When I travel to Chicago, I look forward to eating meat.
After watching the 2016 documentary Before the Flood with my daughter, however, I decided to take a break from the steak. It turned out to be surprisingly easy in the hometown of Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago.
Until the 1920s Chicago was the country’s largest meatpacking center in the US and the acknowledged headquarters of the meat industry. Today, it’s still one of the best places to find a steak. A narrow swath on the Near North Side contains 42 steak houses—a density that may be unrivaled anywhere.
The biggest rival to my enjoyment of Chicago steakhouses? Global warming. Specifically, it’s the carbon footprint we all leave behind contributing to global warming. In the United States, the average emissions per capita are about 17 metric tons (37,400 pounds) per year. A big part of that is pollution. And, another big part of that is agriculture. According the experts, every pound of beef served is equivalent to releasing about nineteen pounds of greenhouse gases. By one estimate, consuming a pound of beef gives off more carbon than burning a gallon of gasoline.
That is why I pledged to eat less meat, drive alone less, and reduce/reuse/recycle more.
In the 1990s, I ate a vegetarian diet and always felt like I was cheating myself. Flavors for vegan alternatives to my favorite dishes were a pale comparison. Native Foods Cafe proves better than anyone that this isn’t the case any longer. I tried five dishes here over a three-day stay and everything was a hit.
Their faux buffalo wings are the best boneless ‘wings’ you’ll have. Order them crispy, without sauce and you’ll enjoy them more than any chicken-based alternative. Great texture, crunch and flavor. The only downside is the limited sauce options. Buffalo only. I recommend ordering the sauce on the side and dipping the wings.
The Faux Gyro is good, but the plate includes a generous portion of Quinoa and veggies that dominate. This is another place where adding some sweet/spicy sauce to the plate takes things to the next level.
Even Beyond the Native Food Cafe, eating vegan in downtown Chicago posed no problems. In fact, it was adventurous. There were a dozen vegan-friendly destinations within walking distance of my downtown hotel — and great seafood alternatives at Chicago steakhouses. Some of my favorite vegan-friendly takeout spots included Snap Kitchen and The Protein Bar.
This trip proved that eating in the Windy City is more than meat.