Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Vegan Sanibel.

As you know, the mister and I spent the post-Thanksgiving days lounging on a tropical beach, waking at noon to a breakfast of fresh fruit and vegan pastries served with fair-trade coffee and organic soymilk. When we weren’t licking sustainable melted chocolate off each other, we pored over the room service menu, bemoaning the fact that only three tofu dishes and one flavor of non-dairy ice cream were on offer. I tell you, the privations we endured.

I JEST. The beach part is true. The rest is not. Certainly not the melted-chocolate part, but even if it was, I’m not telling you, random Internet people. While we did spend a happy mini-moon down in warm, sunny Sanibel Island, it was not the effortless vegan paradise of our dreams. With some planning, it definitely exceeded vegan purgatory, though, so read on.

The view from our room.

I didn’t become vegan yesterday, so my first order of business upon planning any trip is to ferret out where I will eat. Seriously, sleeping can come second. Like most vegans, I am well-versed in the joys of scouring the local 7-Eleven knockoff for something edible. It’s not a pretty experience. It smells like desperation and feels like you need a shower. I would not have that experience during my first vacation with my new husband.

This website saved my tempeh bacon: I had already checked HappyCow and VegDining, to no avail. You’d think Sanibel didn’t even exist. Then, Google prevailed. I really lucked out with, whose menu PDFs proved highly reliable. Menu PDFs for the win! They made my job a million times easier. If I didn’t see anything vegan-friendly at first glance—salads didn’t count—I moved on to the next restaurant. At the end of an afternoon, I had a master list of 14 places where Red and I could either order or buy food. Considering we were only staying for three nights, we were in excellent shape. Bonus: the Sanibel/Captiva Dining Guide, a printed version of’s restaurant listings and menus, was handed to us at our hotel. It was our constant companion as we planned our meals.

We did a lot of this.

We’ll start with lunch, as that’s the meal we were jonesing for when we got to the resort and were told it would be another two hours before our room was ready. The lady who checked us in helpfully pointed us to a nearby restaurant, declaring that if we’d never had alligator, then that was the place to go. I tried to demur, but she pressed it and I had to play the V-card. “Well, that’s okay,” she said, rather bafflingly. Once we established that I didn’t eat fish or dairy either, and that Red didn’t eat anything that had a face, I assured her that I had done my research and was pretty sure we’d be able to score some lunch for ourselves. The island is 12 miles long and three miles wide. Our options may not have been legion, but they were all close by.

We hit the jackpot at the Twilight Café, a scant mile or two from the hotel. At that point, we were so hungry the tablecloth probably would have tasted good, but our lunch seriously did not disappoint. Red chowed down on a Caprese sandwich, while I had a portabella wrap with sweet potato fries. A dedicated vegetarian section of the menu was a nice bonus, and the funky, sunlit décor was relaxing. We ended up at the Twilight again on our last day, when we ordered the exact same things for lunch. We were hungry and not inclined to be adventurous before sitting for hours at the Ft. Myers airport.

After much deliberation—pizza? pasta?—we went to the Great White Grill for dinner. This was a surprise indeed, as we realized that we had traveled 1,100 miles to end up in a Steelers bar. Steelers! In Florida! I could care less about football, but I was excited to take pictures for a friend. We loved the Great White. It had the chill feel of a neighborhood bar, with a million beers, laidback staff, and awesome pizza. Red had a massive garden salad and, I think, a cheese pizza. I ordered the Jean’s Garden Pizza (no cheese), and it was a veggie delight. We boxed up the leftovers and ate them for breakfast the next morning.

Steelers fans, behold your tropical outpost! Ravens fans, I know you're coming for me.

After a morning of sightseeing, we hit up The Sanibel Bean around brunch time. I wasn’t hungry, but enjoyed a soy latté. Red had a bagel. Exciting, I know. I tell you what, though—the place is popular. Being one of only two coffee shops on the island is a pretty good place to be. We visited twice more before we left. I never ordered anything more thrilling than a whole-wheat bagel with peanut butter, but the fact that they had soy milk was reason enough for me to love them. Carry on, Sanibel Bean. Next time I’ll get the tabouli and hummus platter.

Hey there, Hungry Heron. The fresh vegetable penne was bursting with artichoke-y goodness, and was hearty enough for two meals. A ton of pasta, I tell you. The leftovers were thoroughly enjoyed. I forget what Red ordered, but I think it was a salad. We returned another evening before we left, and we both had the teriyaki stirfry skillet. A small misstep, that. The vegetables were good and the sauce tasty, but it just didn’t work with the noodles, which were basically thin spaghetti. Soba or rice noodles would have been better, or even rice, but it wasn’t a dealbreaker.

[I must digress here to call out the worst example of customer behavior I’ve ever had the misfortune to witness. The Internet is cluttered with “You’ve Got Good Customer Service When…” lists, but rarely have I seen a similar guide for customers themselves. So listen up, lady on vacation with her extended family. You fucked up good. It looked like all of you ordered seafood specials, which run about $20 a pop. $20 x eight of you = $160. Add drinks and it’s a little more. The Hungry Heron’s menu states explicitly, as do most restaurants, that the gratuity—in this case 18%—will be added to the bill for groups of six or more. Most diners appreciate this, as it saves them the trouble of figuring out the tip and dividing it amongst the group. Eighteen percent of $160 is $28.80. And yet you had to go and ask the waitress if you could write in the tip amount yourself, because she did a nice job and everything, but…but…your utter contempt for everyone who’s not you prevented you from even deigning to tell her what you really thought of her, which is that she wasn’t worth 18%. Of course she told you that was fine, because she had to. When you left, I saw her glance at the amount you’d written in. She was pissed, and justifiably so. It sounded like she muttered something about 15% to the busboy, telling him that it wasn’t even the point. She’s right. It wasn’t the point. The point was that you are a tightass bitch with an equally tightass family who couldn’t be bothered to politely follow restaurant policy and tip your waitress what she’d earned. You are why customer service employees burn out. I hope a bird shit on your car. Red and I could do little more than gape at each other as we tried to comprehend your disdain for common decency, which actually does extend to service industry professionals. To hopefully make her night a little better, we left her a massive tip. Fuck you very much.]

Then we went back to the Great White and had a drink because I was so very grossed out. We left before the football game started, though, because the regulars (we remembered them from our last visit) started trickling in, and we didn’t want to suffer the fate of Baltimorons in a Steelers bar.

Red was very excited about the prospect of ice cream, so we made time during our stay to head to Pinocchio’s. I was excited about the prospect of mango sorbet. I can’t remember what he got, but it was some fancy sundae and he reported that it was very delicious. Alas, my mango sorbet did not fulfill its promise. Their website says it’s made from fresh mango puree, but it tasted like it was made from fresh Fla-Vor-Ice syrup. Y’all know what I’m talking about. After a few bites, I accepted that the mango goodness just wasn’t going to kick in. Red was sad that he had a good dessert and I didn’t, but now I appreciate Trader Joe’s and Haagen-Dasz’s mango sorbets that much more.

Our last dining adventure was at Doc Ford’s, famed Sanibel rum bar. After a day of lounging on the beach, fruity rum drinks sounded like the way to go, and we were not disappointed. We each had a Sanibel Sunset (think orange juice, grapefruit juice, and some boozy awesomeness) and a mojito. The menu was a tough sell, but Red had the veggie burger and said that it was definitely better than the average restaurant’s frozen-hockey-puck offering. We split some fries, and I had the Tropical Salad (sans fromage). Greens, oranges, dried cherries, sugary-spicy pecans—it was really good. I don’t even like onions, but the fried ones that topped the salad may change my mind.

My mojito, with boozy gummy alligator.

Our resort had no room service, not that I’ve ever stayed in a hotel that did. Continental breakfast was included, of course, but it was just…sad. Bagels, muffins, coffee, and orange juice. Not a piece of fresh fruit to be had. I was bummed, but I had stashed some apples and Clif bars in my backpack before we left for just such an occurrence. They, plus leftovers, made sure I started the day off right.

Well, there you have our culinary tour of Sanibel Island. If you made it all the way through this massive post, you deserve a vacation of your own!

My buddy the gopher tortoise. He just cruised around the resort, snacking.


  1. I love this post! Wow, it looks like you had so much fun. The shot of lounging/reading on the beach perfectly captures what I want all of my vacations to be. Sigh....I haven't been on vacation in way too long....

    Okay, your crappy customer service made me mad. I can't STAND it when people don't tip, and tip generously. I knew this guy (asshole) who used to tell me that he refused to tip wait staff because it was their job to serve him and they were already getting paid. Ughghg. They don't even make minimum wage, they rely on tips to make a living. Scum.

    Hehehe, you are like me, 'but where are we going to EAT!?!?!' Most important question for sure. Glad you found some good places!

  2. BAHAHA. I LOVED how you went all: "we had this, and ate this, and this was yummy" to "I HATE YOU CRAZY ANNOYING LADY" rant to: "and this was good and tasty..."


    also- sounds like you had an amazing time- I would be happy for a bit of sunshine in this storm we have... :S

  3. Thank you so much. My husband and I have been going to Sanibel Island for years (we even named our dog Sanibel), but only recently became vegans. Looking forward to visiting some old faves and trying new places when we go again next month!

  4. So glad I could help, Anonymous! Sanibel is so beautiful, and we'd love to go back. There is also a tiny natural-foods store on the island where I bought dried mango. I can find the name for you if you like. Have a wonderful trip!

  5. Wow, I would really love the name of the natural foods store. We always stay at Mitchell's Sand Castles (right on the beach on the west end) so we'll have a kitchen during our week's stay. We eat about half our meals at our cottage - can't beat the view!! Thanks!

  6. Anonymous, I think it was Island Nutrition Center. Google's telling me there are two of them, but I only remember one! Either way, the island's small, so you'll find it. I know there are other small groceries on Sanibel and Captiva, so you should be in good shape.

  7. My husband and I are planning a trip to Sanibel or Captiva and I'm trying to find where we can eat vegan and veg. Thank you for these dining tips. Can you recommend good accomodations too?

  8. Hi, Kathleen! So glad you found the post helpful. We stayed at the Sanibel Sunset Beach Resort: I believe it is a bit pricey, even for Sanibel (my husband's parents surprised us with the trip as a wedding present). Still, it is beachfront and we had a mini-kitchen so we could keep our leftover pizza for breakfast. :) Have a wonderful trip!

  9. The Island Nutrition Center is now "The Sanibel Sprout.". They have a food co -op that costs $10 to join (lasts 6 months) you get an organic grocery list on Monday and have til Tues at 10 am to order; must be picked up at the store Wed between noon and 6. They often have extras that day. There is also a farmers market Sundays in season; lots of fruits, veg's etc, one organic grower open 8 til 1; if you want organic be there early; there is also a sprouts booth , also organic ; the market is located on Dunlop Rd between the library and the city offices

  10. GREAT post - thanks. Now I'm not worried about having only nuts & fruit to eat (smile).

  11. Thank you!! heading to Sanibel tomorrow for one night (we live fairly close) but wanted to know ahead of time where to go eat! Since only one day and one night, wanted to keep the guessing to a minimum! Thank you!

  12. Thanks!!! I am vegan and preparing a relocation to Sanibel, and was very worried. Obviously I will be preparing most of my own meals, but it's nice to know that I will have some decent options for dining out.

  13. My husband and I are heading to Sanibel for the first time in a few months, and were looking for places where our veg selves wouldn't go hungry. Thanks for your really well-written post! If you're ever in Asheville, I also write a vegetarian food blog that also talks about where you can get good veg food in non-veg restaurants called Similar kind of tone. I'm glad I'm not the only one having fun with the food writing! Thanks again for the fun blog!