A vegan week in New York

An English vegan man in New York.

Will you two be ok for food over there?

That’s all we heard as my partner and I prepared to fly to New York. Let’s face it, it’s a fairly reasonable question when flying to America – the home of fast food, obesity and ‘fries with that.’ Of course, this is 2017 – the year of the vegan in the Chinese calendar (look it up) and New York was more than ready for us!

Airport and plane food

We fly early on a Sunday morning, rucksacks full of Starburst and Skittles for the journey. First stop: Birmingham Airport Wetherspoons, of course, and an impressive pile up of beans on toast for breakfast accompanied by the customary pint of lager (Bud Light to get us in the spirit). Kudos to Wetherspoons and off we go!

Food on the plane goes well; a pre-ordered vegan meal which could’ve been anything from an apple to burger and fries showed itself as balsamic roasted vegetables and rice – very good. We land around 12:00 on a sunny Sunday morning into Newark, NJ.

New York, New York, the land of opportunity grins at us from across the Hudson River as we collect our bags and are on our way. Bags deposited at the hotel, we venture out to the grocery store to furnish our apartment with food and drinks to keep us ticking over whilst we’re out of the restaurants – or to save us if America really is that meat mad!

Supermarket sweep

Food Emporium seems the best bet, only two blocks away and promising all the things you’d expect from a supermarket. It seems small, only a single sign and doorway allowing us in from 42nd Street. The in door of the store is lined with potato chips – tick! Get in the bag. Next up is deli meats and cheese, oh joy! But then, like a mirage in a hot desert, a WHOLE CHILLER dedicated to various ‘meats and cheeses’ from such wonderful brands as Follow Your Heart and Tofurky! We continue on and bag up some water, juice and soy milk along with hummus, cereals, bread and more potato chips.

Ellen’s Stardust Diner

A bit of sightseeing later and we are ready for dinner on day one. What better way to perk up a bit of jet lag than Ellen’s Stardust Diner! Highly recommended for anyone who loves diners, musk, show tunes, fabulousness or anything for that matter. The menu states ‘vegan options’ so we go with excitement. We go for our usual tactic of getting two of the options and splitting so we order the vegetable pasta and the veggie burger with crisscross fries. The pasta is garlicky, tomatoey and gorgeous, packed with veggies like asparagus, tomatoes and peppers. The burger was big! A soft, doughy patty with lettuce and onion. The crisscross fries were what I’m led to believe is the American dream. SUCCESS!

Day 2 – bread galore

Using the provisions we got from the Food Emporium, we make a sandwich with ‘chips’ to take on the road with us and off to Liberty Island we go! The sandwich consists of FYH American cheese slices and Tofurky Italian sausage slices: very tasty! Now, it would seem prudent to pack a sandwich because, as previously discussed, America on the face of it could be a tricky place to get a vegan lunch. This is not the case and we were merely looking out for our wallets!

After an exhausting day around the sights of New York we turn up at the hotel looking like shadows of ourselves, so there was only one thing for it. A quick google search returns 6(!) pizza joints offering vegan cheeses on their menus. We picked the closest, which also happened to be next to a great bar! 2 Boots Pizza is rated as ‘one of 18 pizza joints you should try before you die’ by Buzzfeed. So, try before we die is just what we did and we returned home with a HUMONGOUS pie loaded with vegan cheese, olives, onions and mushrooms. One stereotype fulfilled: massive portions. It was delicious! American pizza dream realised!

Day 3 – missed reservations and happy stomachs

Up and at ’em early for a walk to Grand Central to see the city that never sleeps. An early morning walk reveals the cast of New York street vendors out to deliver the coffee and bagels to the locals as they breeze past, brandishing a couple of dollars as they go. As a visitor, I have the luxury of time to step back and appreciate the romance of such an impressive array of baked and fresh goods available from a cart no more than 2 meters square in area.

A hastily produced handwritten sign tells me that the headline act at my street corner cart (W39th Street and 8th Avenue) is the PEANUT BUTTER BAGEL! For just $1. Hand in pocket and dollar produced, I’m off into the world and looking like a local. Now, I can’t overstate the beauty of this bagel. It was like peanut butter on a bagel in this country, but, you know… better? BARGAIN.

Broadway tickets are booked for the evening and, with a quick turn around in the hotel, there’s just time for a stop off at Maoz, a falafel, hummus and pitta chain adjacent to the theatre. (n.b. we had a reservation at John’s at Times Square which we didn’t make in time – these guys looked to have a great array of vegan options.)

Day 4 – An ode to Olive Garden

Up and at ’em again via my new friend the Peanut Butter Bagel guy and on to Central Park! This is where I glimpse my first Whole Foods Market! Previously just something I have heard on sitcoms used to poke fun at hippies and ‘the gluten-free’ but now a reality and a palace of vegan goodies, but more on that later! After a lengthy cycle around Central Park we retire to the room to freshen up and then make way to the Olive Garden: again something I’m familiar with thanks to The Big Bang Theory.
Anyone lucky enough to have visited the Olive Garden in the US will attest to the fact that it is an unbelievable place to have a meal. I’m sure it’s just like any old British food serving pub to the Americans but to us as visitors it’s a delicious window in to American life.  The lunch menu breaks it to you that there are options, much like Harvester in the UK. Option one – UNLIMITED SOUP, SALAD AND BREAD STICKS! Say no more!

Minestrone soup, salad (sans. Croutons and dressing) and breadsticks, which turned out to be 6 inch bread covered in soy based garlic spread! Heavenly. The salad contained chilli peppers, lettuce, onions, olives and all other kinds of loveliness. Option two was make your own pasta: pick a pasta and a sauce and off you pop. We had the rigatoni and marinara and split the loot.

Day 5 – Boozy tours and more pie

Still full from the Olive Garden we marched on into Day 5. Peanut butter bagel, sandwich for lunch and over to Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Brewery tour! We heard a bit about their corporate social responsibility in using only recycled materials in their plastic cups etc. and using their spent malt and barley to use as animal feed – kind of amoral balancing act there but I suppose their hearts were in the right place. In the evening, we returned spent from the days activities and resorted to pizza again! Oh well!

This time is was a short walk around the corner to the slice joint on W40th Street and 9th Avenue. 2 Bros Pizza specialise in turning out 99¢ slices of pepperoni, margarita and meat feast pizzas. I approached the counter and asked, cautiously for anything without cheese? I was met with the expected look of puzzlement and doubt, but after some deliberation the verdict was “I’ll make you one but you have to buy the whole pie.” OH SHAME! $14 later I was in bed with a 24″ mushroom and olive pizza. Good night indeed!

Day 6 – vegan sushi and nutty cookies

Day 6 is a walk around town taking in sights like the Flatiron Building, Rockefeller Centre, Radio City Music Hall and Grand Central Station. A quick dash into the terminal and we discovered the Grand Central Market unfortunately displaying a variety of meat and dairy products but, mercifully, a wide range of vegan items including make your own peanut butter, and sushi!

Next stop… Whole Foods! This is like Holland and Barrett on acid! Baked vegan muffins, scones, turnovers and cakes in the convenience section, a salad bar larger than the frozen section in Aldi and a repeat of the chiller full of vegan meat and cheese from Food Emporium. We loaded up with both fresh and packed baked goods and were on our way. Lemon poppy seed muffins, chocolate chip scones and apple turnovers to name but a few!

Our cake tour continued as we shamefully loaded up on a sweet based luncheon of further vegan cake and cookies at By Chloe, the number one rated vegan cafe in New York City according to Yelp, Trip Advisor et al. This was a wonderful experience for all except my partner, who is allergic to nuts (all their bakes are made with almond milk.)

Final day – Booo

We made a last trip to Whole Foods and Olive Garden to once more experience the American dream before flying back across to Blighty with more excellent plane food. This time it was a chickpea curry with rice, sparking an idea in my head that why aren’t all airlines vegan yet? Plane passengers have little choice than to eat whatever you give them and I’m darn sure there are no illnesses which require the consumption of meat during a 7-hour flight? Food for thought.

I’m aware that this account of New York may seem frantic and peppered with convenience foods but, I assure you that this was out of time-based necessity rather than lack of choice. By and large, all of New York’s restaurants will cater for us ‘crazies’ and ‘weirdos’ wonderfully and, in some cases, the cafes, delis and shops are ladened with vegan treats and meat replacement items, not to mention Mike and Ike’s! New York, New York: so good they named it twice!

If you haven’t already hopped on a plane to the Big Apple, then why not read this vegan guide to Berlin to get your travel tastebuds going? 

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