Seriously, who knew America’s oldest city was so good to the vegans? (Now this vegan does!) Little did I know when I whisked myself off on a solo expedition to the opposite end of my Florida home state for the weekend to give myself a “Spring Break” of sorts, and enjoy the company of another, I would be driving straight into a vegan mecca. While having a veg-adventure is always in the forefront of my mind, and I can spot a vegan ‘v’ from a mile away, this particular getaway did not have food as the ultimate goal. Sure, there were a couple of places I knew I wanted to check out while I was in town. To my pleasant surprise, nearly everywhere I looked, there was vegan goodness to be had.
In addition to snagging delightful vegan treats everywhere we went, the first night I was treated to a homemade vegan dinner by new friends. Basically, St. Augustine felt like a home away from home from the moment I stepped out of the car. Here is a brief look at the sights and tastes I highly recommend taking full advantage of if you make your way to this charming historical village.
Our first food stop of the weekend was the Manatee Cafe. Situated outside of downtown, in an unassuming strip of businesses, what Manatee Cafe lacks on the outside, it makes up for with its casual diner feel, complete with manatee-inspired artwork, and a primarily plant-based menu with breakfast and lunch selections served all day. My choice? A tofu breakfast burrito that immediately erased any breakfast burrito I’ve ever had, clear from my memory. You know a burrito is otherworldly when it requires zero Sriracha, salsa, picante, nothing. No dressing up needed! Along with the more typical ingredients you would expect to find in a breakfast burrito, this one included rich, creamy sweet potatoes. My burrito was enjoyed with a side of home fries, and washed down with a mix of fresh carrot and apple juices.
St. Augustine Lighthouse
In a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone, sometimes you get deals. In this particular instance, we landed a free tour of the fully operational, historic St. Augustine Lighthouse. Although I considered my stint in St. Augustine to be “rest days” as far as the marathon training plan is concerned, I would say that 219 stairs up (and back down) made for a pretty solid, leisurely workout. Before entering, I was told about ghost sightings. If you look just to the right of the lighthouse in the photo below, there’s something orb-like I left in place for your viewing pleasure.
Before climbing the stairs, I made sure that I paused and leaned my head all the way back so I could look straight up and take the most typical interior photo possible. Just go ahead and do an image search for “St. Augustine Lighthouse” right now and you will see what I mean. TIP: When going up the stairs it’s important to keep an eye on who is coming down since they are narrow.
The top overlook is wider than it appears from the ground, and offers a clear viewpoint over to the Atlantic Ocean. From the other side, looking back, you can see into town, including the drawbridge, fort, and Flagler College. Since the overlook is circular, you can walk around and around as many times as you choose before braving the stairs to get back down to the ground level.
The first time I heard someone utter the word popsicle I knew I had to get one. As a “real fruit” enthusiast, it’s no wonder I was immediately sold on Hyppo Pops—simple, gourmet, handmade, all natural, wholesome pop delights. Since I’ve started to realize I have a ginger addiction, I immediately went for the Pineapple Ginger, which was everything I had hoped for, and more.
The pop tasted even better after meeting the pop masters and learning a bit more about their endeavors. Along with selling their pops in singles at local St. Augustine locations, team hyppo is working on securing packaging suitable to sell their pops in grocery stores. To learn more about The Hyppo, and their current crowd-funding initiative, check out their Kickstarter.
In the heart of the historical downtown area is The Floridian, a restaurant that touts itself as serving “innovative southern fare for omnivores, herbivores, and locavores.” For my dinner, I selected the Winter Salad with blackened tempeh, served over local lettuces and loaded with house-pickled beets, spiced garbanzo beans, shredded carrots, and served with a cashew-nutritional yeast dressing. The tempeh was seasoned to perfection, to the point where, had I not seen it in the light, I would have been skeptical about what I was putting into my mouth. Speaking of lighting and ambiance, in European café fashion we sat outside in the dim candlelit space to take advantage of the cool, breezy evening. That said, you know you’re on a winning dinner outing whenever your date doesn’t mind you putting your plate in a chair under the one light that’s outside, for the sake of the photo, and patiently waits for you to frolic about to get a photo you are happy with. Confession: It wasn’t even my chair.
Old City Farmers Market
Pop Quiz: Where can you pick up Creative Juices, vegan muffins, fresh produce, and art at one stop? At the Old City Farmers Market of course. Upon walking up to the St. Augustine Amphitheater, the site of this weekly Saturday market, the first sign I spotted was “Always Vegan.” It was referring to Hugo’s Muffins. Situated in front of the sign was a table loaded down with bin after bin of voluptuous muffins. Although we decided to do a loop through the market first to check out everything, I grabbed a muffin last thing before heading out, opting for a chocolate zucchini chocolate chip. If the amount of chocolate smeared on my hands was any indication of how moist and chewy this muffin was, well, you get the picture.
The entire walk down the single row of market vendors was filled with numerous vegan options, from pasta to chocolate peanut butter chewy bars (I snagged the last two). Although I didn’t get to take home any of the local produce for the cooking, I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of the vibrant colors, which inspired me to purchase some equally vibrant juice from the ladies of Creative Juices Natural Cafe. My juice of choice was a blend of carrot, beet, apple, ginger and lemon, called Surfer Sunrise.
The Present Moment
The one place I had read about before venturing East, was The Present Moment Cafe and Market, which is what I also coined as Precious Moments, primarily because it’s what I naturally was calling it for some reason, and secondly because once I went there, it basically fit the bill. Everything about our dinner was just, precious. Nothing like enjoying the highest quality gourmet raw, organic vegan food in what is self-described as an environmentally aligned, calming, down-to-earth-at-home atmosphere. I was overwhelmed by wanting everything the second I looked at the menu. And so to start things off, I ordered a cup of their soup du jour, tomato bisque, plus an order of hummus drizzled with pesto to share.
For my entrée, since I was torn between the Creamy White Truffle Pesto Pasta and the Mango Samosas, I went half and half. On the left side of the equation, there was nothing mild about this pea and carrot filled samosa wrapped in coconut paper. On the right, the slightly tamer, and nutty, creaminess of the zucchini pesto pasta made for a surprisingly well-balanced pick, enjoyed with a kale and avocado salad on the side.
Then came time for dessert. One couldn’t possibly leave without going all the way. A hearty slice of White Chocolate Blueberry Cheesecake served with a lemon blueberry swirl cashew ice cream caught my eye, and was the winner. All in all, The Present Moment gave some of my “Big Apple” favorite vegan eateries a run for their money.
Sunday afternoons at home are great for long runs, and when traveling, present opportunities to walk about and get a bit touristy. This particular tourist endeavor involved another Hyppo popsicle, some relaxation by the water, a view of a pirate-like ship currently at the port, and a walkabout through downtown.
After snapping an obligatory tourist picture in front of the Lightner Museum, we darted across the street for a quick walkthrough of Flagler College. The detail in this historical hotel turned college is magnificent, to say the least. Every corner you turn gives you another beautiful feature to step back and admire. Immediately upon entering, I was captured by the radiant dome. Something about the lighting inside the dome made me reminiscent of the dome within the Galeries Lafayette, in Paris.
The historical charm. The welcoming faces. The supportive atmosphere of young folks breeding creativity. The natural beauty. The calming effect. The collective vibes. And of course, the vegan food.
Will I be returning to St. Augustine is a rhetorical question at this point. It’s not a matter of will, but when. And I’ve already decided the answer is soon. Very soon.