I know Olive Garden isn't going vegan anytime soon. I also know that I love dining out with my 2-year old DS and DH. Furthermore, I know that normal kid-related mischief is better accepted at a family dining hotspot than, say, Charlie Trotter's. So, we do indulge at these restaurants on occasion. And yes, even vegans can get an awesome meal. Here are our mainstays at a few popular casual dining chains:
CPK (California Pizza Kitchen): My favorite is the Grilled Vegetable Sandwich on the onion bread, swap out the cheese and spread for a glob of their awesome white bean hummus. Plus a side salad with olive oil and vinegar. I always get a strange look from the server when I order this, but I'm in tastebud heaven when it arrives. Don't knock it til you try it. My DH and DS usually get the Split Pea and Barley Soup followed by the Broccoli Sun Dried Tomato Fusilli, hold the cheese and with a side of marinara, please. We are always happily full after our meal, and they give out crayons and a thingie to color for DS. Plus they have some pretty nifty martinis.
Olive Garden: After the 2 1/2 hour wait for a table, we always get the same thing: the soup, salad, and breadstick deal. The staff run back into the kitchen screaming when they see us, because they lose a bunch of money on us -- DH can down about 73 of those breadsticks. The minestrone is their only vegan soup, and it's really delicious (I craved it like crazy when I was pregnant). The problem with the salad, though, is that the house dressing has cheese in it. This really annoys me, b/c you can always ADD parm cheese to their salads, but you can't remove it. And besides being a vegan, I hate parmesan cheese, so I ask for olive oil and vinegar. At least they're flexible about such things.
Applebees: Um, the water? (Vegans, stay away. There is NOTHING, and they don't care.)
Cheesecake Factory: Why, oh why, did they do away with the homemade veggie burger? It rocked! I guess most veggie burger eaters don't frequent a place called the Cheesecake Factory. But let's face it, it's a meetup place for social gatherings big and small, and we want vegan options! We always end up ordering Evelyn's Favorite Pasta (Penne Tossed with Broccoli, Oven-Dried Tomato, Roasted Eggplant, Peppers, Artichoke, Kalamata Olives, Basil, Garlic, Pine Nuts, and Parmesan Cheese). Hold the cheese, of course. Thank you, Evelyn, whoever you are, for making up an easily veganizable item on the menu. It's painful to go there; it's such a HUGE menu and almost nothing vegan. If you got one of everything on the Cheesecake Factory menu, you've just become responsible for the death of about 278 chickens. WHY do they have so much darned CHICKEN? And hey how about a tofu cheesecake?