Restaurant Review: Next Level Burger [Bend]

When it comes to vegan fast food, us vegans miss out on three key elements of the fast food culture:

1. We don’t camp out weeks in advance of an opening.  And, while I would never be one of the schmucks in a $20 Coleman tent sleeping on a sidewalk outside some vegan Chick-Fil-A, the concept of it is appealing.  I mean, how committed do you need to be to artery-clogging, fat soaked food to actually sleep outside for a week?  That is true, foodie commitment.

Camping in the winter for a week. For fried chicken.

2.  We can’t just have a greasy, bad-for-you burger experience.  Most vegan burgers I have seen are typically some malted oregano-kale infused, carrot fiber burger, promising all kinds of health claims. Sometimes, I just want to eat something bad for me too.

3. We don’t have a vegan fast food mecca that beckons us to make multi-mile journeys off major interstates.   We need a vegan In-and-Out kinda place.

So when I heard there was a new vegan burger joint in Bend, I had a chance to do a little of both.

Next Level Burger’s menu looked like a promising entrant into the “bad for you burger experience.”  I know that sounds like some weird gastro-Disney amusement ride, but I was actually excited.  So, while I could not camp outside for a week, we did the next best thing – brave the Highway 26 Memorial Day traffic for a day trip to Bend, just to check this place out.

A huge menu that even includes breakfast!

I was so excited, I actually drove right by the place and had to turn around.  Next Level Burger is located in a cozy strip-building that also houses a coffee roaster, bar, and a couple other Bend-ish businesses.  The space is airy, and bright, and on the sunny day we arrived the front garage door was open giving it a great light.  The place is immaculate.

A nice spot for a great lunch.

The second thing I noticed were all the nutritional “facts” posted all over the walls.  While I felt this might turn into another malted oregano-kale fused burger experience, I remained positive.

I ordered the Next Level Burger, which is the idyllic burger – basic with lettuce, toms, ketchup, mustard and pickles.  I was surprised, also when my “animal style” comment I joked about was actually something they would do.  So, I naturally ordered it “animal style.” I also chose crinkle fries as a side.

One NLB, animal style!

The burger arrived in a magnificent style, on a tray with liner that reminded me that I might actually be in that “bad for you” burger experience I was after. The burger surely looked the role, and the fries promised some great flavor.  I was not disappointed.

My girlfriend went with the All American burger + grilled onions.

The burger was perfectly cooked, and was a very close meaty analog.  The flavor was excellent, and the ketchup/mustard/secret animal sauce oozed out of every bite.  I needed a bib.  The fries, too were crispy and hot and great.  One thing I was pleasantly surprised about was the soda selection.  I am not a huge soda drinker, but they offer all natural Maine Root, fountain sodas!  The same company that makes one of my favorite root beers also makes orange, lemon lime, cola, and a bunch others!?  Awesome.

They also have a great selection of local beers and ciders.

Awesome, all-natural sodas.

The service here was super friendly, and willing to help me navigate the significant menu.  One thing that really impressed me was that there was no trash can – literally everything on my tray went right into the compost bin.  They have clearly done their homework and got all As.

After licking my fingers clean, I had one final decision to make, and that was what milkshake to order. (**DISCLAIMER:  I did not eat breakfast this day, because I knew I was coming to Next Level Burger…I am usually not such a glutton).  I opted for the cookies and cream with soy milk and a little chocolate sauce.  I was amazing.  I actually could not even finish it, a guilt that remains with me to this day.

Two shakes! Chocolate cookies n cream, and a Banana shake!

With a full belly, a light sunburn, and a huge smile on my face there was only one more epiphany for me to have.  The food here is actually not all that bad for you!  I was happy about that and at the same time, a little confused.  How can something that so well mimics the missing fast food experience of my pre-vegan days also be relatively good for you?  How did NLB pull this off without a menu full of quinoa-kale infused burgers?  The answer is not really all that important, but something to consider.

You can now go to a great place, order great vegan food, and leave without fearing a triple bypass in your near future.  I mean, what is not to love?

One happy vegan!

Just leave your Coleman tent at home, head to Bend, and get some next level shiz.  For realz.

PS: Guess what is even better than this NLB?  How about one right in Portland!?  Looks like they are taking over the Pita Pit on Hawthorne!  Follow ’em on the book of Faces for updates and to give them some love.

Restaurant Review: Gracias Madre [San Francisco]

Vegan mexican food is really nothing special.  I can get an amazing burrito with beans, rice, lettuce and tomatoes (provided the beans are lard free and the rice has no chicken stock).

This guy was all business.

But a fully authentic Mexican vegan experience?  Now that is something awesome.

Gracias Madre is nestled in the heart of the Mission District, in an area that is not as welcoming as one would hope.  But on the day I arrived, there was a break in the typical SF fog, casting rays of light on the exterior of a really cool restaurant.

The exterior of Gracias Madre.

Once inside, the decor is warm, inviting, and accented with Southwestern designs.  While sparce, the mission-style furniture and stonework is something different.

The spacious interior.

I didn’t have a wait at all, and sat the spacious bar where I ordered my meal.

I decided on the Tamal, a delicious homemade “stone ground” masa, steamed in the husk with potato, tomatillo salsa, and onions.  On the side was a hearty portion of black beans and a portion os escabeche. The escabeche was good, but I am a total baby so I avoided the jalapeños and stuck with the others.

The Tamal was a decently sized meal.

While waiting for my meal, I walked around and watched one of the workers pull steaming, fresh tortillas out of a press, and slap them down onto a tray.  This was both amazing vegan food, and an authentic Mexican experience all rolled into one.

Fresh tortillas coming off the press.

After finishing my IPA and dinner, I pulled the trigger on the flan, a decision I enjoyed.  It was authentic flan at its best with a spongy, firm custard-like texture and great flavor.

The flan was great.

Service was brisk and a little unfriendly, but it was a slow time at the bar, and it seemed like everyone had something better to do.

But I don’t come here for a hug.  I come here for great, authentic Mexican food on a pretty solid menu made of local, organic ingredients.

Every time I have been to GM, they have delivered in spades.  Be sure to stop by on your next trip to San Francisco!

Product Install: Coast 1310 Front Driveshaft for JK

With the Jeep sitting on a new suspension of Evo Long Arms and King Coilovers, the time was rapidly approaching for a new driveline.  The immediate priority was the front, which I ordered from Northridge, choosing a 1310 made by Coast.

Install was easy and relatively pain free.  This is for a manual transmission Jeep JK.

The old shaft.

Remove the old OEM driveshaft:

1. I started at the front, using a 15mm wrench to remove the 4 bolts.  Make sure the vehicle is in park, and place the transfer case in 4 LOW.

The driveshaft will hang when done with the front.

2. On the transfer case end, use an 8mm socket to remove the bolts around the driveshaft.  I found it was helpful to remove the ones that were easy to access, then place the transfer case in neutral, rotate the shaft, then reengage 4 LOW.

Remove the rear bolts.

3. Take the shaft out.

4. Using a 1-1/4″ socket, remove the transfer case output flange nut.  A breaker bar comes in handy.

5. To remove the rear flange, I tried the BFH method (Big F$&^%ng Hammer) but it didn’t work.  I ended up prying it off with a large flat screwdriver.

Use a screwdriver to pry the flange off.

6. Remove the front flange nut using a 1-1/8″ socket.  Again, recruit the use of a breaker bar.  Once loose, remove the nut and flange.

7. Remove the rubber o-rings in both flanges and be sure to save the flange nuts!

Install the new  driveshaft:

1.  Install the front flange o-ring into the flange, and install the flange by using the original flange nut (apply red locktite to the nut threads).  Be sure to torque the nut to 160 ft. lbs.

The front flange, installed.

2.  Install the o-ring from the transfer case side (I’ll call it the rear for now) into the new flange.  Install the flange using the original flange nut.  Remember to also apply red locktite to the threads. Torque to 130 ft. lbs.

3. Using a 1/2 inch socket and wrench, install the drive shaft using the 4 bolts in the rear (to the transfer case end).   Again, I found it easier to rotate the shaft after neutral-turning-engaged.

4. To install the front end to the differential flange, I rested it on my knee while putting the u-bolts in place over the u-joint.  I applied red locktite to the threads and got the nuts hand tight and started.  This allowed me to rest my knee and finish tightening the nuts.

5. Do a double check review of all bolts, ensuring everything is seated properly.

That is it!

Before and after.

My Experience with Uber and why it rocks!

I know this post isn’t directly related to Jeeping, or even veganism for that matter (I did have a vegan driver once).  But it is an issue that has been in the Portland-area circles, as the city decides how to “handle” ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.

The first time I used Uber was during a business trip to San Diego.  I took a cab ride from the airport to the hotel, for a whopping $37 (it was like 4 miles).  What is even worse, was the driver’s attitude about accepting my corporate AMEX card (“you don’t have any cash?” he pestered).  As he was grumbling about swiping my card, he didn’t even help me with my bags from the trunk.  As he sped away, I just about swore off taxis.

On the other end of the spectrum, on my return trip to the same airport from the same hotel, the cost was just over $11.  And the courteous driver offered me complimentary water, set the music to whatever I wanted, and was incredibly polite and conversational.

My ride from the hotel to the airport in San Diego.
My ride from the hotel to the airport in San Diego.

This is the very reason I feel Portland City Council is threatened by Uber – their service blows the traditional city-managed taxi services out of the water, and at a fraction of the cost.

But, furthermore I think there is a hesitation to let the common person earn money in an open marketplace with their own property.  Portland City Council defends their ban on Uber (until the recently passed 120 day trial period) with the typical excuses around safety and disability access.  They know, very well that Uber is a disruptor in the market, and that the relatively unchanged century old taxi model just won’t adapt.

For those that have not yet used Uber (I have never used Lyft) it is a fantastic service.  Essentially, if your vehicle and personal background meet certain criteria, you can become a driver.

The mobile app allows riders to pinpoint their location for pickup, and accepts their destination.  The driver can message or call you as he/she approaches to make sure you meet up.  Once in the vehicle, the driver receives your destination, and you set off.

The app is linked with your credit card, so no cash ever exchanges hands.  Gratuities are automatic.  This means you reach your destination and literally just walk away.  It bills you automatically.

The real genius of the system in my opinion is that driver rate riders on a scale of 1-5 stars.  Act like a jerk?  Puke in a car?  Not show up?  These things will downrank you and future drivers can elect to not pick you up.  At the same time, riders can rank drivers.  If a driver’s rank falls below a certain point, Uber will place them on a probationary period, and eventually will terminate their account.

Each and every driver I have had was a very positive experience.  Just today in San Francisco, I chatted about religion and politics with a driver that used to work for the World Bank.  Before, while looking to refinance my house, one of my drivers was a part time mortgage broker, and he gave me some great advice.

All my rides show up in a great interface.
All my rides show up in a great interface.

As a rider, all expenses are saved which means no more lost receipts. It also means a very fast pickup and great service.  As a corporate rider, I know this is a better value for my employer.

I absolutely love Uber and think it is an incredibly powerful way for the marketplace to get a shakeup.  It is just too bad that traditional companies that refuse to adapt must rely on city governments to limit competition in the name of “safety” and “access.”

Recipe: Amazing Vegan French Toast

Even though hints of Spring are here, mornings are a little frosty here in the Pacific Northwest mountains.  And there is nothing like a hearty, vegan french toast to start those lazy Sunday mornings.

I adapted a recipe found here.  There were some great points, like drying the bread in the oven at 350 for 10 mins – this made a HUGE difference!

Ingredients (my adaptations are in parens):

  • 6+ slices whole wheat bread
  • 1 cup light coconut milk (I used 1/2 cup soy creamer and 1/2 cup soy milk)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup (I did not use this)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons flour 
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (I did not use this)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed
  • A few drops of vegetable oil for cooking
  • Maple syrup and/or fruit for serving (I used blueberries)

1: Dry the bread.  Recipe says 200 degrees, I tossed them on a baking sheet at 350 for 10 minutes and it worked great.

2: Mix the batter ingredients – milk, vanilla, flour, cinnamon and flax.  I added a little more flour as I blended the ingredients, to thicken it to taste.

Mix the batter ingredients.

3: Add blueberries to a small pot, fill with water just above the fruit.  Set on high.

4: Toss the dried bread slices into the mix.  I used a flat bottom 9×9 glass casserole dish.

5: In a warm skillet, add the oil and pan cook the french toast, flipping when ready.

6. Cool the blueberry reduction (I also added a packet of Stevia to sweeten it up).

7. Sprinkle some cinnamon on your plate and serve it up!



Should You Buy an Extended Warranty for your Jeep?

I have purchased my fair share of new and used vehicles over the course of my 20 years on the road, and I have been asked by a few people about warranties. So, I figured on this damp Oregon morning, I’d make some espresso and share some thoughts.

1. Consider Your Plans.

If you are buying a commuter car, and you plan on keeping it stock (or mostly stock), a warranty can be a good deal.  This obviously protects you from unplanned breakage on the vehicle, but also as a daily driver, it can save you time and headaches if the dealer can provide a loaner vehicle. It also keeps you from relying on possible other vehicles you own (and perhaps more expensive, like a Jeep) as a daily driver until repairs can be made.

Continue reading Should You Buy an Extended Warranty for your Jeep?

Store Review: Viva La Vegan Grocery [Rancho Cucamonga]

When it comes to vegan grocery stores, Food Fight in Portland is considered my own personal “high water mark.”  They just don’t get any better than that.

So I was really stunned to find a vegan grocery store in California that blew Food Fight out of the proverbial coconut water.

Viva La Vegan is a huge grocery store in an old railroad building nestled among the community of Rancho Cucamonga.  With a ton of open space and great lighting, the store is bright and airy, and very well laid out.

Continue reading Store Review: Viva La Vegan Grocery [Rancho Cucamonga]

Product Install: Bully Dog GT Platinum Tuner

Now that my build is pretty established, with the long arm kit, coil overs, and new 37s I figured it was time to start thinking about ways to save money and improve some trail functionality.

One of the areas I have been interested in was the tuner market.  On a recent visit to 4 Wheel Parts in Portland, I decided to pick up a Bully Dog GT Platinum tuner.  I will write an actual review of this unit after I spend some time with it.

The install had some gotchas, so I thought I’d write a more detailed install, to help others save time.

In the box: the tuner, USB cable (tied in with the HDMI cable), HDMI cable, OBDII adapter, windshield mount, power cable, electronic connectors, and two badges.

Continue reading Product Install: Bully Dog GT Platinum Tuner

Alaska Offroad Warriors – Pick Us!

Hello Original Productions!

You are here because you most likely received my email, asking to be  a part of the next Alaska Offroad Warriors.

Chad navigating the Rubicon.
Chad navigating the Rubicon.

So why us?

  1. There is finally a Jeep that can kick Super Jeeps‘ ass.
  2. I am a pesky vegan, and Chad (my copilot) is a ravenous meat eater.  We banter like none other.
  3. I am an ex-Alaskan, and know the state, and unique hazards of the terrain.
  4. We have a lot of offroad experience – from the Rubicon (twice), Moab (twice), Manastash Ridge in Washington, Jim Creek in Alaska, and many, many other expeditions.
Frank will take on Super Jeep.  Any day of the week.
Frank will take on Super Jeep. Any day of the week.

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