One of the hardest parts of being a new vegan (or even an old seasoned vegan) is trying to keep up with all the new products out there. I must have spent over $50 looking for the "right" vegan cheese my first year being a vegan and I have over 50 vegan/vegetarian cookbooks in my arsenal but not all the recipes are the greatest. I’m the first born so I’m used to being a Guinea Pig and now I’m your Vegan Guinea Pig. So here are my recommendations and critiques. Let me know what you think!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Restaurant Review: The Sprout Mount Pleasant, SC

Here I am, back in South Carolina. Thankfully only for 3 days this time, nowhere near my previous stay of almost 3 years! South Carolina isn’t necessarily vegetarian friendly let alone vegan friendly but here and there are tiny rays of hope in and around the Charleston, SC area. In researching a place to have lunch today I ran across The Sprout ( 627 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mt. Pleasant, SC).

The Sprout is a raw foods take-out restaurant which also doubles as a juice and smoothie bar. The Sprout is tucked in an unassuming shopping center which houses a gym, various sub shops and the usual grocery stores and nail salons. Walking into The Sprout immediately takes you away from all the hustle and bustle of the outer shell of a shopping center and into a place and tranquility. No there’s no incense burning or Enya playing in the background, it’s the people and the food that immediately ground you.

I walked into The Sprout, took one look at the giant boards of smoothie and fresh juice choices and immediately turned to the left to see a large selection of premade raw foods as well as vegan organic wines nestled between growing wheatgrass (surreal, I know). Immediately the woman behind the counter came to help me with my selections out of the towering case of food in front of me. She carefully explained the ins and outs of each dish from the Sun Burgers and Veggie Burgers to the pad Thai, enchiladas, hummus, desserts, nut cheeses and traditional salads. She explained that their menu is all organic and comes from local farms. The menu changes daily based on what is in season and available. She left me to my own devices and as I mulled over all the choices in front of me another gentleman came to see if I had any additional questions. Needless to say, the customer service at The Sprout is exceptional.

Ok, ok, I know you want to know about the food! I tried the enchiladas (made with a spinach “tortilla” wrap, sprouts, ground sun burger, cashew sour cream, carrots and avocado over a bed of fresh baby spinach), cashew cheese, tortilla chips and the lemon brulee. Although the enchiladas tasted nothing like traditional enchiladas they were incredible nonetheless. They tasted fresh, spicy and scrumptious and although you could tell they were raw it didn’t take away from the essence of the dish. The cashew cheese was zesty, creamy and the perfect “cheese” dip. Unfortunately the tortilla chips fell flat. They were crispy to the touch yet, when I began to chew them they turned into a gummy mess that I literally had to scrape off my molars. Later that night in my hotel I finished the cashew cheese off with some celery and carrots. I would recommend trying the flax crackers instead of the tortilla chips if you have the option. I had two choices for dessert, chocolate mouse and lemon brulee, a long time patron of The Sprout recommended the brulee and I had to admit that it looked positively decadent. I cannot explain the orgasm of flavor that went on in my mouth the moment I tasted the lemon brulee! The lemon brulee was sweet, creamy, rich and the crumble “sugar” topping added a light crunch to round off the crème brulee experience. As I began to eat it I kept telling myself “save some for later, save some for later” but before I knew it I was practically licking the inside of the to-go container in my rented mini-van (yes, a mini-van. Another story for another day).

If you happen to be anywhere near the Charleston, SC area the Sprout is worth the trip. Check their website before you go for events such as wine tastings, lecturers, etc.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe Atlanta, GA

Atlanta might not have a fancy vegan mini mall like Portland but we do have Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe (which has the strength of 10 mini malls!)

Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe is a storefront owned by vegans with 100 percent vegan goods so you don't have to go through the infamous label scan for whey, gelatin, albumin and all the other animal derivatives that are hidden deep within the labyrinth of the ingredient list on the back of nearly everything you buy.

What makes Cosmo's truly special is that they offer many items that are usually only available online. This probably has something to do with the fact that they also have a virtual store front online that carries nearly everything in the store. So if you're not in Atlanta check out

I have a routine when I enter the store. Say hi to Leigh (one of the owners) who is usually at the register when I walk in, then walk straight back and to the right to the freezer and refrigerated foods section. There you will find vegan twinkies, fauxtess cupcakes, vegan donuts in multiple flavors, pizza, vegan orange chicken and even vegan shrimp! Their refrigerator holds all the reigning crown jewels of vegan cheese: sheese (block cheese and cream cheese), cheezly (in white cheddar and mozzarella) and the brand new mozzarella teese (reviews on teese coming soon). As you are checking out you'll also see a little table of baked goods courtesy of Atlanta's own Dulce Vegan bakers. Their cinnamon rolls and cupcakes are to die for but that's a topic that is worthy of its own post so more on Dulce Vegan later.

If you're an avid reader of this blog then you know that cheezly and I are entrenched in a torrid love affair that has no signs of stopping anytime soon. Cosmo's has cemented this bond by adding two new flavors of cheezly to their arsenal, cheddar with "bacon" and garlic and herb. To my knowledge Cosmo's will be the only one in the U.S. who currently carries these new flavors.

As much as I love food, Cosmos isn't just a one trick pony. They carry clothing (usually in the form of vegan t-shirts), mens and womens footwear, purses, bags, wallets, vegan inspired dishes, cat food, dog food, supplements, books, cookbooks, and a variety of other health and beauty products. They even carry vegan lube and condoms.

What I really love the most about cosmos is its "mom and pop" feel. Its not a big corporate giant with some wizard behind the curtain calling all the shots. Its a husband and wife team bringing vegan into the mainstream. If you're looking around Cosmo's and notice that they don't carry something you want, just ask and they will be happy to stock it for you. I requested they order one of my favorite natural deodorant's from them and they had it in stock within two days.
Before you head to whole foods, or Publix or even Sevananda I encourage you to start your shopping at Cosmo's you'll most likely find that (outside of fresh fruits and vegetables) you won't need to go anywhere else.
UPDATE: As of April 1, 2009 Cosmo's Vegan Shoppe has moved. They are now located at 200 North Cobb Parkway, Building 100 Suite 126, Marietta, GA 30062. If you live in our around the Atlanta area you can still stop by and shop at their new hours of Monday-Friday 12-4 and Saturday 12-6.
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