Native Foods Cafe, the nearest vegan place to Art Institute of Chicago, was where my friend (former PAFA classmate and one of the best painters/surface preparers in our graduate year) and I popped by to have lunch. My usual spot in Washington D.C. had the same familiar setup– opened space, red and yellow painted features, and giant windows to let in natural light and downtown city views. Excitement and hunger bounced together, especially heightened by the sight of newest tantalizing desserts sequestered behind the glass case.
Once the waitress delivered our ordered food to the table, my expectations grew tremendously. At first unsuccessful bite attempt, however, I realized that we had tragically plummeted into a giant rabbit hole of disappointment. The hard ciabatta bread was toasted to the point of inedible concern and the weak, chewy chik’in with limp flavored tempeh bacon wasn’t up to par with my Philly addiction to Hip City Veg’s terrific rendition. In addition to misery, at this point eating my meal like a salad, my companion didn’t find their nutty cheese necessarily “a win on the vegan side.” Plus, he thought there were too many jalapeños. I actually like their housemate cashew cheese and was disheartened to hear his disappointment. The macaroni and cheese, which I ate the next day, eased my despair.
Chicago has four Native Foods Cafe locations overall. Perhaps we came on a bad day.