Restaurant Review: The Tomato Vine

Note: I was provided the food in this review at no charge from the Tomato Vine restaurant. All opinions are my own.

salad The Tomato Vine | Kale and Ale

The peanut dressing on this tofu and grain salad is amazing.

When the restaurant/catering/take-and-heat business The Tomato Vine contacted me about reviewing its food, I jumped at the chance. Having spent last summer looking at healthy, local and fresh catering options for my wedding, this would have fallen into that category.

The Tomato Vine focuses on seasonally, from-scratch meals, and has a lot of options that are clearly marked for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free meals. All ingredients are labeled, so you know exactly what’s in the food. (See the menu here.) Where possible they source local food. In short, they reached out to me because they prepare food the way I prepare food. I really respect that, for as much as I love cooking, sometimes I just want a break from cooking but I don’t want to sacrifice quality or my beliefs.

Food Options

In addition to the Tomatoes Vine’s set menu, there are weekly specials, and it’s clearly marked what can be modified for dietary needs.

Eating options include delivery or pickup (with heating instructions for later, served in nice Pyrex or disposable containers), a lunch cafe and catering. They focus on catering for corporate and private events.

Lunch options are a few hot choices, salads, sandwiches, sides, snacks and desserts.

My Review

The Tomato Vine | Kale and Ale

I tried a variety of food, all clearly marked with ingredients and cooking instructions.

As I already mentioned, ingredients and heating instructions are on the label for each meal (which I love, easy to find and see what is in it or to do). I tried a variety of foods:

  • Tarragon grain cakes with apricot chutney
  • Spicy peanut tofu salad
  • Veggie fried rice
  • Red pepper hummus with veggies and chips
  • Maple apple cobbler
veggie cake The Tomato Vine | Kale and Ale

Tarragon cakes full of grains and tofu.

That night I ate the cakes, and my first impression really was that it is something I would make: Simple with good flavor from real food. I loved that the ingredients it included were easy to taste, and it didn’t include extra ingredients or flavors. The tofu and grain mix that is the base of the cakes was really good, it was also in the salad.

Speaking of the salad, the dressing was my favorite thing I had. I took the salad as a work lunch the day after getting the food, since it was on a plastic container. I tried to figure out (with no luck) how to recreate that dressing. Topped with fresh veggies, it was a hearty, filling and flavorful salad.

I make and eat a lot of hummus and the thing that can make or break it is texture. It had a nice consistancy, smooth yet it wasn’t overly processed, so I loved that the texture was a little chunky, the way I like guacamole or salsa. I’ll have to remember to leave it like that the next time I make hummus.

I’m not a big dessert person, as readers of this blog and anyone close to me knows, but this dessert hit the spot. The sweetness is derived from the maple syrup and cooked apples, and the topping was browned and crunchy, contrasting the soft cobbler underneath.

If I’m looking to cater, I would consider and recommend The Tomato Vine, as they are knowledgeable and accommodating on diet, while using seasonal, wholesome foods.

The Tomato Vine

7134 Shady Oak Road, Eden Prairie, Minnesota 55344

Phone: 952-941-1699



Lowertown Pop Event Preview

Lowertown Pop market giveaway | Kale and Ale

Enter to win two tickets at the bottom of this post!

A group of Twin Cities lifestyle bloggers was given a chance to preview the first Lowertown Pop art, craft and local goods event that will take place Saturday, April 9, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Union Depot in St. Paul.

This was a great opportunity to meet Minnesota makers one-on-one and hear about their products and passions. It was really inspiring and encouraging to hear about what drives them, their process and why they do it. And I only interacted with about a quarter or a third of the 55-plus vendors that will be at the event, so I can’t wait to go back and check out the entire show.

Lowertown Pop food | Kale and Ale

So many great food and drink vendors, even at the preview.

While there are great people making clothes, accessories and beauty products (view who will be at the Lowertownpop Pop event), I was naturally most drawn to the food and drink vendors. I was able to sample a lot of products and talk with the people who developed them as to the product’s inspiration and future, where one might find them, etc.

Hearing about a passion project or filling a market void and all the time these people have invested in their project made the goods seem like more than something consumable. People in the Twin Cities community are focusing on bringing back long-ago natural recipes (Superior Switchel), creating a creamy vegan condiment (Grlk), bringing Greek family dips and spreads to an area lacking these items (Antigone’s), nuts bursting with flavor and natural sweetness that are vegan and gluten-free (Isadore), salsas and hot sauces that have a smokiness and kick (Double Take), and craft cocktails (Tattersall) and mixers (Blue Henn). And there will be more at the event that weren’t at the preview! I really can’t wait to get to know these vendors and their special stories more.

Lowertown Pop Ticket Giveaway (Now Closed)

Lowertown Pop drinks | Kale and AleLowertown Pop and event organizer MNBloggerBash were kind enough to donate tickets. Win two tickets (retail value $30) to Lowertown Pop at Union Depot in St. Paul on April 9 by signing up at the Rafflecopter widget below. Tickets can be purchased for $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Free admission for children ages 5 and under. 100 percent of ticket sales will be shared with the charity partner Face to Face and one lucky Minnesota Maker.

Giveaway is open to those with a U.S. mailing address and ends on 4/4/16 at 12 a.m. Entering below confirms that you agree to all terms and conditions within the Rafflecopter widget. Entries will be verified. Winner will be contacted April 4 and must respond that day with a delivery method. Tickets may be mailed via USPS (delivery by date of event not the responsibility of Kale and Ale or Valerie Dennis) or picked up in downtown Minneapolis during normal business hours.

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Preview: Twin Cities Veg Fest 2015

Vegan shirt design by Flickr user Ballookey Klugeypop

Vegan shirt design by Flickr user Ballookey Klugeypop

Twin Cities Veg Fest 2015 takes place Sunday, Nov. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Coffman Memorial Union on the University of Minnesota Campus. I haven’t been and was interested in checking it out. When Laura from One Girl, Two Cities said it’s worth going for the samples if nothing else, I knew I would make it a priority to go! And even if you aren’t vegan or vegetarian, read five ways the event is for everyone.

Unny Nambudiripad

Unny Nambudiripad

The vegan fest features exhibitors, samples, cooking demos and talks. To get to know a little more about it as a first-time attendee and to maximize my experience, I talked with Unny Nambudiripad of Compassionate Action for Animals, which puts on the event.

Kale and Ale: What should first-time attendees know/expect?

Unny: It’s a free event, there’s lots to see, you can stay for five minutes or five hours, and you can engage as personally or from afar as you like. Basically, it’s an accessible event! ​We’re showcasing the thriving veg-friendly community that the Twin Cities has to offer and I’ll leave it to your own judgment, but I think you’ll be impressed!

Kale and Ale: What can’t be missed at this year’s Veg Fest?

Unny: ​The cooking demos and the food court. We’ve moved the cooking demos to a much larger space that can hold 400 people! Cooking your own food is a great way to eat affordable, healthy and fresh food, and our instructors will show you how. We’ve also moved the food court to the third floor in the Mississippi Room. We have a special gift for everybody who just goes to the third floor.

Kale and Ale: What’s new this year from other years and back that is popular?

​Unny: The Herbivorous Butcher is both new and back! They are new because this year they will be selling hot food ready-to-eat in the food court. They will also be back, as they have before, selling their meat-free meats for you to take home. French Meadow, Gorkha Palace and Jasmine Deli are new food court vendors that we’re excited about. They each have restaurants that we love. Molly Spring Rolls, Seward Cafe and Glam Doll Donuts are returning vendors that we’re excited about.​ We have two new speakers: Toni Okamoto of Vegan Outreach and Mikael Nielsen of Mercy for Animals. Both are exciting. Toni has worked on educating people about eating vegan affordably, and Mikael is a friend of mine and he models persistence and compassion.

Whew, with that lineup I know I’ll come hungry for food and knowledge. I’m really excited to attend, as I’ve never been to something like this. Have you been to a veggie fest? What were your thoughts and impressions?

Restaurant: Travail, Robbinsdale, Minnesota

Travail dessert |

One of four desserts I had at Travail. This kouign amann with maple syrup crème fraiche, chocolate, blueberry and wild rice granola was my favorite.

A few months ago I went to the Rookery bar in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. It’s in the back of a building that also houses Travail Kitchen & Amusements, a chef-driven restaurant known for its, well, amusing takes on food in presentation, taste and flavor.

Travail Ron Burgundy |

The Ron Burgundy drink from Travail was fantastic.

I often use going to the bar of a restaurant as a way to check out either how vegetarian-friendly a place is or if its worth my time and money. I was surprised and eager to learn that Travail can accommodate a number of dietary restrictions, including both vegetarian and vegan meals. I was told that the tasting menu is usually 15 to 20 plates, and I might have to sit a few out that that can’t be made vegetarian. That didn’t deter me and I decided right then and there that’s what I wanted to do for my birthday earlier this month, and Aaron made reservations and got tickets for our seating.

Travail prep from seat |

Great seats in the action!

We were seated at the end of a table-height bar, which I thought was kind of an afterthought seat at first, but I’ve decided is probably a really good view in the action compared to other seats. We were put on the end (tables are family style seating) probably to keep track of the vegetarians. I couldn’t confirm visually that the first plate was vegetarian so I asked. I felt bad doubting they didn’t have their stuff in order, but you just have to be sure! They did and I was quickly put at ease that I would be taken care of.

Travail soup |

My favorite course: Red pepper soup with baguette and topping.

The courses were incredible, every one of them. And I could, in fact, have every one that night, so that made me excited and feel great on my birthday. Every dish was a wonderful sensory journey for taste, smell and sight, and sometimes sound and touch. It was incredible, interactive, entertaining and great to watch each dish be prepared, presented and explained.

Travail interactive potatoes |

Walking the potato bar stations at Travail, so fun and tasty a course.

Our  meal included 18 courses; we got a photocopy of the handwritten menu for the day at the end of the meal. The courses ranged from three different soups, pasta, a course where we walked through the kitchen to different stations and were explained what different foods were, a point where we shoot a raw egg (this was the most difficult part but they assured us it was OK and they have to convince a lot of people) and four—yes, four—desserts, including root beer float pop rocks. Needless to say, I was full and happy when I left. And don’t get me started on that whiskey drink I had. It might not be for a while, be I would love to go back and experience it all again, especially during a different season.lSns8u

Another wonderful note is as we were leaving the person at the host stand (but not the host, maybe the manager?) stopped us and asked how the vegetarian meal was, if we would offer suggestions or come back, that type of thing. It was great to know that he cared and wanted to make sure we were satisfied.

Daytrip: St. Croix Valley

Afton State Park bluffs |

Bluffs at Afton State Park

This past weekend was gorgeous. Minnesota was feeling near-record temps. Knowing those days are numbered and I’ll soon be homebound, coupled with fall colors on display, I headed east for some hiking in Afton State Park, located on the St. Croix River at the boarder of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and take advantage of some Wisconsin beers while I was there.

State Park: Afton State Park

About a 35 minute drive from Minneapolis, it was easy to access yet away from everything. The trails are great: Its easy to follow, they clearly display the difficulty and trails intersect often in very short (.2 or .3 miles) so its a very “choose your own adventure” hike. I was at the tail end of a nasty spell of allergies and didn’t know how hiking would make me feel, so it was nice to decide if I would go a little further or not on a whim.

Afton State Park path |

Not as much fall color as I hoped, but perfect temps and a natural tree canopy make for great hiking.

With 20 miles of trail at different difficulties, I was to go back when I’m feeling better and explore more. In my few miles of hiking I was able to see bluffs (which is the level the visitor center is), woods and prairie.

If hiking isn’t your thing, the gently rolling, wide trails are also used for horseback riding, snowshoeing and cross county skiing. With a wood-fire stove in the visitor center, its obvious this park is popular year-round.

Brewery: Pitchfork Brewing Company

Pitchfork Brewing Hudson |

Pitchfork Brewing Company

Located four miles into the state, Pitchfork offers a lot of different kinds of beer, and has a tempting list of what will be on tap soon. While I was there they had a wet (local!) hop in a firkin, and a pumpkin and Oktoberfest beer. I tried a bit of each of those and the rye saison, which were all solid choices. They give samples and have a variety of glass sizes so it’s easy to try a little of everything. Pints are $5 (the firkin was $6, could have charged more, probably) and it’s a good atmosphere with a popcorn maker, some TVs, lots of light, a long bar, booths and tables.

Also in Hudson

American Sky Brewing Company

I didn’t stop here (maybe next time, remember I’m coming back!) due to time, but I’ve heard good things about it. They have a good variety of beers, and I did pick one up at the liquor store.

Hudson Liquor

Wisconsin beers |

Variety of Wisconsin beers I don’t believe are available in Minnesota

Since I was (barely) in Wisconsin, I wanted to stop at the liquor store and get some beers not available in Minnesota. I stopped at Hudson Liquor because it was next to Caribou Coffee, but it was a good choice. It is clean and easy to navigate, with a walk-in cooler and lots of local beers and single bottles to build your own six pack. The Wisconsin beers I got are:

  • Oliphant Brewing Skullship Muerte
  • New Glarus Apple Ale
  • Ale Asylum Demento
  • O’so Hop Whooping
  • American Sky USA IPA
  • New Glarus Scream IIPA