If you’re headed to the seashore this beach season, chances are pretty high you will eventually find yourself sitting down to dine at an establishment that is less plant-based and more surf-and-turf. So what’s a hungry vegan to do? Before you resign yourself to the dreaded make-a-meal-out-of-sides option, or simply settle in for an evening of French fries and cocktails (although that can indeed have its charm), here’s a quick and easy guide for any vegan who wants to effortlessly navigate through a seafood town and not starve.
1. Chat up the locals
In advance of your seaside trip, check Facebook or other social media channels for local vegan groups and pages by searching the name of the town, and adding “vegan,” then asking questions. It’s no secret that vegans love pointing each other in the direction of good food, and those residing in beach towns are especially aware of the challenges involved in finding a great meal when surrounded by fish shacks and oyster bars. You will gain more valuable insight into where to go, places to avoid, and specific menu item recommendations in one discussion thread than you will spending hours poring over review sites like Happy Cow, TripAdvisor, or Yelp (not that there’s anything wrong with review sites; they can be a helpful starting point, but may not be current, as vegan menu offerings can change). Depending upon where you are, beach-based vegan groups that can steer you in the right direction include Big Island Vegans, Vegan Virginia Beach, and Galveston Vegans.
2. Get the apps
Download the latest versions of popular vegan food apps for easy, on-the-go references. VeganXpress includes an alphabetical list of fast food and chain restaurants across the continental United States, including seafood-centric eateries such as Legal Sea Foods, Red Lobster, and Benihana. Filter your search by dietary preference, then click on a restaurant name for up-to-date listings of plant-based menu items, as well as specific suggestions for veganizing other dishes with a few tweaks. Also included? A super-handy, extensive list of vegan beers, wines, and liquors. International seaside travelers in search of a plant-based meal will appreciate Veganagogo. This useful translation app comes preloaded with exact phrases and questions that will help diners secure cruelty-free meals in 50 foreign languages. Simply tap on a language and select the question or message you want to convey to your server.
3. Give a heads-up
With reasonable advance notice, many restaurants will work to accommodate requests pertaining to dietary preferences. Looking up menus online prior to visiting area restaurants may only prove that they do not offer any vegan items. But fear not! With a friendly email or phone call, you will likely find that most restaurants are eager to work with you to provide a plant-based dish. Though their menu might only offer selections such as fried shrimp, oysters, and the catch of the day, a seafood restaurant will surely have plenty of assorted grains and vegetables on hand, and they can easily cook up a rice or pasta bowl inspired by your special request.
4. Request modifications
If, after settling in and perusing the menu, you are not finding anything that suits you, enlist the help of your server. They should be able to handle minor modifications such as “no butter” or “hold the cheese on the salad.” Requests that go beyond simply removing salmon from the sushi or leaving the lobster out of the salad and move into the territory of swapping ingredients (such as exchanging the shrimp for cauliflower or the scallops for mushrooms) may require consulting with the chef. How about some extra vegetables instead of the steak on the kabobs? Many professional chefs embrace the challenge, while others will scoff at the request—but it never hurts to ask.
5. Let them get creative
If modifications are not enough, up your chances of getting a great meal by inquiring about whether the chef can prepare something entirely different. Many chefs keep a few dishes up their sleeves that are not advertised on the menu but are absolutely available upon request. Simon & Seafort’s restaurant in Anchorage, Alaska offers up a portobello mushroom brushed with sweet chili sauce, and a crunchy ginger crust drizzled with sweet soy reduction sauce, as a vegan-friendly off-menu suggestion. And The Slippery Mermaid Sushi Bar in Pensacola, Florida will whip up a vegan sushi roll featuring crunchy baked tofu, truffle roasted asparagus and onions, vegan cream cheese, and a creamy garlic sauce just for you—but you have to ask.
Holly V. Gray is a freelance writer and recipe developer currently based in Northern Virginia.