PPK Vegan Food Crawl

Earlier this summer, Jeni, Hector, Nissa and I from the Chicago PPK group decided to do a Vegan Food Crawl!  Jeni and Hector are moving out of Chicago next month, so not only was this a super fun idea for a get-together, it was also an item on Jeni’s Chicago bucket-list.

Logistics

We chose to do our Food Crawl around the Lakeview neighborhood since there were so many Vegan-friendly places in close proximity.  

Since restaurants don’t usually appreciate groups taking up tables without ordering much, we made sure to go in the afternoon when the restaurants wouldn’t be too busy.  Also, to make it easy to divvy up the various restaurant bills, we each contributed $20 at the start of the event.  We didn’t budget ourselves, figuring that if there was change we’d split it, and if we needed more money we could always collect more.  It actually wound up being the perfect amount down to the penny, and I can’t believe how much food I ate for just $20!

1. Dimo’s Pizza

We started out at Dimo’s Pizza, just a block away from Wrigley Field.  I’d never been to Dimo’s before, but now that I’ve tried it, I hope it’s not long till I get to go back – it was FANTASTIC.  Not only do they sell dozens of variations of traditional pizza by the pie and by the slice, Dimo’s sets itself apart by also offering a huge assortment of Vegan Pizzas! – including Macaroni & ‘Cheese’ Pizza, Lasagna Pizza, Buffalo ‘Chicken’, and BBQ ‘Steak’ & Fries versions.

They only sell Vegan Pizzas by the slice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but whole Vegan pizzas are available every day.

It was so hard to decide on which pizza to order, but we settled on the monthly special – the Culture Club with Vegan Bacon, Ranch, and Avocado.  It turned out that they were out of both the Vegan Bacon and the Avocado, but the staff was super friendly and helpful and were able to sub in Vegan Sausage and Guacamole instead.  Hector isn’t a huge fan of Avocado, so we only got the Guacamole on half the pizza.  I was impressed that our somewhat complicated order came out exactly as intended.

I could sum up the pizza in one word: WOW!

The crust was perfection.  The cheese was a light sprinkling of Teese which was juuust right for me (since I find most Vegan cheeses are best in moderation), with most of the flavor on the pie coming from the delicious ranch sauce and the Upton’s sausage – awesome combo!

2. Pick-Me-Up Cafe 

Next on our list was the Pick-Me-Up Cafe, just a block South on Clark St.  

I’m starting to think the menu at Pick-Me-Up is hit-or-miss.  The first time I ate at Pick-Me-Up, I was blown away by their Buffalo Tofu and Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake.  On a later visit, I was unable to stomach more than a few bites of the plastic-y, rubbery BBQ Seitan Pizza.

The food on this visit?  Eh.

My eyes were bigger than my stomach as I talked the group into ordering both the Vegan Jalapeno Poppers and the Vegan Benedict because some in our group had never tasted Poppers or a Benedict before and I absolutely had to change that.  I was disappointed to find that neither item was representative of the traditional version at all.  They weren’t bad, they just weren’t at all what I had in mind.

The poppers were stuffed with an italian-herbed tofu which was pretty tasty, but it didn’t pair well with the jalapenos, nor did it help much in cutting the heat of these super spicy bites.

The Benedict was covered in stir-fried veggies, which covered up the taste of the Hollandaise Sauce entirely.  I love seeing veggies come with my meals, but this tasted much more like a stir-fry entree than a Benedict  and I would have preferred the veggies on the side.  The potatoes it came with were absolutely incredible and we all loved that aspect of this dish.

Lastly, the group also wanted to try the Mac N Cheese.  We ordered the “small” size and couldn’t believe how large the dish was!  We were glad it was big though because this was the best of the three dishes we sampled.  The Teese cheese was super creamy and comforting, though next time I’ll order mine topped with their veggie chili again.

3. Chicago Diner

Next up was a visit to the infamous Chicago Diner.  We didn’t do a good job budgeting our stomach space at our first two stops so I sadly stared at the menu, dying to try some of their new menu items – especially the Pierogi Quesadillas (genius idea!) and the Roasted Vegetable Polenta.  With limited room in our stomachs, though, we knew we had to stay focused in our ordering.  We decided to order only the absolute tastiest item on the menu: MILKSHAKES!

Nissa, Jeni and I split one of their Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Shakes 3 ways (side note: we really really wished they had mini-milkshakes on their menu since splitting it into 3 glasses was very messy!), and Hector (not a fan of Peanut Butter) ordered his own Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Shake.  

Both were delicious and gone in 60 seconds despite how full we were.  If you’ve never ordered their Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Shake, do yourself a favor and get one asap.

4. Native Foods Cafe

By this point, we still had two more stops planned, but we were really slowing down.  We were so full that eating started seeming like a chore (which says a lot considering how much I love food!).  Our next stop was Native Foods. Thankfully, the restaurant was pretty empty at this time of day.  We sat there without ordering, drinking water and enjoying the air conditioning for quite a long time, finally deciding to get just one light appetizer to share.

We settled on their new Island JackFruit Fritters and were so glad we did.  These were delicious.  They reminded me a lot of Crab Cakes and we all loved the dipping sauce they came with too.  Funnily enough, after a little having so much comfort food so far, we were really craving our greens and we devoured every last bit of the lettuce garnish too.

5. Kitchen 17

Last but not least, we went to Kitchen 17, a tiny, cozy Vegan restaurant on a sleepy street just off Broadway.  First things first, it was very hot out the day of our food crawl so I was so excited about the FREE beverages they offer.  Visitors can help themselves to water, lemonade, unsweetened iced tea or (like me) a combination.

After jumping with joy over the lettuce at Native Foods, we knew exactly what to order: SALADS! 

My hands-down favorite item at Kitchen 17 was their Greek Salad which was perfectly dressed & seasoned with generous amounts of Olives.  The Greek Salad normally comes with tofu, but since they were out of tofu, they gave us the Greek Salad for half price.  We also ordered some Cucumber Tomato Salad which was fresh & refreshing, but non-descript.  We still had a few dollars left, so we also decided to order a side dish of Hummus for $3.  I couldn’t believe how much hummus & pita we got for just a couple bucks.

I hope to visit Kitchen 17 again one day with a bigger appetite so that I can try their Shawarma or Philly CheeseSteak!

Overall, it was such a fun day and I loved trying so many restaurants and menu items.  Next time I do a food crawl though, I’m going to order less (though my food crawl history seems to keep repeating itself)!  So many indulgences only proved to remind me how much better I feel when I eat right.

 

While I loved the JackFruit Fritters, the Milkshake, the Mac N Teese, and the Greek Salad my absolute favorite item of the day was the pizza at Dimo’s.  That pizza alone would have been worthy enough of a Vegan meet-up in the city.

[Note: you can also read Jeni’s review of our Food Crawl eats here and here]

I’d love to hear from you!

Have you tried any of these restaurants before?

What places would you include on a Food Crawl of your favorite city?