This is the second installment of the great Summer Trek (Part 1 is here). I realize it’s almost the end of November but summer vacation was really worth the trip, and there were surprises with the dining out experience.
I’ve never been to Houston, home of NASA, the Gulf Coast, and lots of Big Texas friendliness. I wasn’t, however, sure about the dining situation. Our friend lives in a suburb, pretty far away from the cultural centers where we would be able to get a quick vegan eats fix. Once we arrived, we cast about for options.
I had loaded up our food supplies in Austin. I was still traveling with a well-packed cooler that held emergency rations and food I knew the Spouse might want, so eating out wasn’t a desperate thing. It’s just nice to be able to go out and share a nice meal with friends. We settled on an Indian restaurant in the area. Dining company was our friend and her partner, and her pop, a feisty 80-something year old Florida man who really just wanted some macaroni and cheese.
Once at the restaurant, we set about capturing the attention of our waiter who listened to the dietary request and restrictions. After having worked so long in restaurants, I know how chefs treat waiters who bring back the long litany of food allergies and special requests. I could just hear the back of the house. “They want what?” We were not disappointed. The meal for my spouse came out in a timely fashion, full of flavor, spice, and good intentions. It will be hard to doubt the food in that area of Texas again.
We continued our journey to Kansas. We had an uneventful travel through Texas and Oklahoma. Highways and plains ticked by in a flash. We pulled in, unloaded the car, and wound down from the long drive.
We visited the Farmer’s Market in downtown Topeka. It was large and, for the late summer season, still had lots of variety. Late summer vegetables were laid out on the tables, peppers, squash, eggplant (I saw the largest ever eggplant!) were all in attendance. There were crafts vendors and food vendors as well. As we were walking, I smelled the familiar smell of curry. Odd in a farmer’s market in Topeka. We found the stall. Two young men who were attempting to convince the population of Topeka that their food was worth the bite.
I took some samples and had a lively exchange. I started asking if they had vegan food and they got so excited. We ended up going off into cook’s land, speaking a language only cooks know. My spouse stood to the side and watched, like she usually does, while we talked flavors, spices, methods, and taste. Their food was distinctive. We walked away with a lovely cold salad of Bhel Puri, a seasoned puffed rice dish with bits of vegetables added. We carried away some of their food for a later lunch.
The next goal was going out to brunch with just my spouse’s brother, sister, and sister-in-law. Over the years we’ve found a few places in Topeka where we could all dine, and this trip wasn’t any different. We went to Monsoon Grill, an Indian restaurant in full tilt buffet mode.
I was able to wave down the waiter to ask questions. They did not seem to have enough knowledge to know the difference between vegan and non-vegan food. I’m not going to blame them. It’s not like the residents of Topeka have exposure to the regional cooking of India. I asked to speak to the chef. After a lengthy discussion of options, and how much food we desired, the chef ran back to the kitchen, apparently excited to really cook for people, and to cook the food of his home.
Out came five lovely, loaded, fragrant dishes. There were subji’s eggplant, chickpeas, and aromatic white rice. The food had fire and vitality. It was so incredible to be met with enthusiasm with special requests in food. Hopefully, the next time we go back to Topeka, this restaurant will still exist.
Of course, a trip to Kansas includes a ride to Lawrence, which has grown since I first visited. We went up and down Massachusetts Street, but really had no specific plans for food. We finally settled on Minskeys Pizza Café and Bar and sat down to order, eat, and watch the people go by. We had a filling lunch of gluten free pizza and a veggie ball grinder, a concoction made from bulgher wheat and herbs, covered with red sauce and served on a hoagie roll. I would have been happier if the balls were half the size, and had more sauce. They were a bit dry, and I had to ask for more sauce. I was excited to find vegan cheese as an option in the heart of Kansas. We were able to enjoy it on both the pizza and the sandwich. Restaurant service was a bit slow, but when we finally received our food it was still hot and fresh. We weren’t fawned over, which I appreciate, but a refill on our drinks would have been a nice gesture. Overall it was a nice experience, and I would return to their dining establishment just to have a gluten free pizza that is very close to what I make.
I spent the bulk of the time in Kansas cooking, either warming up foods we brought, or making fresh. I took a trip to the brand new Natural Grocers and found fresh, vibrant vegetables to cook into tofu scramble and other dishes for us to eat during our stay. Our hosts, my father-in-law and his wife, always let me cook when we stay with them. I had a lively and interesting discussion on chilies with Frank.
Finally, it was time to say good bye to the heartland of America, and wend our way out of Kansas and into Santa Fe, NM. Once there we again dined at our favorite establishment, Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe, and traveled up to Old Fort Marcy Park, where I shot some stunning panoramic photos and looked up at the very tall cross that memorializes the loss of life during civil strife in the late 1800’s. As I stood on the hill, I could look out over the city of Santa Fe, which was alive with Fiesta, and out to the mountains to the west and north. It is breathtaking country, and a place I hope to call my second home someday.