Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dinner At Mason Dixon Bistro

As followers of my Instagram account may have noted, I had dinner last week at the newly opened Mason Dixon Bistro, the latest addition to the locally owned gluten-free bakery. The Huntsville Vegans had their Friday meetup and so I joined them.

The place was pretty enough, and I was pleasantly surprised that there were two choices on the dinner menu for vegan entrees, and they had also a vegan appetizer, a soup, and an attempted salad. Disappointingly, they still don't understand that honey is an animal product and honey is in the salad dressing (and the snicker doodles are still marked vegan). Some of the Huntsville Vegans were disappointed in the menu and left without ordering. Honestly, there are hardly any places in Huntsville where you have more than two choices as a vegan, and many where you have zero choices. Mason Dixon's main focus is gluten-free, followed by paleo dieting, so I was pleased to see any options.

Two hours later I was less pleased, as we still had not gotten our food. Some more Huntsville Vegans had left, and I couldn't blame them at this point. The owner came back to ask how our food was, and we stared at him and said, well, we haven't gotten any yet. He looked startled and ran back to the kitchen. After bringing out free salad for everyone, he said our food would be right out.

After eating, I went up to the counter to talk to the server, who went to get the owner. I told him it had been a full two hours before we were served food. I know because I had been posting pictures since I had first sat down. He explained that the computer system had gone amiss and the order had never gone to the kitchen. That might explain an extra 15 minutes wait, but it doesn't explain why the server didn't notice that we hadn't gotten our food for two hours. As a former server, I can say confidently that I would have noticed in a rather short time that my order hadn't come out. In the end, the owner gave me my meal for free, which was nice of him.

I have since been to dinner another time and had better success. The food does take a long time (but not two hours). It's a small kitchen and items are being prepared individually, not pre-cooked, just don't go there anytime if you are in a hurry. The service is still a little quirky. I had to remind the server that I had ordered a drink, for example. Hopefully, they will get these problems sorted out soon as they hire more experienced servers.

There was a big disconnect between what I thought of the food and what many of the Huntsville Vegans thought of the food. After having my family try some of my left overs, and having others join me for my second meal there, I think I understand why. I have a low sodium diet and live in a gluten-free household. Anyone who is eating gluten-free has been forced into a lower salt diet due to the fact that there is hardly any prepared food that you can have. You can't have Campbell's 1000mg of sodium soup; it has wheat in it. Vegans often consume a lot of fake meat products, which are also really high in salt (but note most of these contain gluten). The less salt you eat, the more you taste your food. At first everything tastes like cardboard, but then there's that magical day when you start to notice that even plain vegetables have multiple layers of flavor you've never tasted before.

The point of this salt rant is simply that I, and others with a low salt diet (including most gluten intolerant people), find the food at Mason Dixon Bistro to be fairly tasty, while many of the Huntsville Vegans found it bland. You might, too, depending on your salt intake.

Another complaint is about the prices. It's higher than I would normally pay for a meal, but fairly regular for any place called a "bistro". This is upscale dining, and upscale dining also has smaller portions because you are expected to order an appetizer, soup or salad, main course, and dessert in order to get full. Expect to pay $30 to $40 a vegan, more if you are with omnis.

I don't consider myself a food critic, I don't judge food since everyone has different tastes. I just like to present new food options. You can take them or leave them and make an informed choice. First off take a look at your salt intake, next up decide how much a evening's food pleasure is worth to you.

Note: Mason Dixon Bistro has a completely different menu for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. The dinner menu is what follows.

The Appetizer

Stuffed Mushrooms $8

  • Quinoa, roasted tomatoes, cucumbers, and balsamic vinegar
  • At over 2 bucks a mushroom, the price makes my eye twitch
  • Nicely round vinegary flavor
  • Adorable presentation


Soups & Salads

Sweet Potato & Carrot Soup $6

  • Drizzled with a swirl of coconut milk
  • Surprisingly spicy
  • A nice large bowl
  • Warms the soul while waiting for your main course

House Salad $8

  • Not actually vegan with honey in the dressing
  • A nice mix of greens and purples make for a tasty and pretty salad
  • Needs dressing!
  • The candied pecans are great, but I was concerned they contained honey too 



Falafel "Meat"balls $16

  • The noodles are covered with pistou - an Italian sauce made with olive oil, garlic, and basil
  • Don't think this is like pesto, it's far more subtle
  • My favorite of the two entrees, but very Mediterranean and I'm sure many would consider it bland
  • The falafel will throw you for a loop since it's not the traditional falafel you've had
  • Falafel is fresh chickpeas smushed up and fried - reminded me of hummus at first, but it grew on me

 Quinoa Tabouleh $16

  • Very similar to the appetizer in spices - a little too similar
  • The portebello mushrooms are the star of this show, seasoned with balsamic vinegar
  • No, there's no way they could beat Chef Will's portebellos (why would you even think that?), but they are good enough and made gluten-intolerant friendly
  • I've never been a huge fan of tomatoes, but the cherry tomatoes in this are pretty delish

The Dessert


Six Layer Chocolate Raspberry Cake $7

  •  At first I thought this looked really small until I started to dig in, then the layers got deeper and deeper
  • Fantastic raspberry cream!
  • Cake may seem heavy if you are a gluten eater, but trust me, this is gluten-free heaven!

Cupcakes - 

Several of the bakery's cupcakes are vegan, including my favorite: the Cookie Monster. These are the same amazing guys from Mason Dixon Bakery (old location) and the farmer's markets.

Monday, January 19, 2015

We Don't Serve Your Kind Here: Why Can't I Eat At Fancy Restaurants?

 No meat, no dairy. One would think it wouldn't be hard to find here in Huntsville, where you can't walk a block without passing at least one (usually two or three) restaurants. Indeed there are plenty of options for the casual diner. And yet, somehow, the more money you are willing to shell out, the fewer options you have.

Business dinners are always hard for anyone with dietary choices or food restrictions. The chance of an advance order getting messed up is high, and that's even if your boss respects your right to choose what goes in your body. But even saying you have a terrific boss who makes every effort, it apparently may not be possible to eat a decent meal at an upscale restaurant in Huntsville.

"Whoa, wait a minute," you say. "You must just be on a rant. There are lots of professional chefs in the area. If you order in advance they surely could come up with something fantastic."

Yes, one would think.

I often get questions on Facebook and Twitter about the best place to find vegan items or foods. Usually I'm not too disappointed in what I (and other helpful Facebook peeps) can dig up. However, the most recent question was from a business woman who was looking for an upscale restaurant to hold a business meeting/dinner. Of course, Shannon needed vegan options.

After several weeks of suggestions and calling restaurants, she posted an update on her progress. After talking to the big names in local food such as Cotton Row, Grill 29, The Bottle, and Albany Bistro, she came up with nothing. The only meal they could offer her was essentially a plate of steamed or stir-fried veggies. While strictly speaking this might be the healthiest thing to eat, vegans don't pay 20 or 30 bucks for a plate of broccoli. We go to nice restaurants to have our tongues entertained with delights we can't replicate at home. New ideas are what we pay chefs for, right?

According to recent statistics, ONE THIRD of the population of the United States is interested in moving towards a vegetarian or vegan diet. This market is already in the millions and will continue to grow. Can you seriously say you employ a fine dining chef if they can't deviate from a steak? As Shannon put it, "If I don't have trouble using tofu, tempeh, or seitan to substitute for meat, why in the world are these professional chefs finding it so hard?"

Well? Any local restaurants want to answer that?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Mangos Caribbean Restaurant

Vegan Fish Stew & sides

This little hidden gem of a restaurant offers a couple of different vegan options and several vegetarian options in Caribbean style.

I go here so often they recognize me when I walk in the door. 

If you have been to Curry-In-A-Hurry, this restaurant is very different. The dishes are FAR LESS spicy and the lightly cooked cabbage is fantastic.

Mangos Caribbean Restaurant can be found tucked into the University Target shopping center in one of the alleyways facing IHOP. Westside Centre, 6241 University Drive Northwest.   

Hours are
Mon - Thu 10:30am - 9pm; Fri 10:30am - 3pm; Sun 11am - 7pm

  • Orders come with a side of rice & peas, cabbage, and fried plantains
  • Not burn-your-mouth-off spicy
  • Handle special requests well 
  • Locally owned and friendly!
  • Fake meats are gluten and soy based
  • Open Sundays
  • Great Caribbean drinks like mauby and sorrel 


Find more information about Mangos:

Vegan Escovitch Fish