Back in 2005 there was this bad ass movie called Hustle and Flow (a pimp tries to become a rap star). One of the songs, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” walked away with an Academy Award and a place forever in my vernacular. Since really getting into the food scene in Tampa the song has become “It’s Hard Out Here for a Vegan.” I can think of only two Tampa restaurants that are completely vegan. Neither of them is that good. This is a stark contrast to many of the bigger cities that I have visited around the United States where vegan food seems to litter the sidewalks. I always chalked it up to Tampa not being big enough. But a recent trip to Pensacola changed that thinking. Pensacola is roughly one-seventh the size of Tampa yet they had at least two really good vegan restaurants. Guess it isn’t the size that counts.
Pensacola was a mini vacation for me but it wasn’t all fun and games for J-Fur. She was actually there to gather data for a grant that she is working on. That meant that before I could get at any of the local vegan cuisine I had to sit through a parent information session about the new version of the FCAT that will be completely rolled out this year (the FCAT is the testing that is administered to Florida elementary, middle and high school students). The presenters weren’t very good, lifeless droning things, so the clock crawled through its circular routine while I fidgeted and read the political musings of a fifth grade student. Finally, after an hour and a half of torture, we were ready to eat. First up was a punk rock bar/vegan restaurant/all ages space called Sluggo’s.
Sluggo’s menu features your typical bar food done vegan. After scouring through the various wings, nachos, chili, burritos, cheese steaks, burgers, hummus, sandwiches, salads and rice bowls the place has to offer I decided to get a Cheeky Wing Wrap (seitan wings, mixed greens, salsa and soy garlic ranch) with a side of Spicy Collards and a Garden salad. J-Fur went with the Sweet Thai Chili Bowl.
Sweet Thai Chili Bowl
Cheeky Wing Wrap
Garden Salad with House Dressing
Side of Spicy Collards
Both of us were impressed with our orders. Despite the description, the Cheeky Wing Wrap was not leaking dressing or salsa out the sides like a lot of wraps tend to do. J-Fur’s rice had just the amount of fresh vegetables that she was seeking and neither those nor the rice were swimming in the sweet chili sauce. The house vinaigrette, which accompanied the garden salad, tactfully embraced its vinegar content instead of pushing it in your face. The collards, while easily replicated at home, were great sidled up next to the wrap. My one regret? Not having more time to try everything else on their menu.
After polishing off our Sluggo’s meal, J-Fur and I cruised the streets and beaches of Pensacola exploring the sand, surfers, threads, cheerleaders and corn meal. When we felt able to eat again we headed off to End of the Line Cafe. This cafe is hard to spot as it is in a rundown looking store front in the poorly lit section of town. I drove by it twice before the GPS alerted me of my errors. A sign on the register told me that cash was the only form of payment accepted. I fingered the fifteen dollars in my pocket and figured it would not be enough. So I told J-Fur to order and ventured back into the dark looking for an ATM. I found one in the form of a Walgreen’s cash register and drove back to the Cafe. J-Fur had decided to take it easy and just get an appetizer. She went with the Olive Tapenade on Warm Baguette which was topped with cashew mozzarella and Parmesan (both cheeses are made in house). I went with a Muffaletta Sub made from olive salad, maple hickory tofu bacon, roasted garlic mozzarella, lettuce, romas and onions.
Olive Tapenade on Warm Baguette
As with our earlier experience End of the Line Cafe did not disappoint. The Muffaletta was a bit salty with the olive salad and tofu bacon but the vegan cheese and vegetables helped to offset that. The homemade vegan cheese was something special as it was very light in taste and seemed almost like the real thing. After the saltiness of the Muffaletta, I feared the worst with the tapenade but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked it. Guess it was the tofu bacon that slightly overkilled the Muffaletta. Still, the homemade vegan cheese made up for everything.
Vegans in the Panhandle can and should rejoice when eating out as both Sluggo’s and End of the Line Cafe do a nice job catering to those who want their food cured of all animal cruelty. Despite the long, boring drive I can’t wait for the chance to return.
With the punk rock aesthetic of both of these restaurants one should pair that same style of music to them. Start with Baby Baby (first written about here). Baby Baby performs sweaty, cheeky party rock that would fit in perfectly alongside a vegan wrap. Percussionist Colin Brody describes the band as the Kings of Leon showing up to a 70’s style dance party. For their latest single “We Do This All Night Long (Shake That Ass Girl)” I would take it a step further. Imagine the Kings of Leon leave that dance party and head down the street to their local grindhouse for a titillating porno-rific feature. That’s more like it. Get your hands on the full length album, Money, here.
The last time we heard from Oy Vey they were spreading “White Lies” about tofu rubs. The New York electro-pop duo is back this time extolling the virtues of pursuing a love that is impractical and foolish in “The Horse’s Mouth.” It is the idea that despite all the information to the contrary and the swirling rumors they will not end their pursuit until they hear it from the person’s mouth. It feels sort of like my late teenage years. That was rough. Thank god these guys do it in an upbeat, dance-your-heart-out sort of way otherwise I’d be in the corner crying.
The Concept used to be known as Concept Store but sometime after “Damn!” they decided a change was needed. What they’ve left in wake is energetic, summery dance music that is perfect for someone who has just overeaten. Don’t believe me? Try this experiment: eat a dozen vegan donuts, “D-D-Dance.” Any takers, let me know what happens. Thanks to the Burning Ear for turning me on to these Phoenix impersonators.