My Milkshake Brings All the Vegans to the Yard

And they’re like,
It’s better than green juice.
Damn right it’s better than pond scum.
I can teach you,
But we have to get takeout.

While I can appreciate a tall glass of savory vegetable juice every now and then, I never got into the juice cleanse craze and still bristle slightly at the suggestion. As the summer heat intensifies along with a powerful thirst, I look to the offerings at local cafes with equal parts lust and skepticism. Whenever I see those emerald brews, freshly pressed, full of verdant vitality, I project my own true desire on that glass: Mint. All I crave on the hottest of days is a creamy, cool, mint chip milkshake. Thus, the swampy melange I end up with is inevitably disappointing, more often tasting of apple than anything else, leafy or otherwise.

Milkshakes are the easiest things to make at home, but real luxury is being able to get them on the town, prefab and instantly gratifying. Besides, if I have ice cream in the freezer, it’s a hard sacrifice to plop a scoop into the blender when I could just eat it straight. When in the bay area, there are a wide range of options to get that satisfying minty-fresh fix.

Elixiria‘s Last Samurai Shake is my gold (or more accurately, green) standard for mint chip milkshakes. Cashew-based and tinted pastel green with a touch of matcha, it’s sweetened with coconut sugar and is infused with peppermint essential oil for a bright, bold flavor. Cacao nibs add crunch, without a ton of chocolate taste, granted, but the texture gets the point across sufficiently. This formula was actually the essential inspiration for my Cashew Milkshakes in Real Food, Really Fast, for anyone else who can’t just pop into the shop.

For a superfood fix, I’m impossibly addicted to Mint Cacao Chip at Urban Remedy. I can rationalize the indulgence because it employs pea protein powder and really does drink like a meal. On busy days when I can’t stop to sit down for a proper lunch, you can bet this is my first choice for refueling. Although it’s not quite the same as what you’ll find in the refrigerated cases, Urban Remedy also offers a homemade solution that approximates the refreshing experience.

Incredibly similar to the previous pick, Project Juice is also slinging a bottled Mint Chip Shake, but ranks ever so slightly lower by employing dates for an earthier sweetness, and quite frankly, not enough of them. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that I’ve snuck in packets of raw sugar on occasion to spike my drink.

Moving on to a no-holds-barred, full-throttle dessert indulgence, Saturn Cafe has you covered. The Thin Mint Milkshake was a limited edition special to coincide with the annual girl scout cookie inundation, but a simpler mint chocolate variation is available all year round. Locally made Double Rainbow non-dairy ice cream provides the thick, rich base, which always exceeds the generous old-fashioned soda fountain glasses, filling much of the metal mixing cup which is provided on the side, as if one mountainous milkshake wasn’t enough. Whipped cream, cookie chunks, and chocolate syrup complete the drinkable dessert. Better yet, Saturn is open late everyday, with a full menu of hot food available, which means you can get my all-time favorite milkshake pairing: French fries, hot, extra crispy, and lavishly salted.

Next Level Burger deserves a shout-out for the effort, but truth be told, this isn’t a blend worthy of a repeat order. Where was the mint? Where were the chips? All I could taste was syrupy sweetness; not even a modest hint of vanilla came to the fore. It’s cool and refreshing, fine pairing for a burger, but you’re better off opting for a different, stronger flavor.

Finally, one more runner up to add to the list is CREAM, with multiple locations scattered across the bay area. Vegan options are limited to just two soy-based ice creams, but as luck would have it, one is the illustrious mint chocolate chip of my dreams. Milkshakes are available, and I’ve been promised there’s non-dairy milk behind the bar as well, although that’s as far as my inquires have gone. Let’s be honest: When you’re offered chocolate fudge cookies and rainbow glitter sprinkles as garnishes, what rational person could really order otherwise?

Plenty of other competent milkshake makers are blending up the goods on a daily basis across the bay, but no one else seems to have a minty melange on the regular. Given such superlative options already, it’s hard to branch out beyond this crave-worthy sip, but do tell- What’s your favorite milkshake flavor, and more importantly, does it bring all the vegans to the yard, too?

Advertisements

Rolling in Doughnuts

Health food seekers and whole food eaters: avert your eyes. For the rest of us, there’s more to veganism than oil-free, salt-free, sugar-free kale salads, to the relief and rejoicing of foodies everywhere. You can bake a cake in the shape of a ring to make a mighty tasty dessert, as I’ve also done without shame, but the fact of the matter is that it will never be a doughnut.

Deep fried to a golden brown, grease-less finish, the sheen of warm icing moments away from fully solidifying, nothing can match the pure bliss of that first bite. A true, top-notch doughnut is a rare delicacy, and not just for the indulgence it represents. There’s only so often that one can justify the mess and potential safety hazard of a giant pot of bubbling oil on the stove, and then there’s the trouble of what to do with a batch of a dozen doughnuts or more. They don’t keep beyond a day, so unless you’ve got a party of pastry-lovers coming over, your efforts are doomed to go largely uneaten.

Vegan Donut Gelato is here to help. It’s the kind of shop that seems too good to be true, which undoubtedly was a factor in deciding on such a straight-forward, unpretentious name. Yes, it’s all vegan and yes, they’ve got all your sweet cravings covered. The classics are present of course, simple glazed and sprinkled little numbers that live up to the highest standards of childhood nostalgia, to more inventive flavors like matcha, blueberry, maple “bacon,” or cookies and cream. Don’t get me started on the apple fritters, which are the size of a dinner plate and loaded with soft, spiced apple chunks.

It’s hard to restrain yourself from ordering one of everything, especially because they really are cheaper by the dozen. Besides, when was the last time you had a bear claw? Or a maple bar? Or a Boston cream doughnut? Further complicating the final order is the incredibly kind owner, always at the counter, who’s liable to throw in a free doughnut hole or two to reward such enthusiasm.

Though it’s impossible to resist the colorful magnetism of the front display, don’t gloss over the other half of the shop’s name. Soy-based gelato is made in house with rotating seasonal flavors, offered by the scoop or wedged into an outrageous doughnut sandwich assembly. I can only speak for the eggnog flavor which is of course long gone at this point, but I truly hope it makes an early come back. The flawlessly smooth, creamy texture is better than almost all prepacked options scooped out of a carton, and possibly one of the best in the bay. It may get overshadowed by the deep fried delights, but you won’t regret topping off your treats with an extra frozen spoonful… Well, unless you’ve already eaten your weight in cinnamon twists. Not that I’d know anything about that.

Vegan Donut Gelato
411 E 18th St
Ste B
Oakland, CA 94606

I Like Ike’s

It’s not fine cuisine, but then, when can you ever say as much about the humble sandwich? Even at its most ambitious heights, fully stacked with the utmost care, it’s still a bread-bound vehicle for gooey, drippy, sloppy savories that otherwise defy handheld consumption. Sometimes it feels silly to order a sandwich when eating out, for the simplicity of this basic premise, but certain eateries do it right. Ike’s has been a bay area cult classic for many years, winning advocates of both carnivorous creations and meatless monsters. Offering a generous selection of vegan options, with endless opportunities for customization, it’s hard to resist the lure of this diverse selection when passing by one of the numerous outposts. Dozens, if not hundreds, of combinations are possible, even if not listed on local menus. After a few birthday freebies and random indulgences, I do have a few recommendations to make.

First of all, across the board, ALWAYS ask for dutch crunch bread. No excuses, no questions; Nothing else will suffice. Ask for pickles on the side to prevent a briny blowout. Specify “vegan” even when ordering something with “vegan” in the title, because not everyone gets the message behind the counter. Beyond that, as a general rule for life in general, add avocado whenever possible.

Sometimes I’m a Vegetarian: Grilled mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, pesto, and cheese.

Tom Brady: Avocado, cheddar, garlic and herb sauce, mushrooms, vegan breaded chicken.

Meatless Mike: Marinara, pepper jack, vegan meatballs.

XXX-Tina: Vegan breaded chicken, buffalo wing sauce, cheese.

Zenobia (SF Exclusive): Sriracha, hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, vegan steak.

For a place where the stated goal is to “make sandwiches as unique as the individual ordering,” Ike’s stays true to that mission, from top to bottom bun.

Fountain of Youth

In a business as ruthless and cut-throat as the restaurant industry, it’s a well known fact that few fledgling establishments survive beyond a single year. Such depressing statistics are far from shocking when you consider the cost of rent, rising prices for food, and aggressive competition on all sides. That makes the longevity of a place like St. Francis Fountain truly remarkable, speaking volumes of the menu, of course, but also the fiercely loyal following it’s created over the past one hundred years in operation. Yes indeed, first opened in 1918, this little slice of Americana has beaten the odds for a century, with no signs of fading away.

It’s the kind of place where some things never change. Wooden booths where young lovers and families of many generations alike convene over classic breakfast fare, no matter the time of day. Nostalgic signage lines the walls, bearing such endearing statements like “we’re glad you’re here” that you can’t help but believe their genuine sincerity. The relentless march of time is evident in the menu, however. The option to have a milkshake made with soy gelato, or scramble platter swapping eggs for tofu, was probably not part of the original plan.

While it’s true, you will find toast in ample supply here, it’s a far cry from the $9 avocado creations assembled for Instagram notoriety; rather, they’re the default side dish to all savory entrees, toasted dry, with a side of vegan butter on the side for all who wish to remain dairy-free. Sourdough seems mandatory for such a classic San Francisco institution, no matter the pairing. In this case, roughly crumbled chunks of tofu slathered in a mild ranchero sauce will cure what ails you, sauteed with as many (or as few) vegetables as your heart desires, scrambled to taste.

Best known for a quirky dish that’s offered as a side but eats like a full meal, the “Nebulous Potato Thing” defies definition, which is part of the appeal. A mountainous pile of hash browns, crisped on the outside, tender and buttery on the inside, arrive at the table like a gustatory challenge. Even the half portion is immense, enough to satiate any reasonable eater for a full day. Spicy pico de gallo is crowned with a generous dollop of creamy guacamole for the vegan version at no extra charge. In this day and age when just the green fruit alone can command sky-high prices, this just may be the bargain of the century.

Like any greasy spoon worth its griddle, pancakes flip onto plates in a diverse palate of fruit flavors. Banana walnut is a real winner, yielding large chunks of toasted nuts and sweet banana in every forkful. Granted, the syrup isn’t pure maple, but it suits the venue for its no-frills, unpretentious sensibility.

Though not explicitly stated, the chocolate egg cream, arguably one of the greatest obscure soda fountain staples, can still get its fizz on with a quick soymilk swap. This may be the only place in the city, if not the entire west coast, willing to serve up this slice of childhood sweetness for alternative eaters. Even if you wake up late, don’t sleep on this option.

Limited hours preclude it from being the late-night haunt of many stoners’ dreams, but every morning, seven days a week, St. Francis Fountain consistently delivers the hits to soothe the hungover and the heartbroken, to feed the community, body and soul.

It’s hard to say what might be coming out of the kitchen in another hundred years from now, but based on its track record, I’d sure like to think that it will be hot, comforting, and easily veganized.

St. Francis Fountain
2801 24th St.
San Francisco, CA 94110