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Feature Tue Jul 10 2007
This week's feature is the first in series of a collaboration between Chicago Public Radio's Eight Forty-Eight and Gapers Block to bring readers and listeners stories about food. You can listen to the 848 piece on the Veggie Bike and Dine
While you're vegging out on your couch this Saturday, 50 bicyclists will be literally vegging out on meatless foods at the fourth annual Veggie Bike and Dine. If you're not lucky enough to be participating this year, don't fret. Ironically enough, Drive-Thru has the inside scoop on just where to find vegan and vegetarian fare while biking through Historic Pullman.
Our very own Drive-Thru contributor and co-founder of the Veggie Bike and Dine, Chris Brunn, and accomplice Arline Welty of the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation are both kind of the Sherlock Holmes of vegan food finding. They act on "hot tips" and clues that lead them to unlikely locations such as Pit-Stop BBQ at 65 W. 103rd St. Pit-Stop is a car-themed spot featuring a giant hog outside who raps about meat. "The meat is so tender you don't need teeth," the hog proclaims.
It turns out that on a menu that features standard barbecue fare, such as pulled pork and ribs, seitan sandwiches also make an appearance. Welty explains, "It just turned out that the owners were at a trade show, they were checking out all this different food, and they tried the seitan sub. And they told us, 'it just tasted normal' So they decided to carry it."
The first stop on the route, Black Wok, has an easy-to-use menu, where diners pick different veggies, proteins and sauces for a chef to prepare in the style of Mongolian barbecue.
Welty says that Bartel Keithly, the owner of the restaurant, sees his restaurant as another way to give back to his community, by "helping folks have fast food that's good and sustainable and sensible, and for the most part, vegetarian."
About an hour or so after partaking in Chinese, Szechuan and Mongolian-inspired fare, the riders will end up at Yassa, a Nigerian/Senegalese restaurant named after a dish of the same name. I was concerned when I looked at the menu which features options that focus on fish, lamb and chicken, but Brunn assured me. He took my menu, which doubles as a place mat, and in all sincerity said, "Here's a small corner of the menu that highlights the amazing vegetarian options here. Cous cous, vermicelli, plantain, French fries and cabbage rice."
When Madieye Gueye, owner of Yassa, came out with plates crowded with the tasty parcels, I was convinced. He even prepared meatless Nem for us, an appetizer that looks like a skinnier version of an egg roll. But it's the juice at Yassa takes the prize as far as vegan food goes. While I enjoyed the Baobab juice, an somewhat slushy drink flavored with milk and honey (and obviously not vegan), I fell hard for the Bissap juice or "sorrel," a refreshing, energizing beverage made from the hibiscus flower. It's sweet but also a little spicy, humming with an aftertaste of citrusy cardamom.
The last restaurant stop on the ride is the ever-popular Soul Vegetarian East at Greater Grand Crossing, which offers soul food done up vegan-style. Participants will find the casual spot and welcoming atmosphere a fine way to end their adventure.
While the ride is sold out for this year, visit Chicagoland Bicycle Federation or Earth Save Chicago where you can learn how to plan your own mini Veggie Bike and Dine, find out about past years' rides and get on a mailing list so as not to miss the sign up times for next year.