Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dinner at Jack Astor's, Kitchener

Restauranting is not the easiest thing when you're a vegan. Honestly, when it comes to my daily life I often forget that I'm "different". Veganism is just life in our house. It's only when I venture out of my house that I realize I'm a dietary minority and that my choices are strange to many other people.

We had dinner plans with some wonderful friends of ours on Friday night, and Jack Astor's was selected as the place. I looked through the online menu and learned that (like pretty much every other family restaurant) a garden salad and nachos-sans-cheese are pretty much the extent of vegan-friendly choices on the menu. I did see a couple of noodle dishes, so I called ahead to see if they were okay.

Unfortunately, they all had fish sauce in them, but the person I spoke to over the phone was VERY helpful and welcoming. He said he wanted to look at the menu more thoroughly, so he took my email address and sent me a message later in the afternoon, with dishes that were close to vegan-friendly and thus could be made vegan-friendly with a few minor substitutions. He even included a rice stir fry option that is not on the regular menu, but could be made with relative ease with items they have stocked in their kitchen.

While I don't think it is appropriate to apologize for being vegan, I do understand the difficulty many restaurants (chain or otherwise) have with accommodating us and so I expressed regret if I was causing him or his staff any extensive inconvenience. I received this email in return:

You do not need to worry about calling ahead, just ask the server for a vegetable stirfry with the appropriate modifications and it won't be an issue. It is not an inconvenience at all, and by no means is it difficult to figure out some suitable menu options for you, its actually quite fun digging deep into the ingredient list of every product (for a kitchen manager at least!)! Look forward to your visit tomorrow, thanks for emailing ahead!

And you know, his friendliness and welcoming attitude made my day.

So, we went on Friday night and I mentioned to the waitress that I had spoken to the kitchen manager and that he had said a veggie stir fry would not be problematic for the kitchen staff. She was very courteous as well, and returned to the table to clarify that the teriyaki sauce they use is suitable for vegans (it was!) rather than just using it.

As vegans, we often talk about the horrible restaurant experiences we have and so I thought it very important to share this success story. The eyerolls, the " don't eat what?" comments are unfortunately more the rule than the exception. As a rule, I always call ahead when heading to a restaurant I am not uber familiar with, and I typically get the "Well, there's salad...". The Jack Astor's Kitchener location was the first to not only take the time to go through their menu in a detailed way, but they also went as far as offering something that is not a standard item on their menu to ensure that I felt comfortable.

And because restaurants themselves often only hear complaints, I fired off an email to the Jack Astor's head office, thanking them for their enthusiasm in accommodating me. I hope that they will consider including some vegan options as permanent menu items (the teriyaki dish is a great candidate!) but in the meantime I just wanted to reiterate how much I appreciated their hospitality. I can't guarantee this kind of treatment at all Jack Astor's locations, but I can confirm that the Kitchener location rose to the occassion and made sure I was comfortable and able to enjoy dinner with my friends. And so, I am giving the Kitchener, Ontario location of Jack Astor's the This is Vegan Seal of Approval with hopes that they will continue this positive attitude toward vegans and consider expanding their menu to provide more vegetable-based animal-free options.

Jack Astor's Bar & Grill
509 Wilson Ave
Kitchener, ON N2C 2M4
(519) 748-1604


olivia rae said...

wow that really is so great. i'm a vegetarian, and have thought many times about becoming vegan (and was for a few months) but my love for eating out that holds me back. i feel that some places (ny, california) have so many more options. ahhh i need to make the switch, i really do! you're inspiring! xoxo

Gina said...

That is great that you had such a positive restaurant experience!! I have had some good and some bad, but I have found the most success with having a positive, lighthearted attitude. I almost enjoy the challenge of eating out at a non-veg place....almost, haha.

The Voracious Vegan said...

What an awesome post! Glad you had a great experience. It can make all the difference in the world when the wait staff at a restaurant are patient and understanding, that can make an awful time turn out to be fantastic. Dining out as a vegan doesn't have to be hard, it just requires a bit of work!

Mary said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

Eating at restaurants is the most daunting task of veganism, I think. But, it is getting much better...just having people be familiar with the term "vegan" is refreshing, as in the past I don't think it was so much the case. I think the more we are vocal about our dietary needs the more responsive restaurants will be and in the future it may just be the case that we no longer have to call ahead or jump through any hoops in order to ensure we are welcome at certain restaurants.

Olivia, I very much felt the same way when I first went vegan. It was just overwhelming, trying to determine what I could and couldn't eat at restaurants and where I could and couldn't go. A phone call the day before (or even a couple hours before) does wonders for putting your mind at ease, and it helps to give the restaurant a bit of warning too so that they can ensure they have their bases covered. Like Voracious said, it doesn't have to be hard it just takes a bit of work!

Allison, The Busy (Happy!) Vegan said...

Amazing! It's always great when those eating out experiences go well! People are often surprised when I tell them that I, like you, often just phone ahead and get some tasty off-item menu. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Do you know if the veggie burger patties were also vegan?

Mary said...

Anon - The last time I was there the waitress went and talked to the kitchen staff and she said they were vegan EXCEPT for the mushroom topping (they fry the mushrooms in butter) and the more obvious toppings (mayo, cheese, etc.) but I haven't communicated with Jack Astor's head office so I don't have official confirmation for that. It's pretty cool that they have a veggie burger now though..when I wrote this entry a year ago there was pretty much nothing vegan on the menu, and only a few items that were easily veganized. Good on you, Jack Astor's!

Mary said...

I should also note that they are very accommodating with leaving the mushroom topping off, although it is a standard part of the veggie burger. However, I don't want to outwardly confirm the patty itself is vegan without contacting the head office first (word on the internet is that it is okay, but until I get official word we'll leave it as a "maybe").

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