A Vegan’s Guide to Tampa Bay

‘Vacation’ has been the antithesis of ‘Vegan’ for me. Much as I would like to be 100% vegan, a near-faint experience on a past vacation in quest for vegan food and a faulty gene pool which resulted in me having a queasy stomach since childhood, leave me with little option but to cheat on veganism when on vacations.

But then again- I am an ‘honest cheater‘ [no that is not an oxymoron 🙂 ] Let me explain- lets say a student is taking an exam and finds himself struggling to score the bare minimum marks to pass. And then a friend offers this kid, his entire answer sheet. A cheater will copy word for word from the answer sheet. But an honest cheater will first evaluate the legitimacy do-or-die situation (“Will I have repeat the entire year if I do not pass this exam?”).  And if it is indeed a legit do-or-die situation, he will only cheat the bare minimum to just score the passing mark. I am that honest-cheater when it comes to being vegan on vacation. I only cheat as a last resort, and upon landing at Tampa Airport and finding not a single restaurant that offered anything vegan, I was convinced I would find myself in multiple legit do-or-die situations in Tampa. My husband though had decided to prove me wrong – which he enjoys doing ever so often! ;)- and must I admit, much to my happiness, that he won! 🙂

Let alone restaurants with vegan options, there was at least one vegan-only restaurant in every place we went! We largely stayed in St Petersburg area at Tampa and below are our Top Vegan Eating Options in that part of Tampa:

Paciugo – I have had minor anxiety attacks at spotting vegan desserts, knowing that I will only be able to fit in so much in my tummy, that I wont be able to pack it and stock it in my fridge for those days when my sweet tooth starts acting up irrationally, and the craving becomes so irresistible that I get tempted to do a ‘Phoebe’ on my husband [refer F.R.I.E.N.D.S.] and make him quite dairy for a day so I can have my share of chocolate and no extra animal gets hurt. And for this very reason I shall start with Paciugo, an ice-cream parlor. Set on Beach Drive, this place is a must visit not only for the super yummy ice creams gelatos, but for the lovely vibe and its location which is across the bay. The Dark Chocolate Sorbet here is easily the BEST VEGAN ICE-CREAM we have ever had. How we define ‘best’ is if we can’t tell if its vegan, and with this one you wont have that faint smell of coconut, or that nutty taste of almond, or that bitterness which I thought only dairy could vanquish from a chocolate ice-cream. It was perfect! They of course have other vegan flavors too and they let you mix upto 3 flavors. For non-vegans, don’t miss the Sea Salt Caramel flavor.

Lotus Vegan Restaurant– It was this picture below that made us drive over 15 miles from Tampa River Walk all the way to this  ‘middle-of-nowhere’, no-frills restaurant, barely 15 minutes before closing time. We cursed ourselves as we entered the restaurant- cheap plastic tables and chairs, just one single waiter- not how we intended to spend our last evening at Tampa. But the smile with which the waiter greeted us despite 15 minutes left to closing time made us stay. And it was a wise decision we made. Must I say the food was heavenly! Perfect spice, perfect flavor, large portions, awesome prices. I was recovering from a bout of acidity with some horrid Thai food we had had the previous night at a restaurant where the waiter clearly did not understand the difference between -‘Medium Hot’ (aka flavorful) and ‘Thai Hot’ (aka smoke out of ears and tears in eyes). Despite that I took the risk and ordered the ‘Chow-Mein Noodles’ and the ‘Bun Hue’.The Chow-Mein wheat noodles we SO good- took me back to street vendors in India making roadside indo-chinese chowmein. The Bun Hue which was similar to a spicy Pho was amazing too, complete with fake meat and lots of veggies. I regret not having discovered this restaurant earlier in our trip. But then again, if we had, then I wouldn’t have had enough content to write in this post! 🙂

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Leafy Greens Cafe– I have a thing for non-Thai, non-Mediterranean Vegan restaurants that experiment with food. And this one definitely did. This is a BYOB restaurant and they keep changing their menu to offer new dishes. We tried the Roasted Cauliflower, the Cali Burger and the Lettuce Wrap Tacos. Their burger was delish! As was the Moringa Lavendar Kombucha- I could have had multiple bottles of this one, it was so good! I read a lot of reviews on Yelp praising their Chocolate Pie Dessert, and while it was good, I was a little put off by the significantly strong coconut smell and flavor.

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Vegan Chocolate Pie @ Leafy Greens Cafe

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The Best Kombucha Ever!!

The Cider Press Cafe– One of the more popular vegan cafes in the area, try this one for their ‘The BBP Burger’. It is their unique take on the Beyond Meat burger and is so so good! We also ordered their special limited time Vietnamese menu. The deserts were nothing much to write about. But what we really enjoyed here was the charming location of the restaurant-  right in the heart of Central Avenue- a lovely place to have dinner at when the weather is right.

Mangia Gourmet– Not completely vegan, but plenty of vegan and gluten free options. We tried their White Bean Zucchini burger which was ok. But their Sangria was very unique and their vegan carrot cake was lipsmacking! Apparently even better than the normal carrot cake as per the waiter. I could go back here again and again on for that carrot cake. This restaurant will make you feel as if you are in a rain forest, with the amount of greenery that surrounds their outdoor eating area. Also, the Gulfport area is very cute and charming.

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How cute is Gulfport Beach area! An array of such cute restaurants! Mangia Gourmet was one of them!

St Pete’s Saturday Morning Farmers Market– Put some colors, wine, art and music in a pot, stir it under the warm sun and cool breeze, and season it with lots of adorable pets and some local talent- and you have the recipe for the St Pete’s Saturday Morning Farmer’s Market. Not only did the farmer’s market have multiple Vendors selling vegan food, but also an array of vegan spreads, desserts and what not! Must visit- whether you are vegan or not.

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One of the many Vegan vendors at St Pete’s Saturday morning market

I have been asked many times, never by vegans but always by fellow-earthling eating humans about why I compromise on veganism at times- why the hypocrisy. I have been brought up in a culture where I have been taught that every earthling is born with its own ‘kismet’ <destiny> and ‘karma’ <fate- but I think there really isn’t a proper word in English that justifies the gravity of the work karma>. And that man is supposed to work because an empty mind is devil’s workshop, that bull’s are meant to plough fields to expend their energy, that cows are meant to produce milk, much in abundance of what their calves need. I have been to villages in India where cows are taken care of like children of the household, where the milk is taken from the cow only after the calf has fed enough, where the animals are never sent to slaughter, but kept with the family till they die. I have read about tribes that kill whales in drought, but cry in guilt because they had to take a life to feed an entire village, and ensure that not a single part of the animal goes to waste.

But the human greed evolved at a much rapid pace than humans did. I understand that the lion needs to kill the deer to live, but it does not keep the deer in captivity, torture it with insane machines and hormones, force feed it to increase its weight until its legs crush under it’s body’s weight, snatch its family members away from it and make it suffer throughout its short life by inflicting wounds so deep that the ultimate pain in death is not feared but welcomed by the innocent animal as a getaway from the hell it spent its entire life in. I am against the needless torture we inflict on animals BEFORE killing them, a result of the massive industrialization of the meat and dairy industry, that has been fueled by the growing demand. And which is why I feel that if every human on the planet cut his fellow-earthling consumption by even half, cruelty on earth will decrease manifold. I do my bit by cutting down my consumption, hope you do yours too.

 

 

 

 

 

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