Ryan Jewell is a musician, improvisor, composer and sound artist based in Columbus, Ohio probably best known as the drummer of Pyschedelic Horseshit.
I recently completed a month-long solo tour / road trip with my girlfriend through the midwest, southwest, and west coast of the States playing improvised, electro-acoustic sets for snare drum. Since I've been vegetarian for most of my life and vegan for several years, I've found in my many travels and tours that it can sometimes be a bit tricky and “hit and miss” to find a decent meal to fit my particular dietary lifestyle. Fortunately, thanks to the generosity and recommendations of some great people, I think I ate better food on this trip than on any of my previous travels. Here's a little breakdown of what passed through my gullet.
Post show Cincy food staple: Camp Washington. This spot has been around for 70 years and its clientele consists of an odd combination of classic WWII-era vets and contemporary urban insomniacs. I've played a lot of shows in the 'Nati and most of them end with me rounding up a small crew around 3 a.m. (usually including, at the very least, Jon Lorenz of Wasteland Jazz Unit etc.) to chill at this 24-hour diner. I always get a variation of the chili three-way with no meat, chili or cheese, but instead load it down with beans, onions and more oyster crackers and hot sauce than will reasonably fit on the plate. A shit load of food for less than three bucks.
I don't remember where I ate before the show. We were running late, so we stopped in the first place we could find closest to the venue. It was some kind of overpriced, bullshit, yuppie sandwich. All I remember is that it was overpriced and that it was bullshit.
The next morning we had a more thought-out meal at an all veg Asian restaurant called “Heart and Soy” / “Roots” that had been recommended by Douglas Lucas who had set up the show. The pad thai was pretty decent, although the portion seemed a little small.
Jameson of Maths Balance Volumes and Puffy Areolas set up the show in Memphis so we swung by The World Famous Poplar Lounge, where he was working, to meet up and see what was going down. At Jameson's recommendation, I picked up a pre-show meal from a hole in the wall Ethiopian restaurant, Abyssinia, next to Poplar Lounge. Pretty awesome. There were huge portions of mesir wat, vegetables and injira and for about eight bucks I had enough leftovers to last me a couple of days.
For late breakfast / lunch the next day, Stephanie Richard (of the Limes, etc) took us around the corner from her place to Otherlands coffee bar. Nice atmosphere, decent smoothie, but the veg options were surprisingly limited so I just went for a generic, slightly expensive Boca burger.
The first truly memorable meal of note was a simple, cheap three dollar vegetarian “ham” sandwich on a french baguette at a small Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Vietnam in Ft. Smith that used to be a gas station. Like, straight up gas station. As in, “you park at the empty gas pumps for a parking space” gas station. The place was decorated with hundreds of small plastic figurines and they only accepted cash. I've had this kind of sandwich a million times before, but this one was somehow sweeter and I found myself talking about it for days, wishing that I had picked up a few extra for long drives through Oklahoma. Sidenote: I heard the news of the discovery of the Higgs boson from the TV while ordering this sandwich. Heavy.
I-40 W Oklahoma / Texas
The next day was a drive day across the dust bowl and it seemed like a decent vegan meal in cattle country was going to be slim pickin's until I started noticing billboard ads for indian food coming up a few hundred miles away. Turned out to be ANOTHER GAS STATION turned ethnic restaurant. This one was way more beat up and there was even an old toilet sitting outside. Despite all of this, the chana masala was pretty bangin' and I was extremely grateful for its existence.
Photo: Virginia Lawrence
Mostly ate groceries here, but there was a 'za hut that was OFF THE HOOK. Taos Pizza Out Back had some of the best pies I've had anywhere, mostly thanks to some kind of crack-based sesame seed crust and a vegan cheese that wasn't disgusting.
The after-show hunger brought us to downtown Albuquerque in search of road snacks for a late night Route 66 drive. We took a shot in the dark at a taco spot called Waco's Tacos that seemed to be open late on a Sunday night. It was planted next to a strip club and stood out flashing in the red and blue light of patrolling cop cars that were keeping an eye out on harmless fancy-dressed chicano cowboys and girls out dating and cruising. The streets were bubbling with activity. The tacos were killer, not too expensive and offered the option for a traditional calabacitas corn and squash style, plus the decor had a kind of ancient extraterrestrial vibe. Mega road snack score.
Photo: Virginia Lawrence
The best meal of the entire trip had to be in Sedona, Arizona. Hula hoop world record holder and Sword Heaven member Aaron Hibbs moved there recently and is now involved with an amazing new age vegan food spot called Chocolatree. All vegan, organic, tons of raw and a record holder of its own for their variety of chocolates. There's an attention to the process of growing and preparing the food that that goes far beyond anything I've ever experienced. Seriously next level. Some of the vegetables were even planted by having their seeds taught human DNA and celestial information to best nourish humans using methods described by Russian author Vlademir Megre. Super cosmic and intense. Celestial process aside, the food was mind-blowing and I can't thank Aaron enough for the meals and experience.
Las Vegas, NV
Ahh Vegas… the birth place of Recluse Howard Hughes and the death place of the pre-hologram flesh and blood Tupac Shakur. This town sucks its power and fluids like a vampire. I found an oasis in Meskerem Ethiopian in a strip mall a little off of the strip. Killer food, huge portions, tangy injera and from the looks of the tiny stage with cheap light show and house five string bass, it would appear that this place has live Ethiopian music.
Los Angeles, CA
Late at night after our duo set at Take Off in Van Nuys, John Wiese wrote out a thorough list of good veg-friendly restaurants to hit up in the city. The next morning, Virginia and I went out for breakfast at a place called Flore on West Sunset Boulevard. I had the Veggie Frittatta which their menu describes as “Golden brown frittata (tofu) quiche with broccoli, mushroom, red onion and kale. Served with sliced tomato and… tempeh bacon” This meal easily won the award for the best breakfast of the tour. Virginia and I shared a chocolate cupcake that tasted like ice-cream for desert, then I picked up a Burzum record as a surprise for her at Vacation Vinyl across the street. SoCal dreams.
State Rt. 1 Pacific Coast Highway / Big Sur, CA
Most of the food for the Pacific Coast drive involved beach picnics with peanut butter sandwiches and cans of beans, but we did stop once in Big Sur in search of a heartier meal. We ran into the Redwood Grill which had a few vegetarian and vegan options on the menu. While the cabin feel was cozy and the employees were friendly and likable, the prices for my mediocre burrito and salad were straight dumb. Tourist rape trap prices. Should have just kept having picnics. Despite the dark tourist vibes, I couldn't let it ruin the secluded beach experiences that I will never forget.
Photo: Virginia Lawrence
Santa Cruz, CA
Saturn Cafe, since the late '70s, has been the main spot in these parts for vegetarian diner-style greasy spoon americana eats. Lots of local and organic ingredients and a keen awareness of allergens and the like. I went for the vegan BBQ Ranch Chicken Burger and a Soy Mint Chip vegan milkshake. It honestly kind of reminded me of a slightly more expensive, less exciting version of one of my favorite spots on the east coast, Foodswings, but with more of a '50s diner feel. It totally hit the spot.
San Francisco, CA
My first experience with Loving Hut was a few years ago in San Francisco. Since then I've made a point to pop in when I see one around. They're an all vegan chain restaurant centered around the cult of Supreme Master Ching Hai, and boy can they cook! It seems that any good cult or religion worth its oats has to be able to prepare delicious food, whether it's the delicious prasadam at Krishna temples, or a Christian pancake breakfast. Even Father Yod's Source Family opened their own restaurant and we all know that Jim Jones at least knew how to mix Kool Aid and sugar water. I wonder if David Icke can cook.
Every Loving Hut visit is a pleasant and delicious experience made only sweeter by the delightfully bizarre Supreme Master Television broadcast on all of the TVs and this time in SFs Chinatown was no exception, showing some kind of awards show with C-list pseudo-celebrities singing Supreme Master Ching Hai's poems. As a nice bonus, this location was nestled just a couple of blocks from the historic City Lights books, made famous by the beat generation, and the Hungry I made famous by Lenny Bruce and Papa John Philips (no, not the pizza guy). The food is so good that we actually ate at the Berkley location the next day.
Souly Vegan in Oakland had amazing vegan southern-style soul food. On a scale of 1 to 10, this joint is a 311. Seriously mind blowing southern BBQ, mashed potatoes, collard greens, mac and cheese and PILES of mayo, all 100 percent vegan. I think I'm fat now.
Mono Lake, CA
We had a picnic at this ancient alkaline terminal lake, with a meal of not so ancient, only slightly salty leftovers. One of the most otherworldly locales I've ever experienced and the tufa pillars and localized lightning added to the mystery. This is truly a bizarre and magical zone. I half expected to see an extra sun rising and it felt like I had been sucked into a gatefold Pink Floyd LP. I will be returning to this place someday.
Area 51, NV
Since there were no gas stations, restaurants or grocery stores for hundreds of miles in any direction on this two lane desert highway, I had to survive on trail mix crumbs and leftover melted cocoa block from Chocolatree while driving to the world's most famous UFO garage. I want to believe.
Photo: Ryan Jewell
City O' City in Denver ended up being a place that Virginia and I visited on three different occasions during our short stay. While it was a little on the expensive side, the menu was varied enough to make multiple stops worthwhile. First visit was late in the evening after many hours of driving and I gorged myself on the BBQ tofu sandwich with a side of vegan mac and cheese and seitan buffalo wings. I think that after a long drive, I was craving comfort food and was looking to recreate some of the Souly Vegan experience I had a few days earlier in Oakland. It was different, but on par.
The second visit was for tea and deserts while I got some work done writing some music for a microtonal flute trio piece I was working on at the time. The “Scout Cookie” was a cookie monster, like an oversized Samoa girl scout cookie, and it was just enough to get me going for the show at Rhinoceropolis later that evening. The final stop at City O' City was a take out order for a killer breakfast to eat on the drive back east. Biscuits and Gravy with scrambled tofu and another Scout Cookie kept me nourished and satisfied on the road.
Kansas City, MO
The Kansas City show fell through last minute, so I ended up just doing a bunch of work on a duo record with tape artist Jason Zeh who recently moved to the area to teach. Virginia and I rolled into town, I set up my gear, Jason and I recorded a couple of hours, and then we all treated ourselves to a nice walk to Waldo Pizza which has a solid vegan menu. The Waldo Traditional Hand-Tossed with almonds, garlic, “pepperoni” and Follow Your Heart Mozz was a major treat of the week. I ordered enough to have leftovers for a late-late-night snack when we watched Troll 2 at Jason's place. Nilbog = Goblin
St. Louis, MO
St. Louis brought us to a nice DIY free jazz house show at MOMO that was set up by Rick Weaver (of New Flesh, etc). Wood floors, good vibes and a delicious homemade gazpacho by one of the residents named Larva made us feel at home. I kept the cozy home feel flowing that night with an acoustic drone set. It just made sense.
The last stop on the tour was Bloomington, Indiana for a show with Darin Gray and Bill Horist. I was feeling pretty burnt out from the road at this point, but we found great snacks in the form of a tofu “chicken ranch” sandwich from the Owlery downtown, a late night pie from Rockit's and a delicious homemade Vietnamese meal at Hiển Bá Nguyễn's house right before the show.
In most of my past tours I've jammed econo and kept eating out to a minimum, surviving on simple grocery pasta, bean and vegetable meals. I have to admit, though, that it was nice getting a deeper sample of veg-friendly, independent restaurants that this country has to offer. If you're ever passing through any of these areas, this might give you at least a small bit of information to get you started. I hope this has been helpful. Enjoy!