed their non-vegan dishes very much and talked about how the food was well-seasoned and very flavorful. So perhaps it is just a matter of figuring out how to jazz up the vegan-ized options a bit...

I think the reason people sometimes mistakenly think vegans eat bland or boring food is because they are used to relying on meat and dairy-based ingredients for flavor. What they don't realize is that most vegans LOVE rich and flavorful foods just as much as omnivores do, and often create dishes with incredibly complex flavor profiles, but you have to find ways of bringing those flavors out and using well-seasoned ingredients is key. For example, one way to bring out the flavor of root vegetables is by roasting them with a little sherry and olive oil, adding some spices like thyme, salt and pepper. Or you could go in a different direction and throw in some smokey paprika. There are a lot of possibilities! The point is, if cooked well, the sherry and olive oil combo can make the vegetables caramelize, bringing out their natural sugars and thereby causing both the texture and flavors to become rich and buttery. Add some herbs and spices, salt and pepper, and then you've really got something.

Likewise, if this isn't something that interests a restaurant that mainly caters to omnivores, just having some vegan condiments on hand to sub in when they cut out the dairy-based ones would help tremendously!

Anyway... as I have said before, I really really appreciate it when a restaurant tries to expand its vegan options, and I always want to praise that and thank the restaurant for their consideration and their efforts. It really does mean a lot! But at the same time, I do want to be honest about those vegan options and while I appreciate having a vegan choice, I am even happier when my vegan meal is as delicious and enjoyable as the non-vegan meals of my companions. As always, I remain both appreciative of what's out there and optimistic that things will get better and better!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Vegan in Bellingham Changes & Happy New Year!

Happy 2016 everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful time ringing in the new year! I know for me, 2015 was filled with wonderful food and wonderful people. I have enjoyed looking through old photos today and thinking about all that has passed.

I have also spent part of today reviewing old blog posts and considering the future of the Vegan in Bellingham site. I originally began this project in 2008 because I wished there was some place online I could go that would help me when I was trying to decide where to eat or what to make. I quickly learned I wasn't the only one who wanted something like this, and it was because of the positive feedback I received from so many of you that I kept exploring and kept writing for so long.

During the years that followed, I have learned so much, met so many great people, eaten so much delicious vegan food, hosted numerous meetups and potlucks, and have felt myself become part of a larger community that I didn't even know existed--and I have to say I have truly enjoyed every minute of it.

However, lately I find myself wishing I had more time to devote to other creative projects, and while I love food and writing about food, in order to make room for other kinds of writing, I need to re-prioritize my time.

So...I have decided 2016 is my year to explore my other projects, which means I won't be updating this site as often as I have in the past. I hope you all understand and that you know how much I have appreciated and still appreciate all of your support, encouragement, positive feedback and kind words!

I went through the site today and archived some posts in an attempt to make the most relevant information easier to find.  I hope to continue with some clean-up work in the days ahead, so you may notice a few changes.

I plan on continuing to update this site as new opportunities arise, but I will no longer be writing new posts on a weekly basis.  I want to remind you all that I do welcome guest posts if you want to write and share a review of vegan options at local and area restaurants, so please don't hesitate to contact me ( if this is something you might be interested in pursuing. I also hope to continue the "Vegans in & around Bellingham" feature series if I can get any takers!

In closing, thanks again to all of you for all that you have given to me, and thanks so much for reading this blog. Please know that this is not "goodbye," it's just not "hello"as often as it has been in the past... Until next time!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Racket Bar & Pinball Lounge: 1220 N. State St.

I happen to LOVE falafel. It's one of my favorite things. I guess, tracing this back a little further, my love of falafel is connected to my love of the wonderful, versatile, amazing chickpea. But that should be the subject of another blog post...

Today, I am going to talk about falafel. Or rather, my favorite falafel in Bellingham, which can be found at The Racket.

I had a conversation with someone just the other day about what makes good falafel good--what are the qualities of it when it is cooked right? Crispy on the outside but soft and tasty on the inside, green in the middle, just the right amount of parsley, seasoning, etc.

I was thinking about this on Friday because I had asserted during that conversation that The Racket's falafel had all of these attributes. Which then made me want to go back to The Racket and eat it again, just to make sure I was right in my recollection. So I did. And I was.

In terms of falafel pitas, I am partial to the "No-Frills" version, which is naturally vegan, but I have also ordered a vegan version of the "Deluxe" before and that is mighty tasty too.  

As for additional food options, if you are vegetarian but not vegan, you can also get a veggie philly made with mushrooms, pepper, onions and cheese. (I have heard good things about the veggie philly from several people, including my husband.) 

And then of course, there is a hummus platter! Which I have not yet tried but intend to soon. 

While I will admit it's my falafel cravings that usually motivate me to go to The Racket, there are other great reasons to  check them out besides the food. The energy of the place is comfortable and easy, and I always feel relaxed and oddly content when I am there. 

The interior of the whole place is awesome. The dining area lounge space is great and, and their bar is fantastic. They make a wonderful gin martini, and then, of course, there are the pinball machines.

If you haven't yet checked out The Racket and you decide to do so after reading this post, drop my a line or leave a comment and let me know what you think. And if anyone affiliated with The Racket happens to stumble upon this write-up, please know how much I appreciate that you guys are so veggie-friendly and that you offer such tasty falafel.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Vegans in (and around!) Bellingham: Stephanie Kountouros

Today's post marks the second profile piece in this new series that features vegans in and around Bellingham. Special thanks to Stephanie for agreeing to be featured!

Stephanie Kountouros is a local activist, journalist and social media/ website person, but her passion is community radio. She's working hard to make KVWV FM a place for all viewpoints, communities and music that have no access to mainstream media. Her public affairs show, "The Hour of the Wolf News," features local news, discussions/debates about ideas, storytellers and tarot readings. Tune in Monday nights at 6pm at to check it out!

Being vegan in (and around!) Bellingham of course means there is a connection to this wonderful city we all love so much. When I asked Stephanie to share her favorite things about Bellingham, she responded with an answer I think many of us share.

"Rainy, temperate weather helps create our incredible, lush greenery. I love it! I love cloudy days and blue-grey water. I love that Bellingham is large enough to have some cultural stuff going on but small enough to run into everyone you know at Co-op."

It seems like these days I am meeting more vegans than ever, which is something that makes me very happy. Being able to connect online can create opportunities for all of us to get to know each other a little more. Stephanie also noted this and pointed out other places online where she has been able to meet vegans.

"It's great that vegans are popping up all over the Bellingham internet and getting social! So glad for Vegan in Bellingham! There's also a Go Vegan! NW WA Facebook page, and an increasing number of vegans posting in Reddit's r/Bellingham."

In keeping with her activism and journalism work, it makes sense that Stephanie's personal interests would include conversation and communication. She also likes to play board games that make people laugh, like Cranium.

"I love talking about interesting ideas and concepts -- all the stuff that's not fit for polite company, like religion, politics," explained Stephanie."I love singing, whether around the living room or at a karaoke bar."

In addition to a love of delicious food, another thing many vegans I have talked to have in common is that being vegan makes them feel good because it helps contribute to their personal sense of well-being. I know this is true in my case, and I love it when people realize that the choice to be vegan is not about deprivation, but quite the opposite--it's about abundance, freedom, compassion and wonderful, wonderful food!

When I asked Stephanie what is her favorite thing about being vegan, she talked about the satisfaction that comes from feeling her actions are aligned with her ethics, and knowing that she is "part of a movement that can ultimately reduce suffering in the world." In terms of favorite local restaurants and favorite foods, Stephanie noted the ever-popular and very vegan-friendly D'Annas Cafe Italiano.  

"D'Anna's has great vegan options and will veganize their soup and bread if you ask. Jun's on Railroad is incredible, and Jun will happily build amazing vegan sushi rolls that are not on the menu for you." (As a side note, I have not checked out Jun's yet but I look forward to doing so!)

Stephanie also enjoys cooking vegan mushroom stroganoff, which she describes as "incredible and so easy to make!" (Which reminds me, please share your recipe with me if you get the chance!) Other food loves include: "...fried chick'n using Gardein's chick'n scallopini, cashew cream, flour and spices," and she "can also be ecstatic with a gigantic, steamed artichoke and some lemon and Earth Balance to dip it in."

When I asked her to tell me something that she wished people who aren’t vegan understood about veganism, she responded, "That veganism has nothing to do with gluten-free diets. Please, please stop saying 'we have gluten-free' when I ask for vegan menu options. Please." (I agree, this does unfortunately happen pretty often...)

When asked if she could change one thing about Bellingham what would it be, Stephanie echoed the desire for a vegan restaurant. "Just one, but it would be incredible, and serve everything I want."

I, for one, would definitely eat there!