Monday, April 6, 2009

Vegan dining in Youngstown, Ohio

Yesterday, My boyfriend and I traveled to Boardman, Ohio to have an early "Easter dinner" with his parents and extended family. If you've never been to Boardman or the greater Youngstown area, you honestly aren't missing anything. It's your average, run-of-the-mill suburb of a depressed city with values and ideals stuck in a decade well before my time on this planet. That sounds pretty negative, but I think most people from Youngstown would agree with that statement. The people I've met have been much more conservative and small town-minded, but that doesn't make them bad people. It just causes some challenges for the life-long vegetarian who happens to visit there.

My boyfriend's family selected one of their favorite restaurants for their big holiday lunch - Red Lobster. In Cleveland, Red Lobster seems to have a bad reputation. I can't say that I know many people who have gone to a Red Lobster or who have had anything positive to say about one. But in Youngstown, Red Lobster is one of the "nicer" places to go. Being allergic to lobster and a vegetarian, I'd never been to a Red Lobster before and wasn't surprised to see that it's your cookie-cutter chain type restaurant. The servers seemed haggard and the big tank of lobsters saddened me, but I tried to focus on the aspect of family togetherness, not poor little sad lobsters.

Since there was next to nothing suitable for vegetarians on the menu (I think offering a side salad and a baked potato is a cop out - it's 2009 - you could offer at least one entree, Red Lobster), I left the restaurant shortly after the rest of my dining companions got their meals in order to go forage for suitable grub. Luckily for me and any other vegetarian or vegan in the Youngstown area, there is a fantastic vegan cafe in Boardman called the Flaming Ice Cube. It's a gift shop (featuring everything from Crocs to Webkinz) slash cafe, but when I got there, the cafe seemed to be doing a much better business. There was a party of around 15 seated at a large table and there were a few other smaller parties. When I approached the counter, the only server working seemed a bit frazzled. I had researched the menu online beforehand and knew exactly what I was going to order...until I saw the specials board. They were featuring a Reuben - one of my favorite types of sandwiches. A type of sandwich I've been to lazy to try to recreate on my own despite craving one after having a delicious Reuben last November at Liquid Earth in Baltimore in November. So I gleefully ordered a Reuben, some vegan chick'n fingers, a cup of vegetable barley soup, and a peanut butter crunch bar. I figured I should stock up since I wouldn't be able to eat anything else until returning home.

After waiting for a short while, I got my take out order and I raced back to my boyfriends' parents house, anxious to eat me a sandwich. Once I arrived, I bowled past the family members (who were setting up for an Easter egg hunt for the children in the family) and ripped open my takeout containers. My Reuben sat in the Styrofoam container looking and smelling delicious. I took my first bite and was in heaven. It was amazing! They'd deviated from a "normal" Reuben and had used regular wheat bread, but I'm normally not a big fan of rye anyway, so this was a welcome change. After gobbling that down, I ate the barley soup. It had a great flavor and a good mix of vegetables including carrots and mushrooms. By the time I finished my soup, it was time for the egg hunt to begin, so I moved to the back patio with my chick'n finger in hand...err...styrofoam container. Some of the family members gawked at my fake chicken and asked me about them. When talking to non-vegetarians who have no interest in vegetarianism, I really try to not talk about my food that much, because I know that it's easy to push their buttons, but I managed to dodge that bullet and enjoy my food without a great ethical debate. I appreciated that the chick'n fingers came with different sauces - a barbecue, a tahini, and one called "linda's" which reminded me of a Miracle Whip type concoction that I make to put on fake chicken at home. I was really hungry, so I might have been biased, but there really were some of the best fake chicken items I've ever had.

After finishing the fingers, we spent time with the family for the remainder of the afternoon and then headed home. Not wanting to offend my boyfriend's mother by eating a vegan dessert in her house after declining the cake, brownies, and ice cream that she'd bought, I saved my peanut butter crunch bar to take home. In my mind, I was hoping it would be half as good as the beloved brownies that I get at Treehugger's Cafe. Unfortunately, it fell short of my expectations. Waaay short. The peanut butter tasted off and the chocolate didn't taste like regular chocolate - which makes sense in a vegan dessert. I've repeatedly told myself to stop trying vegan desserts because I never like them, but this bar looked so similar to something that would be fatty and delicious and good. Oh well. Overall, my meal from The Flaming Ice Cube was excellent and I can't wait for another meaty family outing in Youngstown so I can have an excuse to get some good vegan grub.


  1. Youngstown is awesome!!!

  2. I just found your blog posting relating to Vegan eating establishments in the Youngstown area. Your first paragraph seems a little over the top in negativity regarding the city and it's citizens attitudes. That being said I would like to inform you of two other potential eateries. The first is Alladin's and since you are from Cleveland I would think you have probably eaten in one of the original stores in that fine city. Our local store is roughly 2 blocks from the Red Lobster that you gave such a scathing review. The second choice is Ely's on Western Reserve Road. They also are not far from the Red Lobster location and is a very good restaurant choice in the same fashion as Flaming Ice Cube. I hope you will have the opportunity to try these restaurants and publish an opinion of Youngstown that is more favorable and more reflective of reality.