Flat Top Grill and Strawberry Fields, you make me swoon.
Every time you don’t enter to win prizes and give money to Ride to Light, Josh Hooten cries. Wait. How about I will MAKE him cry if you give money? That sounds like it will get more money.
At some point, I realized I have quite a few entries about vegan eats around central Illinois. You know, that part that isn’t Chicago? Down here, guys. Anyway, I made a category just for these posts, so if you find yourself passing through the Land of Lincoln (or Carbondale, which is southern Illinois), and you want to know where you can stop, please check it out!
In July, my friend Felicia had an art show in Champaign-Urbana (Two towns that meet to form a college, and they often share street names so make sure to double-check which town the place you are going is in). It’s only an hour away, but I haven’t been to Champaign in years, and i’ve only gone to attend a show and leave. I knew that they had an awesome health food store, Strawberry Fields (fun fact, Katie from Sweetpea used to work here), so I wanted to make a day of it and see what else they had. The good thing about college towns is that even if they’re not very big, they are usually way more veg*n friendly.
After snatching up Brian’s sister, we went to the show to get all full of culture. The show was called ‘Of Dreams and Fables’, you can see the pictures I took (and all of my other pictures of her work) on Flickr. Felicia is the one who did the art for my zines, and made me this bomb-ass Buffy purse that is still The Best Thing I Will Ever Own. It has the name of every episode painted around the sides!
Okay, onto the food!
Once upon a time, when Brian might’ve been going to school in Champaign, I read about this place called Flat Top Grill that has vegan options. It’s a make-your-own stir-fry place, and I was really excited to finally try it out. When I told Lauri where we were going she said, “Uh, you know there’ a Flat Top right across from my work, where you have visited me 20 times in the last year, right?” Oops! And now I know that they are a Chicago based chain, with locations in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, and one all the way down in Birminghan, Alabama!
- I will tell you straight-up, Flat Top can be scary and confusing the first time. It is usually packed to the gills, but we were there on a Sunday before school had started back up, so it was almost empty and that made it easy for Lauri and the waitress to take my hand and explain everything to me. They give you a big bowl (and a small bowl if you’re getting meat, meat is kept separate), you write your name on a stick so they know who it belongs to, and off you go to the buffet. Afterwards, you can add different colored sticks so they know not to cook it with the meat, to have it made into soup or wraps, to add a small piece of flat bread, etc.
- I got so much more than I expected. Not only did the have seitan, tofu, veet, vegetable pakora (and Quorn for egg eaters), not only are there the color coded sticks, but there is a HUGE chalkboard with every sauce on it, and a ‘V’ for vegan next to most of them. Also, you can mix the sauces any which way you want to make your own flavor.
- This is the perfect place for vegans and non-adventurous omnivores to eat together, since they have so many options. If your uncle wants to eat rice and chicken with bbq sauce and nothing else, he can! You can skip the carbs and load down your bowl with spinach and other fresh veggies, add tofu, and use a fat-free ginger water if you’re trying to be uber-healthy (I don’t think you can stop them from sauteing your food in oil, though). The best part is, the difference between one bowl and unlimited? $1! If you really load your bowl up you probably won’t want two, but I was determined to get two, so I did. Also, loading up on things that cook down a lot, like spinach, means you end up with a lot less cooked food, so you can easily get two, especially if you go in really hungry.
So here are my bowls. Forgive me for the bad lighting, but we were in the back and it was kind of dark.
My first bowl was noodles, veet (I think, mock chicken), zuchini, sweet potato, garlic, spinach, and peanut sauce.
This bowl was rice noodles, seitan (I think), pad thai veggie mix, peppers, tons of garlic, and a sweet basil sauce.
What they have at each location varies. For instance, the one in Bloomington/Normal has tofu as an add-in (with the stick) option instead of ON the buffet. Some places serve breakfast, but I don’t think any of it is vegan.
When we walked into Strawberry Fields (which is in Urbana) I said, “Maybe they have like, A vegan brownie at the cafe.” Oh boy, was I in for a treat! I ordered almost one of everything, but held back because there was so much more in the baked goods case than I could’ve hoped for.
That is Brian’s man-hand, to give you an idea of how big that sucker is! The cupcake wasn’t my favorite, mostly because there was so much really sweet frosting, that I made to give half of it to Lauri.
Bars! Apple crumb, peanut butter chocolate, strawberry shortcake, and a coconut chocolate almond thing of amazingness. Brian and I cut them into 1/4ths and it took us three days to eat them. Now I am really, really hungry!
So that’s that! There is a place called The Red Herring that is vegan (I remember someone took over and tried to add cheese and eggs to the menu, but it looks like they’re back to normal now), but it’s a student run place, so they weren’t open in July.