Is Salt Lake City more vegan than we know?
Salt Lake is famous for skiing, the Great Salt Lake, the Mormon Temple and hold on to your tofu vegan dining.
In the March/April issue of VegNews, Utah's capital city was dubbed "The Next Great Vegan City," for the wave of restaurants, food carts, bakeries and general vegan options available for a city our size. Salt Lake City earned the distinction after beating Austin, Texas, in the magazine's first "Vegan City Showdown."
"We were blown away at how vegan friendly it is in Salt Lake," said Colleen Holland, associate publisher of the San Francisco-based magazine. "We weren't expecting it."
In the magazine, now on newsstands, the editors say vegan food options are nothing new. They "literally fall from trees" in coastal cities such as New York City, Portland and Los Angeles. But what's really big news, they said, are the increasing options in unexpected cities, such as Salt Lake City, which is on the "verge of vegan domination."
"San Francisco is a vegan Mecca, but we don't have a single vegan street cart or a vegan bakery," Holland said in a recent telephone interview.
Salt Lake City, however, has two vegan food carts one that sells hot dogs and another that offers Mexican cuisine. There's also two vegan bakeries, Cakewalk Baking Co., famous for its Twinkie-inspired Dillos, and City Cakes & CafÃ©. (See box.)
Plus there are a handful of other restaurants such as Vertical Diner and Omar's Rawtopia that cater to those who have sworn off meat and all animal-based foods (including butter, cheese, eggs and milk) either for ethical or health reasons.
Going mainstream • But vegan options in Salt Lake City are available in more than just the "hardcore" places, Holland said. "Just walking downtown, we saw non-vegetarian restaurants and sandwich shops offering vegan-friendly food."
Salt Lake City also offers a large social network for vegans. The Ching Animal Farm Sanctuary sponsors vegan cooking classes on the fourth Sunday of each month at Sunflower Market. And the social networking group SLC Vegan Drinks meets on the first Friday of every month at the W Lounge. During the potluck, event guests meet like-minded people while bartenders mix vegan cocktails such as rice milk White Russians and organic coconut martinis.
Larayn Clegg, who operates the vegan Mexican cart Union Street Eats and the organizer of Vegan Drinks SLC jumped at the chance to write Salt Lake City's nomination in VegNews. "We are really becoming more focused on local and organic and healthy food," said Clegg, who was raised on a Utah County dairy farm and has been vegan for 20 years. In that time, the city has come a long way to making vegan options available. "For a city our size, we have an amazing selection of vegan delights," she said.
With 225,000 readers, the VegNews article should entice vegans from around the country to plan a vacation to Salt Lake City "simply for the vegan dining alone."
Why SLC? • Some people might be surprised at all the vegan offerings, but not Amanda Rock. She has been writing about vegan food options in Salt Lake City for more than a year on her blog: amanda-eats-slc.blogspot.com. "I wanted to show everyone how much food we have here to eat, even in places that you wouldn't expect," said the 37-year-old who sports a "vegan for life" tattoo on her wrist.
It's not uncommon to find vegan offerings at places where meat and cheese rule, she said. For example, there's a homemade black-bean vegan burger on the menu at Rich's Mighty Fine Burgers, vegan sushi at Sushi Groove and vegan pizza at The Pie Hole. "If you can find vegan food in those kind of places, you know it's big," she said.
Nanette Mathiew had been a cake decorator most of her life when her two sons, both vegans, encouraged her to start her own business.
"They said there was no place to get a professionally decorated cake if you were vegan," said the owner of City Cakes & CafÃ©, which sells vegan baked goods, including cakes, scones, cinnamon rolls and doughnuts. "They were right," she said. "Our first two years have been very successful."
Compassion toward animals is the main reason people choose to eat vegan. But Mathiew said the burgeoning vegan dining scene can be attributed to many other things, from the increasing number of people moving into the state to the large number of outdoor enthusiasts who believe their food choices affect the environment.
Even Utah's conservative nature likely plays a role. "When there's a strong culture, there's a strong counterculture," she said.
Jesse Fruhwirth, who has owned but recently sold the City Dogs vegan cart, agreed. He said faithful members of the Mormon church avoid caffeine and alcohol, despite possible pressure, which requires a special kind of willpower. The seeds for vegan dietary choices, he said, may come from that same "Mormon boldness."
Vegan in the City
Cakewalk Baking Co. • 434 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City; 801-953-0804. Take your cruelty-free sweet tooth here for cream-filled Dillos (think Hostess Twinkies and Ho Hos), cupcakes, soft-serve ice cream and gluten-free goodies.
City Cakes & CafÃ© • 900 S. 282 East, Salt Lake City; 801-359-2239. Vegan muffins, cookies and cupcakes are offered here. Vegan mac and cheese and other lunch foods are also available.
City Dogs • 200 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City; saltcitydogs.com. Vegetarian and vegan hot dogs are the specialty. Currently closed for the season.
The Curryer • 300 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; thecurryerslc.com. Vegetarian and vegan curries served weekdays during lunch hours.
Union Street Eats • 200 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City; slcunionstreet.com. An all-vegan food cart that sells quesadillas, tacos and other Mexican fare.
CafÃ© SuperNatural • 600 S. 700 East, (in Trolley Square), Salt Lake City; 801-363-1000. Quick bites, raw food and blended drinks.
Golden Phoenix • 1084 S. State St., Salt Lake City; 801-539-1122. Now serving the savory meatless Chinese dishes that were available at the now-closed Evergreen CafÃ©.
Omar's Rawtopia • 2148 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City; 801-486-0332. A 100 percent raw restaurant.
Organic Manic • 389 W. 1700 South, Salt Lake City; 385-202-7922. Includes a buffet/salad bar with vegan and raw foods such as a zucchini lasagna.
Sage's CafÃ© • 473 E. 300 South, Salt Lake City; 801-322-3790. Lunch, dinner and weekend brunch are vegetarian, dairy-free and made with organic ingredients.
Vertical Diner • 2280 S. West Temple, Salt Lake City; 801-484-8378. Vegan comfort food served in a diner-style atmosphere. The breakfast menu is available all day.
Sunflower Market • 656 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City, 801-364-1602. The Ching Animal Farm Sanctuary sponsors vegan cooking classes on the fourth Sunday of each month from 5 to 7 p.m.
W Lounge • 358 S. West Temple; 801-359-0637. SLC Vegan Drinks, a social networking group, meets on the first Friday of every month. Bring a potluck dish and enjoy vegan cocktails.