Growing up in Vermont, most places I considered “vegan” were stereotypical hippie joints – local co-ops bathed in patchouli oil, incense, and Birkenstock footprints. And, while many places in the Green Mountain State still resemble those icons, the vegan scene in Vermont is changing.
On a recent trip home, we pulled our car into a non-descript parking lot in Essex. The property is shared with a nursery/greenhouse. A small sign over a beautiful deck read “Sweet Alchemy Bakery and Cafe.”
From the outside on this chilly Winter day, so far the experience was quintessential Vermont – from the rolling frozen hills in the distance, to the barn-esque design of Sweet Alchemy. Once inside, the warm, sweet smells of a talented baker completed the experience.
I have been complaining about Burlington’s vegan scene for a while now, with only a few places (like Stone Soup) offering anything substantial.
So when I heard about Pingala in the Chace Mills at Winooski, I was really excited to check them out.
Their location is pretty awesome, right on the banks of the Winooski River at the falls. While the idea of a nice outdoor spot sounded nice, the mercury was hovering around 15 degrees. So we elected to sit inside.
There are a few moments in the life of a family that are foundational, concrete changes. These include deaths, births, new jobs, new homes, and moving out. This past week, our clan experienced two of these.
My grandmother, Hilma May Clark, passed away after a long and healthy life of being a beautiful grandmother. I remember picking fresh blueberries in the rainforests of Alaska, and bringing them to her to bake us some Swedish Blueberry Bread. She was the absolute matriarch of our family, and she leaves not a vacancy of loss but a vacancy of just being there. She was a constant person in my life since I was born, even sneaking me behind the bar at the restaurant she worked at to steal me some maraschino cherries when I was a toddler.
As I made travel plans to fly home and support the family with her passing, I also found out my little sister (who was planning on moving to Portland anyway) needed a co-pilot to drive her 1999 Jeep Wrangler from Vermont to Oregon. Everything lined up perfectly, and we left Saturday morning at 9:30.
Saying goodbye to my parents was especially harder this time, as I left with my sister. With my grandmother gone and now Jess, they would truly experience an empty nest for the first time. Maybe it was just a release of the compounded emotions of the week. Either way, tears were flying as we all said our final goodbyes before the trip.
Google Maps was our guiding star, leading us into New York and through the Adirondacks. The snow was beautiful and I was surprised to find us passing through Speculator – the same town I went to summer camp in as a little boy. The town has hardly changed.
A quick stop for coffee in Rochester, NY was not nearly enough to catch up with an old friend. Ryder and I were buddies when growing up and the last time we saw each other we were blowing dust out of Nintendo cartridges. It was great seeing him again, and we look forward to seeing him on the left coast soon.
We then made our way through Pennsylvania and Ohio. The initial plan was to stop off in Cleveland for the night but the area was under a winter storm warning. We could stop and spend the next day in a blizzard, or keep trucking and skip it all. We opted to skip it.
The Jeep continued through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
We did pull of somewhere in Ohio for a couple of hours of “sleep” (the seats can’t recline and the 8 degree temps were far from sleepable).
I did however manage to break my personal best record for longest driving without a break (the 2 hours of sleep is being reviewed by the judges) but I am happy with a 26 hour stretch.
Pulling into Lincoln, Nebraska we decided to take it easy and get out of the Jeep. With a quick visit with family and some delicious local beers, we headed back to the hotel and got a great night’s sleep.
I have been living off a giant bag of pretzels and Clif Bars with the occasional stop at Subway. We did find a Chipotle in Ohio (but with no Sofritas!) Less than optimal, but we hope to make Salt Lake tonight (the US’ #1 vegan city as names by VegNews!) and as we move West the options will open up.
I have noticed the larger truck stops (Loves, Flying J, TA) have a large selection of seeds, nuts, and vegan snacks. They will work in a pinch!
Portland is just like B-Town, except we have mass transit. And more people. And more bikes. And, sadly, much more vegan stuff.
I have been so frustrated when visiting my old mother land, as the vegan options are so, so hard to find.
But there, on the horizon, Stone Soup shines for all the wayward vegans searching for something deelish to eat.
Stone Soup is my personal Mecca when it comes to chowing down in this small city, and on this visit I could not wait to get my grub on.
The ambiance is always warm and inviting. While lunch seating can be a real challenge, later meals offer a lot more room to stretch out. While their menu is not all vegan (they even serve meat), they are VERY accommodating and everything is well marked. The staff is intelligent about veganism and always aims to please.
They have a series of pre-baked goodies from cookies and scones, to muffins and crisps. Most everything has a vegan option, but the selection for us egg and milk free folks is much smaller. Plus, I would LOVE a vegan blueberry muffin here, they always seem to have odd, complex vegan muffin choices.
You have two primary options when it comes to your meal – choose and build you own plate from the hot bar (which seems to always change based on seasonal offerings) or an old time standard from the chalkboard menu behind the counter.
Last time, I built my own plate but the price was pretty steep. As it goes by weight ($10+ per pound) you may want to skip the rice and other staples, and focus on the new and exciting offerings.
When it comes to ordering off the board, I can never afford to deviate from one of the best vegan reubens I have ever had. Their “Seitan Reuben” is made of thinly sliced (and ever so slightly crispy-on-the-edges) seitan that is perfectly seasoned. The vegan cheese offeres a nice creaminess to the whole sammy, but it can get messy. So grab a stack of napkins.
What good is an amazing vegan meal without some dessert? I opted for the Strawberry-peach crisp on this cold 15 degree day. It was warmed in the oven and tasted absolutely brilliant. The oat topping really gives it some heft, as my sister wasn’t able to finish her helping (easy enough for me to lend assistance).
We ended our meal with a cup of coffee and some great conversation.
If in Burlington, be sure to make Stone Soup a stop. Leave yourself enough time to try a bunch of their goodies, and take some for the road. And just maybe they will have a vegan blueberry muffin waiting at the counter.