Vegan vs. Non-Vegan, is there a difference?
Blackstone Place, directly off of Blackstone Boulevard in Providence, RI, houses a variety of palate-pleasing restaurants for whichever style of food you find yourself in the mood for. From pizza, to Indian, to vegan/vegetarian, there are options for everyone's taste buds. Two of the most popular destinations, located side by side in the complex, are the Garden Grille and Wildflour Bakery, both serving vegan and vegetarian delicacies and varying dishes. Garden Grille focuses their menu on the saltier side of things, providing full vegetarian lunch and dinner meals with the option to order vegan if desired. Wildflour Bakery serves unparalleled vegan desserts, smoothies, and coffees to their customers delight.
Most people that do not follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle have not ventured into trying out a full-on meal curated in that nature. This was true for me, while my grandmother raved about the first vegan meal she’d tried and how delicious it was. The thought of excluding all meat and dairy products from an entire lunch dish was extremely hard to wrap my mind around, yet intriguing to me all at once. How can you make cheese taste cheesy and gooey or make a burger from no meat at all?
I decided to go for a trip down to Providence with my grandma to educate myself on the vegan lifestyle and squash my curiosity regarding its interesting flavor curations. Upon entrance to Garden Grille, the restaurant was so packed that my grandma and I were given a buzzer to announce an empty table within the fifteen to twenty minutes that followed our arrival. The room itself was smaller than I had imagined, with warm brown tones and earthy vibes oozing from the restaurant. We were told that complimentary coffee was served at the bakery next door upon customer request and we headed over for what ended up being only a ten minute wait, shorter than the host had anticipated.
Soaking in the smells and decadent pastries that would soon put my taste buds to the test from the Wildflour Bakery, my grandma and I left the bakery and headed back to the Garden Grille with the buzz of our pager. Once seated at a small wooden table, my grandma on a cushioned booth seat with myself on a chair, I took in my surroundings. The room was a wash of cool-toned blue contrasting against stained wood and spherical light fixtures with light escaping from large holes in their structure. A bar was located in one large corner of the room, lying beneath a two-dimensional tree sprawling out on the ceiling. Its “branches” were made of tinted brown wood, with the ceiling serving as the bush of the tree represented by a darker brown wooden fixture protruding from above. Posing as mini centerpieces were dainty purple flowers placed in the center of each table with glasses of water brought as soon as we sat down.
The menu items were very eccentric and full of exotic textures and exciting vegetable pairings. One side was dedicated to any and all kind of virgin and alcoholic drinks, with appetizers and main courses on the flip side. I wanted to make sure that I would be able to successfully compare the flavors of the vegan meal to a similarly comparable non-vegan meal. I decided on the gluten free vegan macaroni and cheese which contained rice “macaroni”, broccoli, mushrooms, vegan cheese sauce, and vegan mozzarella. Vegan cheese sauce is made with potatoes, carrots, olive oil, garlic/onion powder, and other ingredients that contribute to its texture and thickness. My grandma ordered the roasted butternut squash quesadilla, one of the non-vegan menu items.
The macaroni and cheese was served to me in a scorching hot iron skillet. It looked exactly like any normal, extremely cheesy, dish of macaroni as the twirls of steaming heat lifted off from the food. It looked too good to be true and I all too quickly dig my fork in, not thinking about the intense amount of heat contained inside. The second the first bite hit me, it burnt my tongue and the roof of my mouth. I tried my best to remain calm, chewing and swallowing as fast as possible. Due to the sting of my taste buds, the taste seemed to be impossibly bland yet still creamy, making my review extremely mixed and somewhat tainted. While the vegan cheese tasted good and was a very pleasant texture, it very much lacked in having enough flavor. Its reaction with the macaroni however was very surprising to me for I had no clue that the rings mimicking rotini were not truly macaroni as I know it. My grandma, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed her dish. A healthy mix of avocado, Monterey Jack cheese, black beans, and of course its namesake squash came together to form a colorful dish bursting with flavor. “It was absolutely delicious (emphasis on absolutely) but came served with a little bit of salsa which was too hot for my liking,” explained my Grandma. She even commented that she would go back one hundred times to eat the same meal.
The bakery atmosphere was light and much more open than the Garden Grille, with many plants decorating the space. A wall of what looked like crawling spiders was located to the right as you walked through the glass door, plants growing from the pure white canvas. To the left was a beautifully curated display case that showcased all of the sweet treats that Wildflour had to offer, including brownies, cupcakes, cheesecake, and a large variety of plate sized cookies. When it comes to sweets I am the most indecisive person you will ever meet. To an indecisive eye like mine this would be a person's worst nightmare, with all of the options incredibly delicious looking. Above the case was a faux chalkboard that held the names and descriptions of over 30 drink choices, from fruit and veggie smoothies to espresso coffee and tea. On the far wall a coffee station was set up, allowing those customers to curate their very own idea of the perfect vegan coffee. Almond milk, coconut milk, and a few other choices were lined up on the white counter in black pitchers with laminated labels.
The first thing that I noticed, besides the beautiful display of sweet treats, was how high the prices were. Compared to a normal bakery, Wildflour prices their items very high, as expected, because of the all organic and speciality items that they use to make their products vegan. As soon as I looked over the array or choices at least a dozen times or more, I decided upon their pumpkin whoopie pie. I’ve never been a huge fan of normal whoopie pies but I’m obsessed with pumpkin and love whipped cream filling. My preconceived notion of how they would pull off the cream filling was vague due to the fact that vegans cannot use dairy whatsoever, making it a complete mystery. My grandma picked up a second whoopie pie and snickerdoodle cookie for my little cousin for when we arrived home.
Too excited to dig into this ultimate vegan treat, I opened the brown paper bag as soon as I sat down in the car. Powdered sugar daintily decorated the top of the sandwich, contrasting stark white against the deep orange of the cake. The first bite was truly something I’d never experienced beforehand. Somehow, the one inch thick cream layered inside of the whoopie pie was the creamiest, most tasty whipped cream that I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating, with a consistency as smooth as butter. The cake that sandwiched this incredible cream was almost too moist, but very appealing to my taste buds. Although the cream seemed like a lot, it was the perfect balance of sweetness against the spices in the pumpkin cake. Altogether the whoopie pie was an extremely moistened sandwich of intense flavor which I consumed as quickly as possible, savoring every single bite.
Overall, my initial experience with vegan food was pleasant, yet coupled by a few mixed emotions. While my vegan macaroni and cheese was way too hot to consider even moderately acceptable, the dish was better than anticipated. It was very bland, but this was expected because of the minimal ingredients that are able to be used when creating this dish. The servers were extremely pleasant and accommodating to mine and my grandma’s needs, and therefore I would rate my experience at the Garden Grille restaurant a 6/10, recommended to those who want to try something out of the box. The Wildflour bakery ended up being the highlight of my day, exceeding expectations on a grand scale. My experience there is rated no less than a 10/10 for their creative and truly vegan treats. The vegan realm of the food industry is not nearly given enough credit or advertising and is something that I believe everyone should take a chance on. You may even fall in love with the result!