Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Vegan in Walt Disney World 2

Here it is, my second vegan travel blog of Walt Disney World (in one year no less)!

Both in the different restaurants we tried this time around, and even in the repeats, I experienced new and exciting (and in a rare case or two, somewhat disappointing) meals over the course of the last ten days.

Let’s skip the formalities and jump right in:

(Like always, click on the pics to enlarge them.)

Day 1 – Lunch

Gasparilla Grill and Games
at the Grand Floridian Resort.

We stay at the Polynesian Resort for reasons dealing with my mother’s health needs and the fact that they are incredibly accommodating and know us so well there. It’s Disney, so you’re going to get pretty good service everywhere, but the Polynesian feels like a second home.

The Poly is one stop away from the Grand Floridian on the monorail and truthfully, Gasparilla has a much more diverse menu than the comparable counter service Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian. Having been up since 3:30 am and having, myself, eaten nothing all day but a Trio bar while waiting to board the Magical Express, as soon as we were checked in and had dropped our carry-ons in our room, we hopped over to G.G.&G. for lunch.

I’d spoken to Chef Jeffery on the phone a week or so before we came down (again, I HIGHLY recommend starting to call your chefs, even at the counter service restaurants, at least two weeks ahead of your trip) and he was all set for us when we arrived.
He had my mother’s non-veg dietary meal all taken care of and she said everything he made was delicious.

I opted for a new wrap of Chef Jeffrey’s design which is not yet on the menu, but may be by the time you go. They already have a tabouli wrap (see my May blog) but this version was a big step up from the original. For starters, the bread isn’t the thin tortilla style wrap that they typically use (the kind that has a tendency to get soggy and gross half way through its consumption) but instead is a thick, hot and soft fresh pita that was by itself, wholly worthy of mention and must have been freshly baked. This sandwich was then coated with a layer of their sweet cucumber salad, then a layer of tabouli (theirs is a bit unorthodox, using in addition to the staple ingredients, kalamata olives and oregano), and on top, a layer of crunchy freshly fried chick peas spiced with what tasted to be cumin and coriander, in order to impersonate humus, as the Chef told me.
This was a wonderful upgrade from the original.

Chef Jeffery is an extremely kind and friendly man. He obviously loves what he does and went out of his way for us. I highly recommend asking for him personally. He was truly a joy to deal with.

For dessert they do have Tofutti and Tofutti Cuties, but I opted to buy a bag of their Divvies caramel popcorn instead. This caramel corn, if you haven’t had it, is incredible. It’s sweet and crunchy with a hint of vanilla and is very clearly marked with the word VEGAN on the back. All pluses in my book.

A little aside for those on one of the Disney Dining Plans: You can find this caramel corn in a few places throughout the park, however, some will allow you to use a snack on your dining plan to pay for it while others will not. For instance, the Main Street Bakery in the Magic Kingdom will NOT allow you to use your snack option, yet the Gasparilla Grill sells the exact same bag and will. This is an almost $5.00 item, so if you have extra snacks you haven’t used at the end of your stay, it’s a great place to go and stock up for the coming year.

Disney keeps changing the rules for what does and does not constitute as a snack. It has to do with a combination of criteria involving weight, price and amount of servings per container. But to make it all the more confusing, it’s apparently up to the individual managers to either enter the item into the system or not, more or less at their discretion. I spoke to a cashier in EPCOT who has worked in all of the parks who said he’s seen all sorts of items that are accepted in one store but not in another.

Moving on, and though it’s totally out of chronological order, I’ll mention now that we returned to G.G.&G. late one night after leaving the parks because I was struck with the idea that I could maybe make my own root beer float there, something I hadn’t had in years.

They don’t actually have floats on the menu, but they do have Tofutti in the back, and of course, root beer on tap. So I explained what I hoped to do and after having overcome a slight language barrier, the woman behind the sandwich counter gave me a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of chocolate in a big cup. I then filled it up with soda and was happily on my way. (They charged around $4 for this, but a worthy treat.)

Day 1 –Dinner

Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show
at the Polynesian

I’ll start off with another commendation for another great chef. Chef Eugene, another wonderful man who goes out of his way to please, not only remembered us, but pointed out where we sat last May when he cooked for us.

The regular salad with the mandarin oranges and mango poppyseed dressing is already vegan, so dig in, and feel free to ask for more if you want, it is an “all you care to eat” dinner. I did.

Notice the tapioca roll in the corner. Their standard bread is not vegan.

I again opted for the tofu and couscous stir-fry because it’s their stock vegan option, and I liked it last time. As you can see, the presentation was different, and to a certain extent, it tasted a bit different from what I remembered too. The tofu had a nice soy sauce-based seasoning. The grill gave it a somewhat meaty flavor. I don’t think anything enhances the flavor of tofu like a grill. For veggies, there were snap peas, green and yellow peppers, cabbage, carrots, and broccoli, standard stir-fry fare. The meal was light and fresh, but still hearty and filling.

For dessert I had Divvies chocolate chip cookies and a fruit plate with cantaloupe, honeydew, grapes, pineapple and strawberries.

A great way to start the trip. It wasn’t to be my last stir-fry or tofu, far from it in fact, but every restaurant does things their own way, so as similar as some of the dishes were, they rarely tasted alike.

Day 2 – Lunch
The Tangierine Café
in Morroco (EPCOT)

Here I’ll start with a list of strong caveats:

1. The falafel here, (in my mind, one of the best possible uses of a chick pea) is neither vegan nor vegetarian friendly because they fry them in the same oil as the chicken! HUGELY disappointed to find this out. Stay away. I was glad I asked before I ordered.

2. Their regular bread contains dairy, however they do have vegan-friendly pita bread if you ask for it.

3. The lentil salad on the vegetarian plate does contain mayonnaise.

This was one of the rare cases where I didn’t call ahead, but the chef was able to make me a nice veganized version of the vegetarian meal.

As I said, I got a large loaf of pita bread, (it’s folded in four in the picture, so it’s much bigger than it looks) a good deal of hummus, tabouli, yellow rice and beans, a garlicky salad, the olive salad (only later did it occur to me that I never asked if the olives they use contain lactic acid, though I do know that the olives they sell in their gift shops do not) and a delicious couscous salad which was unexpectedly sweet with cinnamon and raisins. (You may want to double check and make sure they don’t use honey in this. It didn’t taste like it, but whenever something is sweetened I usually ask.)

Together this made a great wrap and kept me full for hours.

Day 2 – Dinner

Restaurant Marrakesh

Just like in the café, here you cannot eat the bread. Instead, the chef sent me a few of the ubiquitous tapioca rolls which he'd toasted in the oven. Some restaurants microwave these to heat them, and consequently, they wind up tough and spongy and not all that appetizing. So if you can, ask the chefs to heat them in an oven for you. It makes a world of difference.

Another note about eating on the dining plan: If you ask, often they will allow you to order an appetizer instead of a dessert. (The standard Magic Your Way Plus Dining now only allows one entree, one drink and one dessert per table service.)

There’s nothing vegan on Marrakesh’s dessert menu, so I ordered a special salad, though I think it was a version of their regular Jasmina salad. It had red cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, red pepper, red onions, parsley, lemon, and oil.

For my entrée, I ordered the one veg item on the menu, Seven Vegetable Couscous. Make sure you order it with NO BUTTER. For veggies (admittedly, I only counted five) there were sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cabbage, and carrots. The presentation was wholly different from what I remembered years ago when we used to eat there.

You may also want to ask the waiter for a dish of harissa, both for your bread and to add a little spice to your couscous. The harissa is nothing but tomatoes, chilies and salt. Packs a strong punch and helps to sass everything up.

Day 3 – Lunch

(Animal Kingdom)

Here I received some seriously exciting news.

I went into Pizzafari cold with no expectations of finding anything vegan, (I wasn’t planning on eating here, but was instead just getting something for my aunt and mother) but was seriously surprised when I spoke to the manager.
It turns out, their regular pizza dough contains L-Cysteine plus a dairy derivative, so stay away from that. However, they do have an Ener-G rice crust which is perfect for us.

Their regular sauce is fine, but do ask on the particular day that you’re there because the manager told me if they run out of the regular sauce, their backup contains dairy.
The real baffling moment here was when the manager told me “We do carry vegan cheese”. Total shock. Not only do they carry vegan cheese, they currently have two brands! They have Galaxy Vegan Mozz and Follow Your Heart vegan Mozz.

I tried the Galaxy because I’d never had it before and they just recently got the Follow Your Heart brand in stock and hadn’t actually cooked with it yet. He told me if I didn’t like the Galaxy that I could just bring it back and they’d do one with the FYH. The Galaxy was surprisingly tasty. I’ve heard people give the vegan Galaxy a bad rap, but, though it clearly doesn’t melt as well as some of the others, I found nothing off-putting about the taste at all. In fact, I sort of preferred over the FYH which is what I’ve used at home for years.

So here it is, my first vegan pizza on WDW property:

(It was a bit smaller than their regular pizza, so you probably won't be stuffed when you're done, but it's still a nice treat)

For dessert, they carry Enjoy Life brand vegan chocolate chip cookies. Given my druthers, I’d take Divvies any day. These taste, let’s face it, a little healthy. That said, I’m not one to look a gift cookie in the mouth. I’m thrilled anytime a restaurant carries anything with the little vegan seal of approval on it.

While we’re in Animal Kingdom, I just wanted to add two more caveats:

1. The vegetarian egg rolls in one of the kiosks in Asia do actually contain egg. (Sounds like a no-brainer, except in some of our local Chinese restaurants, the egg rolls are surprisingly animal free.)

2. The Picnic in the Park option now includes a portabella wrap; however, they took a perfectly vegan-friendly wrap and ruined it with cream cheese. If you’re l.o. vegetarian, go for it. (Another tip for those l.o. vegetarians: if you want the wrap by itself without having to buy a minimum of two, plus the amenities, they sell them individually in a cooler in the Beastly Bazaar store in Discovery Island. They cost around $5.00 and look fairly decent… still wrapped in one of those pre-sogged tortilla-style breads, I’m afraid.)

Again, the wrap’s a no-go for the vegan population. As for whether they can modify them, I doubt it because they’re all pre-wrapped with the ingredients listed on the label. But it never hurts to ask.

Day 3 – Dinner

Chef Mickey’s
at the Contemporary Resort

This was our first time eating at Chef Mickey’s for dinner. Of course, if you’re vegan, don’t plan on “buffeting”, if you know what I mean. But if you happen to be dragged here by a herd of omnivores, have no fear, they have a very tasty item just for you that they always keep on hand.

Of course, you can get salad from the salad bar, but Chef Mickey's has the most carnivorous selections of toppings I’ve seen on any buffet. There are the mixed greens and that’s it. Alongside it are three or four types of cheese, bacon, ham and pepperoni. No cukes or tomatoes, peppers or peas. As I recall, there were onions, but a copious amount of shredded cheese had infiltrated the bowl, so I steered clear. They do have balsamic and oil upon request. None of the dressings looked particularly safe. If you ask the chef, he will bring you both tomatoes and cukes from the back.

This is the salad with nothing but salt and pepper:

The entrée certainly made up for the sparse offerings on the salad bar. They have an orange vegan “chicken” (and indeed, though tofu-based, it had that great dense meaty texture more akin to the Gardein products) with, of course, stir fried veggies and rice. The veggies, bok choy, red peppers, snap peas, onions, cabbage, celery and carrots, had a great grilled flavor, as if some of them had been cooked on a grill before having hit the wok. And the “chicken” was a really nice change of pace. It was sticky and fried, and very citrusy and most satisfying.

For dessert, I was thrilled to hear that they have vegan cupcakes on hand, both chocolate and vanilla. I wish I could say these were amazing. But in all honesty, they didn’t quite live up to my (admittedly, probably too high) expectations. I really didn’t care for the frosting at all. The chocolate cupcake was okay, but I really didn't like the vanilla. But don’t let me sway you. Try them, because it’s the only place where I heard them offered. (Incidentally, they’re also gluten free, so it’s plus for all those Celiac-suffering vegans out there.)

Day 4 – Lunch

Columbia Harbor House
(Magic Kingdom)

Their vegetarian chili is vegan. It’s counter service eligible, but it only costs around four bucks, so I bought it outright. It’s not the best vegan chili you’ll eat, but it probably won’t be the worst either. There are lots of beans and veggies, so it’s fairly hearty. Not a huge portion, but enough. It makes a great snack or pick-me-up when you’re on the go. (UPDATE: I just learned {see comments} that these crackers do contain milk. I hadn't thought to ask at the time. Thanks, Michelle for the heads-up!)

Day 4 – Dinner

1900 Park Fare
at the Grand Floridian Resort

Truth be told, I love it at 1900 Park Fare for the entertainment more so than the food. Cinderella’s wicked step sisters and step mother are absolutely hysterical. They’re loud and rude and obnoxious, and especially for the non-child-bearing adults, easily the best part of the experience.

But I’m here to talk about the food. So let’s.

Chef Jeffery works at both Gasparilla Grill as well as 1900. On the phone, Chef Jeffery promised a whole array of vegan treats from falafel to a bean ragout to hummus and on and on. Sadly, this turned out to be Chef Jeffery’s night off, and something seems to have gotten lost in translation.

Instead we were served again by Chef Harry (see the last dinner in May). He had a plate already set up for me by the time I got there. No falafel. No bean ragout. He did have tabouli (the same as they serve in Gasparilla Grill), hummus (also the same as they serve in Gasparilla Grill) a cucumber salad (also the same as the Gasparilla Grill; are we sensing a pattern here?) some cukes cut up with radishes, a little steamed edamame, and a soba noodle salad like the one on the buffet. Now, all of this was fine, (the hummus had, as far as I could taste, cumin, oregano and garlic, and was probably my favorite thing on the plate) and to his credit, he offered me as much of everything as I wanted.

To his detriment, however, he also served me these lavash:

Don’t get me wrong, they were crunchy, very satisfying, and worked as an excellent vessel for the salads. In fact, I liked them so much I took the extras home and ate them the next day. (It’s pertinent to note here that he actually said that he did not make these himself.)

It wasn’t until a few days later while eating at Tusker House, where they serve the exact same lavash, that I was told by Chef Joe (more on him later) that there is an egg wash on them and that they are NOT vegan!

I was quite angry, retrospectively, about Chef Harry having served them to me in the first place. I would have been more understanding, because let’s face it, not everyone in the world knows exactly what being vegan entails, but Chef Harry by his own admission has been vegetarian for 40 years! He studied in a vegetarian culinary school in Ireland. So surely, a vegetarian should know what a vegan will or will not eat. Right? Apparently, that’s not always the case.

Suffice it to say, if we do return to 1900 Park Fare, I will be sure to go on a day when Chef Jeffery is definitely going to be there. And I highly suggest you do the same.

Oh, and I should mention that other than two scoops of Tofutti for dessert, that was my entire meal. I was full, that’s true, (mainly thanks to the non-vegan lavash) but it was an entirely cold, refrigerated meal. Not one warm element present. As you can probably tell, I wasn’t much impressed.

Day 5 – Lunch

Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café.

I’ve probably said enough about this place in May’s blog, but to reiterate:

- Do try their Gardenburger (it's vegan).

- Don’t forget to ask for it on a tapioca roll as their standard roll contains dairy.

- Do ask the chef to bake your fries. This way they won’t be cooked with any meats and they taste every bit as good.

(In retrospect, I may have gone a bit heavy on the toppings, but I needed my greens after all…)

It’s a good time to note that we ate here twice this trip. The first time the fries were perfectly crispy and virtually unidentifiable as having been baked instead of fried. The second time, however, we were informed by the chef that they were switching over to a new brand of fries that take longer to bake and seem not to crisp up as well. They were indeed a bit soggier, but still had a perfect french fry flavor. By the time you go, they’ll probably have it sorted out.

This was all I ate that day up until around 8:00 that night because we were returning to ‘Ohana with the legendary Chef T.J. and I knew I would need every bit of stomach capacity I could muster.

Day 5 – Dinner

‘Ohana – Night One

For my lavish praise and brief history of interactions with Chef T.J., check my May blog. Suffice it to say, I consider this man like family and am thrilled at any chance I have to talk with him, and of course, have him cook for me.

Loosen your belt, 'cause off we go:

Course 1 – Bread Course

A familiar looking plate, and one still very welcome; long crispy toast points with baba ganoush and hummus. A deviously filling little starter, I assure you.

Course 2 – Salad Course

Here I was presented four salad cups in small half pitas. The two on the north and south are seaweed salads while the other two are almond salads. The almonds salads were crunchy and, well, almondy and amazing. And the seaweed salads had just the right hint of ocean flavor. I was never a fan of fish, even in my omnivorous days, so I prefer mild sea veggies. It also helped that these were perfectly dressed.

I should also mention that I’d tried to hint earlier, not too subtly, about my meager stomach capacity and how little it seems to take to surpass it. It seemed by this point that Chef T.J. was taking my plea to heart.

Course 3 – Mushroom Course

Bok choy with oyster mushrooms and a citrusy pomegranate garlic sauce. Around the edges were drops of very hot chili oil and the whole dish was sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds. The mushrooms were out of this world, and the bok choy was perfectly crisp and wilted at the same time. Really nice.

Course 4 – Soup Course

The soup on the left is a peanut, lemon, ginger, soy, watercress soup with skewered grilled cherry tomatoes that make the soup taste slightly meaty and slightly sweet when eaten in tandem. The other is a red pepper soup with fried papaya. This soup was spicy and addicting!

Course 5 – Fruit Course

This was one of the most daring and imaginative flavor combinations he’d sprung on me yet. An Asian pear wrapped in vegan bacon, yep, perfectly cooked, bacony-tasting, vegan bacon, with a black pepper spiced strawberry sauce, and a side of edible flowers for cooling the pallet. The diverse flavors joined together beautifully.

I was absolutely stuffed at this point, so took about half of this dish home.

(I microwaved it the next morning and the pears were still crisp and tasted almost just as good. Remember, even at a buffet, if a chef has made something for you special, ask for a doggy bag and they’ll always let you take the rest home with you!)

Two pictures for the sake of prettiness:

Course 6 – Entrée

Finally, I’d made it to the entrée. I’d already asked the waiter for a take home container to pack up the bulk of it. Chef T.J. did go easier on me with this one: stir fried noodles on the base, tempura broccoli raab, tempura pickles and tempura green tomatoes, all with his irresistible sweet sauce.

(I would like to mention here, too, that all of his amazing fry work is done in a special wok in the back. This way he can use a clean pan and clean oil for all of the various allergies. This is a testament, not only to his thoroughness in keeping people’s dietary issues safe and clean, but also to his skill as a chef, because his food is always perfectly fried, and to do it in a wok is no small feat.)

Like last May, I ate the rest of this the following night on the beach as a late night second supper. I swear his noodles are even better cold!

Course 7 – Evil Course

Now, just as I was scooping half of the entrée into the plastic take home container, Chef T.J. came up to the table with yet another dish and actually said to me “I know you’re full, so I added one more.” What a delightfully wicked man he is. And I’m thankful he is, because that additional plate contained the best tempeh I’ve ever had the good fortune to devour.

There were six grilled asparagus stalks (have I mentioned how much I adore asparagus?), six slices of pan-fried tempeh, and a red pepper sauce, a chili sauce, a pomegranate sauce and a teriyaki sauce, all for dipping. The tempeh had such perfect smokiness, like ham, honestly, with not a hint of bitterness.

I asked him his secret because I’ve pre-steamed tempeh and cooked it all different ways, but never got it to taste like this. He told me he soaks it for two hours ahead of time. And then pan fries it. The next time I buy a block of tempeh, I know how it’s getting cooked.

(Incidentally, stuffed as I was, I cleaned this plate.)

Course 8 – Dessert

Eight courses. Count them. Eight! The last was thankfully light and refreshing, and helped to reverse the all too familiar gastric discomfort that comes from such marathon eating.

For dessert, Chef T.J. made me pudding out of chocolate Silk, which was then studded with lychees and raspberries. It was thick and light and totally refreshing.

For some reason, I have never successfully photographed one of Chef T.J.’s desserts. I don’t know what it is about them, but they always blur on me. Perhaps it has more to do with my inability to function physically on any practical level, including barely being able to lift the camera to my eye, by the time I’ve come to the close of one of these gargantuan meals. I don’t know. Either way, this dessert was no exception to the rule:

Thank you again, Chef T.J.!

(Another piece of Chef T.J. trivia: he keeps a vegan section in his kitchen stocked full of vegan specialty products so he always has them on hand. I believe he does the same for vegetarians, gluten free, etc.)

Before we leave 'Ohana, this was a landmark meal for a second reason; it was my mom’s first vegetarian meal in Disney World. In the real world I have her only eating meat once every week or two, but with her various food allergies, sensitivities, and general finickiness when it comes to food, she trusted no one but Chef T.J. to make her a veggie meal that she might actually like. And she was not disappointed.

Here is her plain salad:

And her stir-fry with tempura crimini mushrooms and onions (all per her request).

Moving on.

Day 6 – Dinner

As stuffed as I was after the previous night’s gorging, I opted not to eat a formal lunch, but snacked on a hot pretzel and some popcorn. Again, all of the popcorn and salted pretzels in the parks are vegan. The cinnamon-sugar and jalapeno cheddar pretzels are not.

While we’re in EPCOT, I will mention that sadly, the ice cream shop in Future World that used to always carry Tofutti, discontinued it about a month ago. You may want to write or call guest services and ask them to reinstate it. Because, though there have been some great vegan strides, there have also been a couple setbacks.

Another is that one of the coffee stands around World Showcase (not actually owned by Disney, but by an outside coffee shop) used to always carry Silk which made for an awesome masala chai. However, I was told that due to lack of demand, they no longer carry it there either. Demand, people, demand!


Sunshine Seasons

There are two meals here at their Asian Station which are already vegan. We ate here twice so I tried them both. This day I had the Tofu Noodle Bowl. The broth was very nice, full of garlic and ginger. The noodles are good and for veggies it contained carrots, bok choy, peppers, mushrooms and snap peas. The tofu cubes are okay, a bit bland in comparison. Not spectacular, but believe me, I’ve had much worse tofu, so it still earns a recommendation. And it’s one of the few meals in a quick service that you can order without having to speak to a chef and have anything modified.

They have various side salads to choose from, all prepackaged with ingredients conveniently printed on the labels. I opted for a couscous salad which was really nice. It had orange juice, curry, dried apricots, cherries, ginger and almonds. It was quite sweet but still had that savory curry element. It made a good dessert because I couldn’t eat any of their other standard offerings.

(They do carry Divvies cookies. And they have them right out in the open, so you don’t even have to ask special!)

Day 6 – Post-Dinner Snack

I was able to try only one thing at the Food and Wine Festival this year. India (not surprisingly) was the only kiosk to have a vegetarian option. Not only was it vegetarian, I scoured the ingredients to find it was actually vegan. Their offering was a Rava Masala Dosa (Potato and Onion filled Pastry that they called a crepe {no eggs, don’t worry. Texturally, it was more akin to a pancake}) This was filled with yellow lentils and potatoes, with a sambal sauce on the side. A nice treat, and pretty heavy for a snack. Hopefully they’ll expand their veggie selection next year…

Day 7 – Lunch

Backlot Express
(Hollywood Studios)

I had the same veggie sandwich here as last time. It’s filling and totally worth the extra time it takes them to make it. They have a book of ingredients, like most Disney restaurants, so you can see what’s in everything from the bread to the pesto. With the exception of the cheese that comes standard, the whole sandwich is vegan. Even the label for their red pepper pesto has VEGAN in big bold print on it. How do you like that? I like it very much.

Again, I really could happily eat multiple portions of the black bean salad that comes with it.

One more sad bit of news about Hollywood Studios: Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner always carried an apple stuffed pretzel which also happened to be vegan, but I found this time that the whole menu has been changed and that the pretzels have been completely done away with. They said the apple pretzels are no longer being carried anywhere in the park. Bummer. They’re weren’t spectacular, but they were a fun once a year treat to look forward to (even if one pretzel weighed in at around 500 calories...).

Day 7 – Dinner

Hollywood and Vine
(Hollywood Studios)

There are a few things here you can eat right off the buffet:

The greenbeans with garlic was indeed good and garlicky. The bean cassoulet was somewhat satisfying, but with too little seasoning for my taste; still a good way to get a variety of beans in one sitting. The gingered cucumber salad and the whole grain rice medley were both tasty.

To supplement these, the chef made me pasta with marinara and red peppers, onions and mushrooms, which was a welcome change of pace from the abundant stir-fries and rice.

The real special treat at this meal, however, was the drink. I had read somewhere that the Prime Time Café made vegan milkshakes upon request, and knowing that the two restaurants are connected, I asked the chef if it was possible to get one with my meal. Sure enough, he agreed and I had a thick and amazing (and huge) chocolate shake with Toffutti and Silk.

For dessert (as if I needed one after the shake) I got a few packs of Divvies cookies. I am so glad that more restaurants are carrying these wonderful little cookies that are more chocolate than dough!

Day 8 – Lunch
Tusker House Restaurant

I now have a new restaurant on property to gush about. And gush I will. We hadn’t eaten at Tusker since it was converted from a counter service to a buffet. Essentially it sounded like, and sort of is, a sister restaurant to Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. In light of recent changes at Boma, and after having now sampled Tusker’s buffet, especially from a vegan standpoint, I think Tusker has easily become the best in WDW. It’s simply a must-eat-at for all veggies.

I didn’t bother to order ahead here because I was informed by Chef Joe that they have 25 vegan items on the buffet all the time. Yes, 25! And he’s a man who knows the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan.

I will warn you however, there are a couple seemingly innocuous veggie dishes that are not safe as they’re presented on the buffet. The beautiful thing here, though, is that the chef will modify anything for you upon request, so feel free to ask when you’re there if you’d like to try something.

Where to start?
Okay, let’s start with the caveats:

1. The Tandoori Tofu is NOT safe. Paradoxically, it’s cooked in a pan that is used for meats. I had him make me a clean version of this, and it’s worth asking for.

2. The Couscous with Basil Essence contains butter.

3. The Jollof Rice has a chicken stock base.

Again, he’ll cook any of these special if you ask.

Some of the salad dressings are vegan, but due to the close proximity to a bucket of cheese that seems to make its way into all of them, Chef Joe offered to get me clean dressing from the back.
I wasn’t about to fill up on salad with all of these options, so I never took him up on that offer.

Everything I had here was truly delicious. It was like going to a great African/Indian buffet and being able to eat with complete abandon.
Here’s what I had to choose from:

In this pic, the pita and multigrain rolls are safe. The lavash on the right are not!

Their pecan rolls are also safe, as is their Mealie Cornbread. Not their regular cornbread. You want the one that actually has whole corn kernels in it.

Their chutneys, tabouli, hummus and blatjangs are all vegan:

Everything in this pic is vegan:

I highly recommend the Tunisian Couscous Salad and the Curried Rice Salad with raisins.

Their Basmati Rice is safe:

As is their Saffron-Infused Root Vegetables and Cabbage:

Very happily their Samosas are not only labeled Vegan (they’re brought in, not made in house) but they’re also baked instead of fried. Eat ‘em up!

Their Roasted Potatoes and Marrakesh Couscous are both delicious and vegan:

Some pics of my plates:

Notice if you will, the lavash that led to the encounter with Chef Joe that tipped me off to Chef Harry’s “oversight” a few nights before.

This was the special Tandoori Tofu Chef Joe cooked for me:

Note the Mealie Cornbread in the lower right hand of the plate:

A better pic of the cornbread and the blatjangs. Also, since there are no vegan desserts on the buffet, Candy/Michelle, our server, checked with Chef Joe to find out what I could have, and so he sent me a couple packs of the Enjoy Life cookies and an awesome strawberry frozen fruit bar.

At this point, I forgot I hadn’t tried the root veggies and basmati, so had a small dish to sample:

I would also like to put in a good word for our server, Candy, aka Michelle. She was awesome and knowledgeable (she even has vegan friends who apparently frequent Tuskers) and extremely friendly. She made our great meal that much better. Thanks, Candy/Michelle!

On a nice environmental/animal-friendly note, you may know that they don’t typically give out lids or straws in the Animal Kingdom for the sake of the animals. They do now have environmentally-friendly, biodegradable straws here that they apparently did years of research on to approve.

Day 8 – Dinner

Wolfgang Puck’s Express, West Side

Having been stuffed from our early lunch, we went late to Downtown Disney West Side to the Wolfgang Puck’s Express.
Now, a word of warning here; there are actually two Wolfgang Puck’s Express’ downtown.

One is in the Marketplace, and after having spoken to one of their chefs on the phone, I had entirely given up hope of eating there because he said all he could safely offer me was a plain salad.

At the time, I had no idea there was more than one, but a few days later, Chef Sinclair called me from the Wolfgang Puck’s Express in the West Side. This Express is connected to the Wolfgang Café and is a world away from the other one. We ended up ordering special pizzas for all three of us, my mom being highly allergic to both basil and mozzarella, and my aunt just being a picky eater.

Chef Sinclair said he would make us special dough and special sauce we could all eat, and we could top them as we chose. I mentioned to Chef Sinclair that I had read that Follow Your
Heart vegan mozzarella was available in the parks, and asked if they had it on hand. He was totally unaware of this, but said he’d try to get it for me.

This is where Chef Sinclair gets major points and a HUGE thanks from me. He tried to order the cheese through the restaurant, but found it was too expensive, so he personally drove to a Whole Foods and picked out a vegan rice cheese for me special! (They didn’t have FYH.) How incredible is that? How many chefs would do that for a counter service customer they’ve never met? He said he wanted to make sure we enjoyed our stay. Chefs like this are a major asset to the Disney Company and will keep us coming back again and again. Nowhere else would a chef go to such lengths, and even within Disney World, I’m sure they’re few and far between.

Thanks again, Chef Sinclair!

I’d also like to put in a good word and thanks to Chef Alex who I believe was the actual chef who made the pizzas. Let me tell you, it was the BEST vegan pizza I’ve ever had. And we have a local pizzeria that makes a formidable vegan Sicilian, so that’s saying something. It was light on the sauce, built on a thin but flavorful crust, loaded with mushrooms and an amazingly meltable cheese. I never got to ask Chef Sinclair which brand he chose, but it was very believable.

How beautiful does this look?

For dessert I got a cup of melon and grapes, when really I would have much preferred a second pizza.

Day 9 – Lunch

Sunshine Seasons

Being our second time here this trip, I chose their other stock vegan option, a platter of their four veggie side dishes. These consist of some really tasty noodles, stir-fried veggies, steamed broccoli and white rice. Admittedly, I'd had a lot of stir-fry already, and it wouldn’t be my last, but it was a good light lunch. And of course, there were Divvies for dessert.

Day 9 – Dinner

Le Cellier Steakhouse

First, a thanks to Chef Brett, who I’d met at the Polynesian back in May. He’s since moved to Le Cellier and will be moving again to the Grand Floridian Café in a couple weeks.

He made me a wonderful meal here in a restaurant whose menu is frighteningly carno-centric.

I started with the tomato stack, made without the cheese. Basically, this is a stack of sliced and diced tomatoes with caramelized onions, adorned with a yuzo dressing and balsamic glaze. A nice light beginning.

The bread sticks brought to the table, incidentally, (sourdough, multi-grain, and pretzel) are all dairy and egg free. As for the enzymes or other possible additives, I don’t know, at least for the multi-grain and sourdough. The pretzel sticks are definitely vegan because they’re made by the same company who makes Germany’s pretzels, which are as previously stated, vegan. And I know they use the same recipe for all of their pretzel products.

For an entrée, I got a very flavorful stir fry (I know, not very Canadian, but it was well executed) with asparagus, eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, carrots and tofu. His stir-fry was spicier than most of the others I’d had, and so was refreshing in that way. It also helped that the veggies were different from the standard stir-fry veggies served elsewhere.

Thanks again, Chef Brett and good luck at the G.F.!

That night I walked back by China because there’s a tea kiosk outside that had a nonalcoholic mango green tea “bao bing” (slush) that I'd wanted to try. Basically it’s just mango juice and tea, no dairy. Very refreshing, mostly tastes like mango with just a hint of green tea flavor.

I bought a mango slush elsewhere in EPCOT and read the ingredients on their mix and found it to be totally vegan as well. I still recommend checking for yourself because they switch companies and vendors so often that you can’t take much for granted.

Day 10 – Lunch
Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café
(Magic Kingdom)

As I said, we ate here one more time, this time with the different, and slightly soggier french fries, and of course another veggie burger.

This is what an unadorned burger looks like:

And this is what it looks like when I've dragged myself away from the topping bar:

Again, this is basically all I ate for the day because I knew I had one last meal with Chef T.J. at ‘Ohana that night.

With one exception, that is.

I had awakened a craving for root beer floats thanks to my one late night excursion to G.G.&G. a few nights prior.
It turns out that they actually sell floats (and of course Tofutti and Rice Dream) at the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor, and so getting a vegan float is as easy as asking for it.

Speaking of which, when you order it, they’ll ask if you have an allergy.
You’ll tell them you’re vegan.

They’ll say “but do you have any allergy?” to which you’ll reply that you’re vegan and don’t do dairy.

They’ll look at you blankly for a few seconds and then say that they’ll put it through as an allergy.

It’s sort of like a pre-written dialogue. I swear, this has happened every time.

Day 10 – Dinner

‘Ohana, Round 2

Course 1 – Salad Course

Half of this dish was something I’d requested ahead of time. If you look back on my blog in May, you’ll see these little soy-wrapped delicacies that were completely refreshing and tropical and addicting, and so I not-so-subtly hinted that I wouldn’t mind if they happened to appear on my plate again.

That’s the only warning I'll give when eating with Chef T.J., he is constantly worried that he’s going to “bore you” by giving you the same thing twice. As if I wouldn’t kill to eat this stuff every night for a year! So if you have something once, unless you specifically request it, there’s a good chance you won’t get it again.

And even this time, he had to change them up a bit, so as not to repeat himself.
The top two wraps contained a salad with dressing already dotted inside. While the bottom two (per my request) were filled with mango, avocado, julienned cucumber, pineapple and pickled ginger. Wow! And around and over them, a hot chili sauce and a roasted red pepper sauce. On the side of this was another little bit of that seaweed salad beneath a garnishing of a few more of those edible flowers.

Course 2 – “Bacon and Greens”

Thin strips of crunchy fried tofu and swiss chard with a spicy soy-based sauce. Somehow this came together to create, what he correctly said, was a wonderfully bacony-tasting dish. Texturally very satisfying. I could eat a few more plates of that right now...

Course 3 – Soup Course

Both of these soups were unnaturally pleasing. On the left was a mushroom soup with fried mushrooms floating on top like a cross between a dumpling and a crouton. This soup was the equivalent of drinking an incredibly scrumptious crimini mushroom. Absolutely rich and simple and full of flavor.

On the more complex and no less delectable right side, a coconut carrot ginger soup which succeeded on all fronts. It was thick and creamy with every element discernible but not overwhelming the others.

Nestled between the soups were two little bundles of goodness: stir fried noodles wrapped in steamed bok choy. Awesome!

Here’s a close-up on the wrapped noodles:

Course 4 – Potato Course

This was a plate of quartered yellow potatoes, roasted and covered with watercress and truffle oil. I can’t describe how earthy and savory and rich this was. And sadly, I can’t show you either, because it was the one thing in my entire trip that I forgot to take a picture of before I’d devoured it. I kicked myself thoroughly afterward, have no fear. It looked, pretty much as described, and was as beautifully plated as all of his dishes are.

Course 5 – Entrée

The serving platter this was presented on was so gargantuan that it makes the food in the middle look small, which of course it was not.

Chef did, however, go easy on me. I kept apologizing that at home I eat pretty small meals these days and that I just don’t have the stomach capacity to cope with such crazed overeating.
And being that this was the first time I’d eaten a meal of his from which I took no leftovers, he obviously hit the perfect sizes right on the button.

This entrée was quite different from anything he’d ever made me. First off, there was more of the tempeh I’d raved so much about the time before, fried asparagus, broccoli raab, delicious spicy and sweet chili and pomegranate sauces, and under it all red pepper-infused couscous.

Course 6 – Dessert

Chef T.J. asked me what I wanted for dessert, in other words, how much room did I have left. I just told him to make whatever he wanted. I am so happy I didn’t wuss out and ask for a little bowl of Tofutti.

Keeping once again with my tradition of badly photographed desserts, you can see the color here but not the texture. On the bottom are sliced avocados. Banana slices ring the edge. On the top and scattered inside were more of those soothing lychees. The white stuff is actually a pina colada mix, (non-dairy, obviously) and hidden inside is a large scoop of chocolate Tofutti. Crowning the top were two maraschino cherries and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. The coconut, chocolate ice cream, banana and avocado all worked so well together it was incredible. As full as I was, I drank the last drops out of the glass.

And so ended yet another exceedingly well-fed vegan Disney World vacation.

I hope this gives you some ideas, and please let me know how you fare down there.

Like always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to let me know.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Well now I'm hungry. :)

    This was awesome info, can't wait to visit some of these places! Thanks again for the blog. I never would have known about all the options at Disney without it!

  2. OK, we are 2 weeks out, and I am not having any luck getting phone numbers to call restaurants to make arrangements. I called the special dietary request line, had to leave a message, and they e-mailed me back with forms to fill out and fax/email back. When I call the dining reservation line, they tell me that they don't have phone numbers for specific restaurants. (I found your blog after making reservations, and didn't realize I needed to get a number during the reservation process). We have reservations at 50's Primetime Cafe, 'Ohana, Boma, Crystal Palace, and Tusker House. I was thrilled to hear about Tusker House, because it was sort of a last resort for us, as everything else we wanted was booked up. Also appreciated the info on Tangierine Cafe - we were counting on that being one of our best bets. Any advice on finding phone numbers?

  3. Hi.
    Yeah, things are changing down there and it's not always for the better. They're giving out pretty much nothing on the reservation line other than the new dietary needs number.

    Sometimes I dial old numbers and see if they still work (sometimes they do, sometimes they don't) and sometimes I have to get creative. For instance, if you're eating in a resort, you can always call the front desk and ask to be transferred to the podium of the restaurant. From there you can ask to talk to a chef. That'll usually work.

    If you're eating in a park, (especially in the case of counter services) I'd call the main park line and usually they will either connect you to the restaurant, or else they'll call the restaurant themselves to answer a question for you or to have a chef call you back.

    If you've filled out those forms and told them on the form that you'd like a call back from all of the chefs, they should all call before you've left. Sometimes it's a little close for comfort though. If you aren't hearing from them quickly enough, feel free to call the main dietary number or email them back and tell them you haven't heard anything.

    And when the chefs do contact you, always ask for a direct line to reach them. That way if something happens in the meantime and you have to cancel or have any other questions you can call. And then you'll also have their number for the next time around. And while you're there, if you particularly like a chef, ask for his card. They all have direct extensions and email addresses.

    You happen to be, at least partially, in luck.
    The current number for Tusker House is 407-938-2195.
    I have an old number for Primetime: 407-560-3551. No guarantees, but you can try it.
    I have an old Boma number too: 407-938-7117
    For 'Ohana, I would try calling the Polynesian front desk like I'd said. I have Chef T.J.'s direct line, but I don't have the main office number there. You are going to 'Ohana on a day from Sunday-Thursday, right?

    I don't have Crystal Palace's number, it's been a long time since we ate there. But if no one contacts you, I'd call the front of the park and go at it that way.

    Let me know how it works and if you need anything else.

    Otherwise, have a great trip!

  4. Thank you so much for all the help! I'll get busy and I'll let you know how it goes. And yes, we are going to 'Ohana on a Tuesday evening. Thanks again!

  5. This is a great blog! It is getting much easier to eat as a vegan at WDW. The Kaki-Gori and Chef TJ are my two favorite vegan-friendly entities :-)
    I recently went to the Food & Wine Festival and (like you) discovered the delicious dosa in India! I also enjoyed shopping my way around the World Showcase for "accidentally vegan" treats. A few highlights: the Salmiak (ammonia-flavored licorice fish) and some delicious cookies that were raspberry jello-meets-Oreos at Norway, several unusual-fruit-flavored hard candies in Japan, the Ritter chocolate marzipan bars in Germany, and some of the chocolate-covered hazelnut candies in Italy!

    A bit of sad news, though--the chili at Columbia Harbour House is indeed vegan, but the oyster crackers contain milk! Be sure to ask for cracker-free chili because even if you say "vegan," they won't always catch it...

  6. Thanks, Michelle!
    Also, thanks for letting me know about the oyster crackers! It's funny, the idea that they may not be vegan crossed my mind seconds after I ate them. It was one of my little brain-stutters because the couple brands of oyster crackers we buy at home are fine. I briefly forgot the first rule of conscientious veganism: never take anything for granted. :-)

    And did you say "ammonia-flavored" licorice? I don't think I'm that brave. Did it taste more like licorice or more like ammonia?

    I forgot to mention in my blog, speaking of accidentally vegan treats, that in the UK they have potato chips that are specifically marked "suitable for vegans", (not that most potato chips aren't suitable) and that I bought a German mango chili dark chocolate bar which to my eyes appears completely vegan, though it's not marked as such, that was REALLY good!

    Thanks again, and please let me know if you have any other tips!

  7. Sorry, didn't see your response until just now! I also tasted some of the UK's vegan chips--they had fun flavors, although I found them all kind of salty. During the F&W Festival, I was able to get a few booths to give me vegan versions of stuff that they had on hand. For instance, Chile had ceviche with rock shrimp & popcorn. Because the park popcorn is vegan (last time I checked), I could eat a cupful of this stuff sans shrimp! I also got a nice Greek salad sans cheese. The Canadian maple-leaf candy is just maple sugar.

    On a recent business trip to WDW, I was able to sample fare from places that I wouldn't ordinarily attend, like Narcoossee's (a seafood joint, but they made a vegan plate reminiscent of the Vegan Unplugged at Cali Grill). I will say that Boma has sadly disappointed me several times since TJ's departure--the chefs don't seem familiar with their own buffets. Last time, I wound up educating the chef about several dishes that he promised were vegan. When I asked him (literally three times for some of the dishes!), "isn't there honey in that?" or "I've been told that salad has dairy in it," he realized that I was right. They used to be such a great place for vegans...

    Oh, and about the salmiak! It's kind of hard to describe. Sort of like a licorice-flavor cough drop. Many of the salmiak in the world has gelatin in it, so the salmiak fish at WDW are something of a rarity. (Although I did find some at IKEA once...)

    Thanks again for your blog!

  8. Ooh--one more thought, as I browse through your blog again and plan some meals for my Oct trip...I wanted to let you know that I contacted the organizer for the Food & Wine Festival and suggested that they prepare a mini-guide for vegetarians navigating the kiosks this year. To my surprise, she stated that they were planning to do that! Marianne.C.Hunnel (at) is her e-mail address--I'm sure it will help if other vegans e-mail her and ask about this as well, so they know there is interest!
    -Michelle (a.k.a. TofuForBrains)

  9. Hey again, Michelle/TFB (great name by the way)

    Thanks for letting me know about that! I'm both excited and shocked that they're putting together that mini-guide. Shocked primarily because in reading this year's menus, there seemed to be very little veg and nothing at all that sounded vegan. I'm eager to see what's on it! Hopefully if more of us email we'll score more options for next year.

    Thanks so much again! Have a great trip!

  10. Not sure if I said this earlier, but the tasting event for Lebanese Taverna was "accidentally vegan" last year. Hummus and some kind of eggplant dish (a kind of baba ganoush?), if memory serves. They will be there again this year, I think.

  11. Just wanted to note that if you ask the chef at Tangierine Cafe in Morroco/Epcot to make you falafel that are NOT cooked in the chicken oil they will accommodate you. However, it will take MUCH longer to get the food. I think it took them about 25 minutes to get me the falafel. Still, it might be worth it if you want to eat vegan falafel.

  12. Thanks, Tigger!
    He made no offer when I was there, just apologized and said he would do a veg plate without them. Being the big falafel fan that I am, it may be worth it. How were they?

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