Olive Garden, Panera, and Otto’s Pizza (Otto’s Wins)

The past few days at work have been pretty slack so we’ve taken a few extended lunches out in town.  Early in the week one of my coworkers brought in a $25 gift card to Olive Garden so thanks to her generosity we engorged ourselves with never-ending soup, salad, and bread sticks (also a glass of wine, Tuesday is the new Thursday right?).  For a full meal and  a glass of wine with a tip we ended up paying about $12/person, not a bad deal.

Had four or five breadsticks, two bowls of minestrone soup (pasta, beans, tomatoes, and other veggies), a few plates of salad, and a glass of wine. Definitely went into a coma when we got back to work.

Going out to restaurants has been interesting as a vegetarian.  You try and comb the menu for the one or two items that don’t have meat as an ingredient.  For example, at Olive Garden I definitely could have gotten almost any pasta dish and been fine.  However, as for the soup/salad/bread combo I only had one choice of soup out of five possible soups.  It has definitely become clear to me that we live in a culture that favors meat over veggies.  The vegetarian is indeed the minority (even at an “Italian” restaurant).

Another day we went to Panera for lunch.  I had brought my lunch (Anne’s Pasta, loaded with Frank’s Red Hot, Mmmm delicious) but I decided that it would be good for my vegetarian challenge to go out to lunch again and to relive what it means to be a vegetarian in the USA.  Again, almost everything on the menu had meat in it.  There were a few sandwiches (out of dozens) that were veggie-only and only a few of the soups were veggie.  Here’s a picture below:

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Tomato, mozzarella, and pesto sandwich with french bread and brocolli and cheddar soup.

This is something I probably never would have ordered eating out.  When standing in line I thought to myself “Eh, I’m not much of a soup guy”.  But why not?  I think that just by default I go for the meatiest meal on the menu, something with grilled chicken or three choices of meat, then throw on some bacon and call it good.  It sounds bad but having soup and bread for lunch isn’t something that I would have seriously considered before this month.  It ended up being delicious, filling, and warming.  If anything, this month has helped me expand what I might add or have for a meal besides meat.  Meat doesn’t need to be in every single thing that I order but in the past that’s been the case.  Why order a veggie pizza when I can order veggie pizza with buffalo chicken on top?  Why does my pasta always need grilled chicken?  Why are my sandwiches always Italians with double meat?  I think from now on having a veggie wrap or a bowl of soup for lunch will be a totally reasonable choice for lunch.

One day after work I headed out to Harvard Square to feed my outdoor gear addiction at Eastern Mountain Sports (safety gear only, anchor building stuff and a new med kit #100TC).  More often than not while I’m out in Harvard Square I’ll stop by Otto’s Pizza.  Not only is the pizza delicious with a 50/50 selection of veggie pizzas but it’s also based out of Portland, Maine.  So every time I eat there I feel like I’m supporting my motherland by eating great pizza, that’s a pretty solid feeling to be supporting Maine economy by scarfing pizza.  I largely prefer Otto’s over Upper Crust (also in Harvard Square), it actually tastes better, there’s more of a selection, and it’s more convenient.  Otto’s is right next to the T whereas Upper Crust is a bit farther removed from the center of the square.  So why walk the extra quarter of a mile out of the way when you can eat at Otto’s instead?

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Otto's Pizza - Vegetarian Pizzas on Top, Carnivore Pizza on Bottom.

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Left - Roasted Tomato with Ricotta and Basil. Right - Three Chese Tortellini with Tomato Sauce.

I asked the two guys working there if I could take a picture of their store to put it on my blog and they said absolutely.  Then they immediately launched into questions about my blog like what I’ve done so far, what was the hardest/easiest one, and what I’m planning to do in the coming months.  We brainstormed a few new ideas and spent a good 5-10 minutes talking about it.  They copied down my blog’s name, so shout out to the two guys from Otto’s in Harvard Square, if you’re reading this, feel free to leave me some suggestions for future challenges.

Later on in the week I got pizza again but from a the suburbs of Boston.  It was definitely less gourmet than Otto’s but it still hit the spot.  I’ve definitely copped out a bit this month just getting pizza when I don’t feel like making my own food or getting a veggie salad/wrap.  Again, being vegetarian is not synonymous with eating healthy 🙂  This place was owned by a local family so again I feel good about putting money back into the local economy.  However, there’s a line between eating local because the company is local and eating local because the ingredients are local.  I doubt the ingredients from this pizza place in suburbia are local ingredients.  Ideally I’d like to spend my money on a local businesses who use local ingredients, but given the choice I think I’d rather spend my money at a Mom and Pop shop  that gets their ingredients from Star Market vs a massive chain restaurant who probably does the same thing.

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Cheese Pizza at a local Mom and Pop shop. No idea where the ingredients came from but I like the fact it's a locally owned small business.

Only a few more days left in my vegetarian challenge.  It definitely took a few weeks for my body to adjust to my new food group (vegetables) all in all it’s been a great experience.  A lot of people have asked me what my meat-snack at 12:01 on New Years will be.  Honestly I haven’t even thought about it at all, I haven’t craved meat one bit.  I think it was mostly just habit that kept driving me toward meat, not necessarily having a craving for it.  Sure I like hamburgers, steak, and bacon as much as the next carnivore, I just haven’t felt any cravings this month.  So from my first-hand account, I’ve found that it is indeed possible to not only live as a vegetarian but to also workout and lead an active lifestyle as a vegetarian.  This sounds obvious but I just had to prove it to myself more than anything.

Next month’s challenge starts on Sunday and I honestly have no idea what I’m going to choose.  I’ve got 4-5 concepts floating around in my brain but I haven’t picked anything yet.  Either way I’m excited to see what the next 30-days will bring.

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