I recently moved from small-town Kentucky to Florida’s Tampa Bay area because of all the great vegan restaurants here. OK, fine, I moved for the beach, but the restaurants are a sweet little bonus. So, two of my PETA colleagues who live nearby decided that we should celebrate with an Ultimate Girls’ Food Weekend. Here are the highlights of our excursion to help you plan your own delicious snowbird’s getaway — eating for your health and your taste buds — down Florida’s Suncoast.
To fuel up for the trip, I met a friend at Loving Hut in Tampa on a Friday night. Loving Hut has more than 200 locations, and I could see why it’s so popular.
My Coconut Delight smoothie was, as the name would suggest, smooth, with a creamy blend of coconut milk, cinnamon, and cocoa, offset with subtle hints of fruit. My Rainbow Sushi arrived, full of crisp carrots and cucumber, and the soy protein had a light, subtle fish flavor. The rolls were a little loose, but the fact that the avocado didn’t overwhelm the rest of the roll (which I find so often in sushi) more than made up for it.
A bite of my friend’s Energy Wrap made me question whether I should have ordered it, too. Freshly sliced tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, avocado, and a touch of cabbage were set off with flavorful hummus and wrapped in a flour tortilla that was soft but not soggy.
Then came my favorite part of every meal: dessert. After one bite of the vegan cheesecake, I was tempted to ask if I could place a bulk order. The taste and texture reminded me of old-fashioned vanilla ice cream but with an understated cheese flavor. So I took home another piece for breakfast. Don’t judge — it was Ultimate Girls’ Food Weekend. Saturday morning, with my windows rolled down and a belly full of cheesecake, I scooted down the highway to collect Jen in St. Petersburg.
We hopped over to the café inside Clearwater’s Nature’s Food Patch store for fresh-squeezed carrot apple juice and an El Burrito Vegetales, a huge whole-wheat tortilla filled with avocado, roasted red onions, spinach, rice, beans, and chipotle Vegenaise. We could easily split one, which was good, since I had eaten my dessert first.
It was sunny and 75 degrees when we got to Heather’s place in Sarasota, a perfect day to visit the beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens before lunch at Simon’s Coffee House.
I can see why locals love Simon’s — friendly ambience and lots of vegan options, including raw lasagne, a BLT with soy bacon, and a reuben panini, which you can order without cheese. The combination of the tempeh, avocado, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing is tangy and flavorful, so there’s no need for cheese anyway. The black-bean soup, which came topped with diced onions and tomatoes, was equally scrumptious.
Although we were crestfallen that Simon’s didn’t have its popular vegan chocolate cake, we perked up when we saw the vegan fudge — dark chocolate and dark chocolate raspberry. Both were decadent and came topped with fresh berries.
Since Sunday was warm and sunny, we headed to Siesta Beach, voted the number one beach in the nation in 2011. I could see why: white sand, blue water, and heavenly sunsets. Plus, it’s close to Taste of Asia, which has vegan options, including pad Thai, a garlic black-pepper stir-fry with tofu, and a veggie and peanut sauce curry that’s aptly named Vegan Amazing. And eating on the deck was a relaxing way to end a day at the beach.
Our weekend was coming to an end, too, and we never even made it to Mi Pueblo for the raw vegan options that Heather raved about.
Jen and I made up for it on the drive home, though. We stopped at Meze 119, a vibrant vegetarian bistro in downtown St. Pete. It serves upscale vegan food without upscale prices: Nearly everything on the menu is less than $10. We tried the roasted acorn squash stuffed with Moroccan couscous, chickpeas, and raisins; the flat-iron “steak” with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and homemade hot sauce; and garlic flatbread. We were too full to attempt dessert, which says a lot. Maybe next time — on Ultimate Girls’ Food Weekend 2!
Michelle Kretzer learned about factory farming while pursuing a degree in Journalism at the University of Kentucky. She immediately stopped eating meat and dedicated herself to the cause of animal rights. When she is not writing for PETA, Michelle enjoys doting on her German shepherd mix, Hannah, traveling, collecting Beatles memorabilia, and finding great cruelty-free shoes and bags.