Day 127: Looking For A City’s Secrets? Follow the Coffee

On Day 127 of the Nowhere To Be Project coffee was on my mind. I am NOT a Starbucks person. I am certain the Starbuck’s fans are now hurling spit balls at the screen, but hear me out. You could be in any Starbucks in the world and it would look, feel, smell and taste the same. I know some people love that type of predictability hence the popularity of worldwide chains. I, however, cannot stand it. In my mind, there is no place better for connecting with a culture than the local independent coffee shop, whether it be in Paris, Vienna or Vail, Colorado.

There are a few independent coffee shops in the Vail Valley. Yeti’s Grind has a cozy location in Vail Village, and another in Eagle. It offers mostly standard brews and a limited snack-type menu. My favorite thing about Yeti’s Grind is their local feel and adorable branded merchandise.

The Bookworm Cafe is located in Edwards, housed within a popular bookstore. They share the local vibe of Yeti’s Grind, but add a kitcheny feel to it. In other words, sipping coffee here makes one feel as if they’re in a friend’s kitchen. The Bookworm Cafe has good coffee, but amazing soups! This makes their monthly soup subscription popular with locals.

My new favorite coffee shop is actually more of a market. Hovey & Harrison is a relative newcomer in the Vail Valley with just over one year of business under their belts. I would describe their bright and open space as industrial farmhouse. It includes a market section with fresh fruits and vegetables, a space for prepared meals and spices to go, and a bakery/cafe. The cafe offers an interesting and thoughtful menu chock full of unique coffees, teas, beers and wines. I am happy to share that I enjoyed the best latte of my life at Hovey & Harrison. The drink was a ginger-turmeric latte and it was fabulous beyond words with a smooth, mild and ever so slightly spicy taste. I would have liked it even more if the almond milk used to create it was unsweetened. That leads me to the only bit of advice I might offer the pros at my new favorite, please add a non-sweetened plant milk to the list of options for those who, like me, try to limit sugar in their diets.

Ginger Turmeric Latte
Local produce at Hovey & Harrison

Day 126: Coming Home to the Alps at Almresi, Vail

On day 126 of the Nowhere To Be Project I lunched at one my favorite emerging restaurants in Vail, Almresi. It has not been around as long as the old standards La Tour and Sweet Basil, but what it lacks in age it more than makes up for in passion. Stepping into Almresi always makes me feel as if I’ve dropped in on a dear friend in the Swiss Alps. The ambiance is solidly European with no detail overlooked. Every corner of this beautiful space is pleasing to the eye and spirit, from the etched crystal stemware to the lovely family style booths to the all-season outdoor dining deck. The superbly trained staff hail from Austria and Germany and dress in the most beautiful Dirndl and Lederhosen, adding to the authenticity at Almresi.

I have visited the restaurant many times over the past year and a half and have never been disappointed. The food is unique, fresh and delicious, and the staff is always willing to make accommodations to satisfy my vegan diet. For example, today I had a fig and arugula tarte flambé. The dish is typically prepared with goat cheese, but I was able to substitute that with a yummy balsamic reduction. It was outstanding and rivaled any I’ve enjoyed in the Alsace region. The bar is fabulous as well (hello gluhwein!), especially as an après ski option.

Almresi is always at the top of my list when entertaining out of town guests and I love the space so much that I would consider hosting a private gathering there as well. If you’re looking for a one-of-kind dining experience in Vail, head to Almresi. If you’re short on time you can grab a yummy baked good or pretzel at their adorable outdoor Resi-To-Go counter.

As always, I share my personal, unbiased experiences and am never compensated in any way, shape or form.

Day 125: I Did Not Inhale in Eagle-Vail

Day 125 of the Nowhere To Be Project brought me to the town of Eagle-Vail. You’ve probably never heard of Eagle-Vail, but it is an astoundingly popular destination for Vail Valley visitors and locals alike. It is just a few short miles from the resort areas of Vail and Beaver Creek and yet appears as if it could be on the other side of the Earth. The town’s popularity isn’t a result of great views or killer ski runs though. Okay, I’ll give you a hint…Eagle-Vail is nicknamed the “green mile”. You guessed it, visitors mainly come to this I-70 adjacent town to legally purchase marijuana because it is the one of the few spots to buy weed in Eagle County.

The main drag in Eagle-Vail is Highway 6 and it is most definitely peppered with pot shops. I am not a marijuana user, but if I was I would compare these establishment to Parisian boutiques in terms of their originality and coveted designs. From chocolates to gummies to plain old ganja, there is something to satisfy each and every doobie brother and sister. From what I’ve been told, the staff in these retail outlets are highly trained thus able to make suggestions for recreational and medicinal use. Not surprisingly, many tourists navigate pot tours much like wine lovers chase the best vineyards throughout Napa Valley.

Not to be a party-pooper, but I come to Eagle-Vail solely for the food. My favorite is Ti Amo, a northern Italian trattoria that serves deliciously homemade and creative dishes (many vegetarian and vegan).

The prices for entrees are about one-third of what you’d pay for a comparable meal in Vail Village making them much tastier! Other notable Eagle-Vail attractions include the Vail Brewing Company and a public golf course. No matter your motivation for visiting, you’ll no doubt find something to satisfy in Eagle-Vail.

Day 122: Don’t Miss Minturn

On Day 122 of the Nowhere To Be Project I took a break from the still crowded sidewalks of Vail to visit the town of Minturn. This tucked away town is just a few miles from Vail, but feels as if it is a world away. I’ve been visiting Minturn for 40+ years and in all that time it has managed to hang on to its rebellious spirit.

If Vail is primped and puckered, Minturn is well-worn and drooling. Minturn has just refused to shake its anti-establishment vibe in the face of the resortization (did I just create a word?) of mountain towns and that most definitely adds to its appeal.

Minturn was established in the late 1800s as a mining and railroad town. The mine and the rails are long gone, but the pioneer spirit remains in the town’s historic buildings, rushing waters and narrow streets. Situated at the confluence of Gore Creek and the Eagle River, restaurants and shops of assorted varieties dot Minturn’s Main Street. On summer Saturdays from 9am until 2pm local artisans, growers and food trucks flood the Minturn Farmer’s Market. The selection rivals other summer markets in the Vail Valley and prices are a tad lower. Simply stated, Minturn is a fun spot to wander for a few hours, especially if you’re looking to give your wallet a break from the highfalutin surrounding ski towns.

Day 102: Another Day, Another Burger…without the Funky Bunch

Several days ago I blogged about Burgerfi’s version of the vegan Beyond Burger. After that post, someone enlightened me about what he described as “the absolute best vegan burger out there”, aptly named the Impossible Burger. That conversation led me to hightail it to Wahlburgers in Orlando, Florida on Day 102 of the Nowhere To Be Project (Waterford Lakes location). This was my first visit to a Wahlburgers and I’ve never seen the show, so wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Unfortunately, neither Marky Mark nor the Funky Bunch was present (yes, I’m that age and I did have the infamous Calvin Klein poster on my wall as a teen) but a very chipper server was. I looked the menu over top to bottom and did not see anything about the Impossible Burger. I finally spotted it when I turned to grab a napkin from the dispenser on the table. It was featured there in full color on an insert. Wahlburgers version includes several non-vegan additions (bun, smoked cheddar, Wahl sauce) though so after a brief consultation on food preparation and ingredients with the server I created the “Nowhere To Be Burger”. This vegan masterpiece took the Impossible Burger to a truly plant-based pinnacle with toasted sourdough (no butter), avocado spread, sautéed mushrooms, chili spiced tomatoes, caramelized onions, pickle, mustard and catsup. With my additions, the price of my burger totaled $14.95, which is a bit high when compared to my son’s regular beef Double Decker which was just $8.95! I threw caution to the wind and went with a side of the sweet potato tots as an accompaniment. My son, a Mac ‘n Cheese aficionado, chose Wahlburgers’ Smoked Bacon version as a side.

After about fifteen minutes of marveling at the sheer number of Wahlberg-centric movie titles plastered throughout the industrial-vibed restaurant, our food arrived hot and fragrant. It was at first bite that my love affair with the Impossible Burger began. It looks, smells and tastes like a traditional beef burger. The mouth feel is absolutely identical. The flavor reminded me of a White Castle burger, delightfully greasy, oniony and mustardy all at once! I am a huge fan of Beyond Burgers, but the burger I ate today is now the king of my plant-based burger-loving heart. It was so authentic that I asked my son if they could have made a mistake and given me a regular beef patty. He assured me that they did not and I greedily gobbled up the remainder of the doppelgänger. The tots were really tasty too with a crisp, very slightly sweet and savory flavor. My son described his burger as “very good” and the mac ‘n cheese as “alright”.

After a quick Google, I learned that the Impossible Burger is not a Wahlburgers creation, but the brainchild of a company created by scientists called Impossible Meats. They are available at select restaurant locations only with no retail options for do-it-yourself patties. There is some laboratory engineering involved in the creation of these vegan marvels, so if you’re sensitive to that you’ll want to check it out fully before indulging. Thankfully, their website indicates that they are working to make them more widely available. Music to my ears!

*As always, I have no affiliation with any of the products or locations I write about and am not compensated in any way.

Day 101: Climbing Mount Dora

I spent day 101 of the Nowhere To Be Project in Mount Dora, Florida. It sits at a whopping 184 feet above sea level which is most definitely considered high altitude in Florida. I’ve been coming to this town for years because is represents one of the last strip-mall free corridors in the state. The charming downtown district is situated adjacent to Lake Dora and was founded in the mid 1800s by Dora Ann Drawdy who arrived there from Georgia in search of the frontier life.

These days you’ll find a scenic scattering of independently owned shoppes and restaurants throughout town. My personal favorites are the Hospice Hope Chest, where all proceeds support palliative care, and Goblin Market, an adorable restaurant with a cool library treehouse vibe. Their menu is not rich with vegan options though (hint, hint to the proprietors), so I’m mostly limited to salad when dining with them since my transition to a plant-based diet. There are many options for lodging as well including several b&bs and a hotel making it a very popular weekend and wedding destination.

It was 93 degrees with full humidity during my visit this afternoon which made the open air design quite stifling, but useful for the loss of a bit of water weight, haha. Mount Dora is a wonderful stop for those who are seeking an authentic taste of old Florida, but I would recommend visiting during winter months unless you’re interested in a nonstop steam bath. Welcome to the swamp sauna that is Central Florida for the better part of nine months each year!

Day 99: Not A CheeseBurger and Not In Paradise

On Day 99 of the Nowhere To Be Project I was craving a burger something fierce. Since shifting to a plant-based diet, Beyond Burgers have been my go to choice when these cravings arise. I tried to purchase some yesterday at Earth Origins Market, but the store was out of them. This is not unusual as the popularity of Beyond Burgers has soared and grocers can’t seem to keep up with the demand. Never fear though, Burgerfi now carries them and I decided to check out their version for the first time today.

The burger as delivered
Minus the non vegan onion ring

Beyond Burgers are prominently featured on the menu board at my local Lake Mary Burgerfi. It is described as plant-based yet their version includes American cheese and mayonnaise, both of which are not plant based. I ordered the burger without those two items at which point the clerk asked if I was vegan. I told him I was and he explained that ordering the burger “vegan” had a special preparation and a wheat bun. I also asked for the burger to be topped with an onion ring. He shouted “vegan beyond” to the crew and rang me up. The associate kindly asked for my patience at that point because evidently the vegan burgers take a bit longer than other burgers.

The burger was delivered to my table about ten minutes later. The staff member who brought it to me asked if I was vegan. When I said “yes,” she explained that the onion ring batter was made with buttermilk. I appreciated her telling me that and wished that the associate who had taken my order had done so because I had paid a $1 upcharge for it bringing the cost of the burger to $10.47!!! Nevertheless, I removed the onion ring and dug in. The burger was tasty, but slightly over cooked. The bun was also a bit brittle which detracted significantly from the taste. Personally, I prefer my homemade version of the Beyond Burger. I pan fry the patty in avocado oil, melt on some Chao cheese and serve it on toasted sourdough bread. Regardless, I am beyond thrilled that Burgerfi has added a plant-based option to its menu. Maybe they’ll take it a step further to create a unique and tasty signature vegan burger, hint, hint…mushrooms, vegan cheese, avocado, special sauce and so on!

Day 69: Not Just Any Sandwich

On Day 69 of the Nowhere To Be Project, I happened upon an amazing new restaurant in Central Florida. Don’t you love when that happens? I was out gathering supplies for our upcoming six week voyage in our RV when my stomach came a calling. I used my Happy Cow app for the first time to find local restaurants offering vegan options. A place called “The Wildflower Co.” popped up as an option just a few miles from where I was. When I pulled into the parking lot, my first thought was, “oh, well, the place must have gone out of business”. I was so bummed! As I was about to exit the small rundown plaza, I spotted a sign that read “Vegan Cafe Around Back”. With that, I parked and headed out back hoping for a yummy feast.

Thankfully, I spotted the “Vegan Cafe Around Back” on the sign just as I was about to leave the plaza!

The facility itself is nondescript to the point that I wasn’t sure if they were open when I entered. I did see someone sitting at a table, so I approached the counter and perused the two-page photocopied menu. Just then, a staff member came from the back to take my order. I was informed that the photocopy represented their brand new menu. I was torn between the ReLoaded Tots and the Shrymp Po’ Boy. I went with the sandwich despite not knowing what soy curls were and was offered a choice between tater tots, potato salad and macaroni and cheese as a side and decided on the latter. I grabbed a seat by the window to wait for it all. While the decor at The Wildflower Co. is very utilitarian and sparse, there was a lovely view of a pond and outside dining area from my hightop table. After about ten minutes, another staff member delivered my meal.

I was shocked by the enormity of the sandwich. It looked and smelled amazing and I couldn’t wait to bite into it. The soft Cuban bread was overflowing with warm crispy chunks of the fried soy curls. The sandwich was dressed with apple slaw, tartar sauce and cranberry sauce. It may sound like a bit of an odd combination, but it was honestly love at first bite. I’m sure I sound hyperbolic, but this was, without any doubt, the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. Let me qualify this by saying that this includes all the sandwiches I’ve ever had, both as a vegan and a non-vegan. I was so enamored by the sandwich that I almost forgot the mac ‘n cheese. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as memorable as the sandwich anyway. It could have been a bit warmer and it generally lacked flavor despite the heavy seasoning (paprika?).

I decided to take half of my sandwich home to share it with my son who ended up absolutely loving it. He is not vegan and usually survives solely on cheeseburgers from Burgerfi. When asked, he said it was “really good” and rated the sandwich as an eight out of ten! I gave it a perfect ten and plan on taking my husband to The Wildflower Co. for dinner tomorrow so that I can try more of their offerings! The only recommendations I might offer to the proprietors would be to get a large chalk board to present their menu (instead of the single photocopied paper one) and to offer freshly made iced teas as an additional beverage option. This place was a lucky find (thanks Happy Cow) that has been placed on my list of favorites in Central Florida!

My son also loved the Shrymp Po’ Boy sandwich!

Day 66: Why Is Food An Afterthought at Disney?

Day 66 of the Nowhere To Be Project marked our third, and final, day at Disney. As natives of Central Florida, we’ve been coming to Disney all our lives. We are always beyond impressed with the cast members, facilities and parks. We just don’t know why Disney cannot pull it together when it comes to dining. Several years ago, we had an amazing meal at Disneyland’s fine dining option, Napa Rose. This was the driving force in our decision to celebrate our son’s 21st birthday at Victoria & Albert’s, Walt Disney World’s most upscale restaurant.

The restaurant itself is located in The Grand Floridian Hotel. The hotel is promoted as the finest option for lodging on Disney property, so it makes sense that Disney’s premier restaurant would be housed there as well. Victoria & Albert’s is located on the second floor overlooking the lovely hotel lobby. Guests are greeted at the door and seated in a time-staggered style to avoid a rush at the entry. We arrived approximately ten minutes prior to our 6:30pm reservation. I had booked the reservation months in advance, first having tried and failed to reserve the popular chef’s table option. The maitre d’ informed us that he would not be able to seat us for twenty minutes and escorted us to the adjacent bar while instructing us to return shortly. We did as he said and returned twenty minutes later with a bar server who said she had to carry our drinks back to the restaurant for us if she wanted to keep her job. We were warmly greeted again and promptly seated.

Our waiter greeted us by name, acknowledged my son’s 21st birthday, and distributed personalized menus to all four of us before explaining the menu. There are two options: seven course or ten course. Within each option, there are several additional choices, some of which require an up-charge (e.g caviar, Kobe beef, etc.). A representative from the restaurant had called several days prior to our visit to gather information on dietary restrictions. At that time, I had indicated that I was vegan, so was given strictly vegan options on my menu. We all chose the seven course option ($185.00 each) and I added the paired wine course ($105.00). This included seven paired samples to accompany each course of my meal (2oz each).

Non Vegan Seven Course Menu
Vegan Menu

The presentation of each course was lovely and the service was solid and refined. While the dishes were a genuine pleasure to gaze upon, they didn’t really ignite our tastebuds. As foodies, we had been looking forward to innovative dishes and explosive flavors. What we got was just okay, nothing any of us would seek out again, and that is beyond tough to swallow when spending $1100.00 to do so! Food at this price point should completely blow you away, shouldn’t it? Furthermore, the facility itself is extremely dated with worn upholstery, tired furnishings and china, and dated restroom facilities.

We’ve had a wonderful time at Disney and really enjoyed the celebration at Victoria & Albert’s despite the disappointing meal. I just can’t figure out why Disney drops the ball with dining. Over the years, I’ve eaten at almost every quick service (in park) option and probably all upscale fine dining venues at Walt Disney World and am consistently underwhelmed. I really wanted to love Victoria & Albert’s, but it simply did not deliver. I guess we can’t expect a company that has set the bar so high for entertainment to do the same for food. Next time I visit, I’ll dine off property.

Day 43: If You Give a Mouse a Vegan

On day 43 of the Nowhere To Be Project I had breakfast at a local restaurant, Northside Kitchen in Avon, Colorado. It is a popular spot in the Vail Valley, particularly with the locals due to the decent food and reasonable prices. My meal was alright, but it was what happened next that has me reeling. As I was calculating the gratuity for my server and signing the check, a mouse dashed through the restaurant and over my feet before holing up underneath a booth. I was so startled by the little critter that I uttered an audible screech. The restaurant was pretty dead at the time and no one really seemed to notice the brouhaha. I sat for a moment pondering my next steps.

Mouse House???

I eventually decided to quietly mention it to my server. After catching her attention, I explained (in a whisper) that a mouse had just scampered through the restaurant. I whispered because I didn’t want to shame the establishment or alarm any of my fellow diners. With a knowing and completely unsurprised look she said, “Oh, yeah. Can I offer you a free doughnut for your trouble?” I had noticed the doughnuts when I came in, mostly because they were sitting out uncovered on the front counter. Needless to say, I declined the doughnut and began wondering how many mice friends might be in the vicinity waiting for their free doughnut.

A Feast Built for a Mouse?

I left feeling conflicted. I mean, mice are nice, but they belong in forests, not in kitchens! I do not want to be the one to report the rodent problem to the health department. Wouldn’t that make me a mouse-killer? At the same time though, the staff at Northside Kitchen clearly know about the issue and yet they continue to operate. Is there a humane way to get rid of rodents? What should I have done? What would you have done???

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