The VCC is a fun community event that takes place in cities across the nation. The Vegan Chef Challenge started in Sacramento in 2011 by Bethany Davis. The goal for this event is to not only show the community how amazing vegan food is, but to bring the vegan and non-vegan communities together to share in something they both love—amazing food! It’s also a great way to show local restaurants the monetary benefits of offering delicious vegan food on their menus. The competition part is fun for the chefs because it encourages them to push their creativity when creating their menus.See more FAQs here: theveganchefchallenge.com/faqs
You can visit participating Twin Cities restaurants through October 20 to enjoy specials, then go online to vote. Descriptions of each dish are posted on the Twin Cities Vegan Chef Challenge Facebook event page. The challenge is sponsored by Vegan Outreach, and Compassionate Action for Animals is running the Twin Cities challenge. Read on to learn about what I’ve tried so far.
You’ll find Pat’s Tap in south Minneapolis, and it’s not typically vegan-friendly, but I hope they keep the Szechuan Rice Bowl on the menu after the challenge ends. It includes organic brown basmati rice, carrots, daikon, kale, napa cabbage, red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and shiitake mushroom topped with cubed tofu. Minnesota spicy friends, be warned that this is packing some heat. The tofu was my favorite part – I was worried I’d find it too firm, but it was marinated perfectly and just the right texture. My Old Fashioned helped tone it down, and they have some yummy mocktail choices as well.
Tongue In Cheek
Even if you’re not super close to the east side of St Paul, it’s worth the trip to hit up Tongue In Cheek. Their rotating vegan dish is called the Vegasm, and for the challenge they’ve made a sweet corn risotto with grilled shishito peppers, pickled freso chili, mushroom dashi froth, scallions, togarashi, and sesame-leek salad. The flavors and textures are always on point at Tongue In Cheek, and they keep things pretty plant forward. If you’re looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion, I recommend their 5-course tasting menu.
Barley John’s Brewing Company
One thing I love about the challenge is that it’s getting me out to places I haven’t been before. Barley John’s is in New Brighton, and it’s not too far from where I live on the north side of St Paul. The patronage appears to skew older, but I hope the challenge encourages more [millennial-ish] people to pay them a visit because the food is good and the drinks are delicious. They use Daiya cheese and there was just the right amount on my Pizza Laura (how could I not get this??) which also has roasted garlic paste, basil, spinach, roasted tomatoes, portobello mushrooms, grilled red onions, sweet roasted red bell peppers, and other veggies. It was plenty to split between two people.
My Apple Bourbon Shrub cocktail was nice and strong, and I tried their barrel-aged porter which is amazing. At 15.5% ABV, it’s the strongest barrel-aged beer I’ve come across. One challenge special is Thai Basil Cream Pasta with thai basil and coconut cream sauce, roasted eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and onions in black rice noodles topped with black eyed peas and cashews. The mix of textures and flavors was great, but it could have used a bigger punch of flavor – maybe some kind of heat. There’s also the Rosie Wrap with garlic hummus, carrots, tomatoes, greens, jalapeno, roasted red peppers, and tofu. The menu offers pairing suggestions for both dishes, which I appreciate.
Twin Cities 400 Tavern
This restaurant is attached to a Marriott hotel, and my friend and I shared their three vegan options. The Hummus Trio was a little boring in that I didn’t notice much of a difference between the three flavors. Also, they put the pita in the brick oven which made them taste like char so we had to ask for a new order of pita. I loved the Tomato Basil Soup and wished I had asked for a bowl instead of a cup. The Yum Yum Bowl includes avocado, mango, black beans, red bell pepper, jalapeno, quinoa with chipotle-lime vinaigrette. It’s a nice, fresh bowl option. Twin Cities 400 Tavern clearly marks these dishes as vegan.
All three Parkway Pizza locations regularly offer vegan pizzas made with Follow Your Heart cheese (see other Twin Cities pizza options here). Their challenge special is called the V-Card which is topped with basil, green pepper, sauerkraut, red onion, and sausage from The Herbivorous Butcher. I liked it all except for the sauerkraut, and I prefer the Vegavore regardless.
It’s been fun exploring the Twin Cities through the challenge, and I hope this encourages restaurants to continue adding plant based options to their menu. Once you try one of the challenge specials, don’t forget to vote on it! I’m curious to see who will come out on top in the end. What dishes have you tried?