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Restaurant Wed Mar 21 2007
Veggie Italian Beef from Quench.
Chicagoland Bicycle Federation and EarthSave Chicago are planning this year's Veggie Bike and Dine to celebrate the Pullman district. My co-organizer and friend Arline and I pedaled past expansive lots of bungalows and long lines of row houses, stopping at the some restaurants that we're asking to participate. On 79th Street, Yassa African Restaurant was filled with well-heeled guests watching a dance act via satellite from Senegal. Live music was thumping in this restaurant’s adjoining space. They had it going on; one server told me something like, "You’ve got to because its life." If this visit’s any indication of the liveliness and tasty food to come on this year's Veggie Bike and Dine, it’s going to be amazing. They served us graciously. We drank an amazing juice party, starting with baobab juice. It's smooth, deeply rich and slightly chalky in a creamy way. And it goes down so well I almost didn't realize I'd taken the last of it. Arline understood, "You simply can't be blamed for loving the baobab." The ginger juice might be sharp enough to wake one up in the morning - and was more pleasant before I stirred up the bitterness from the cup's settlement. Last came warm bissap juice - they had been steaming it to get the juice out as we drank the others. As Arline pointed out, it's tart like cranberry and sweet like grape juice. Then, there's the Senegalese cuisine that we didn’t try - like the atieke (yucca) with a tomato, onion and green pepper sauce, the aloco (plantain), and the Senegalese vermicelli with black and red pepper and traditional spices. I can't wait to try these, because, as a server said, "food has to be tasty."
Soul Veg - a vegan institution for proving tasty imitations of items from mac-n-cheese to BBQ roast sandwiches plus comprehensive breakfasts and complete dinners - gave us a tasty and hearty but tender veggie gyro with a thick refreshing sauce. Our protein tidbits felt great as I tore them between my teeth - ever so slightly chewy with a nice tear that gave just the right amount of resistance. A side of BBQ sauce made them nicely tangy. African art hung next to posters of jazz greats Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie.
Quench, a bright orange and yellow walled pick-up joint whose vegetarian Italian beef on whole wheat bread looked just like I remember the non-veg ones: wet and wonderful, like it’d been dipped in its juices. You order at a cutout in the back wall and wait on benches until your food is ready. Chicago Police and other locals rolled in to order while we were there. The "beef" was tender and thinly sliced, mingling with giardiniera that gave it a spicy kick. Even the sandwich's bread was full of flavor from the juices that had been soaking in as we pedalled away with this one to go.
Other possible candidates for this year's Veggie Bike and Dine include Italian Soul, suggested directly from locals, and perhaps a short stop to observe a tapdancing class in the South Shore Cultural Center by MADD Rhythms, an organization in touch with the history and how to "respect the dance."
Which South Side (between 63rd Street Beach and Pullman) vegan-friendly restaurants do you think should be on this ride and why? Leave them as comments to this article. In the meantime, check out the Historic Pullman Foundation.
Veggie Gyro from Soul Veg.
Bissap Juice at Yassa African Restaurant.