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Bloomington, Indiana: A Midwestern Haven for Culture, Cuisine, and Enlightenment

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Bloomington, Indiana: A Midwestern Haven for Culture, Cuisine, and Enlightenment by Robin SoslowWorld-class music? Check. Great theater and opera? Check. Outstanding art—both ancient and contemporary—from around the world? Check. A Genealogy Center and a Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center? Check. Multiple choices for fantastic vegan food? Check, check!

Welcome to Bloomington, Indiana, a small town with magnificent cultural offerings—many of which are free! You can find details about attractions and upcoming events in Bloomington and get other visitor info at http://www.visitbloomington.com. Here’s a taste of this phenomenal Midwestern haven for travelers who are hungry for culture and farm-to-table cuisine.

Indiana University (IU) is the beating heart of this college town, and many of its students tend to stay in Bloomington after graduation or return to the city to retire. That explains why nearly every day and night, you have a choice of free concerts, plays, dance performances, gallery shows, book talks, and tours. Plus there’s free admission to the exceptional Indiana University Art Museum, the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, the Indiana Memorial Union (which houses a year-round hotel), and the adult-oriented art exhibitions at both the School of Fine Arts Gallery and the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. There are sports events, of course, and performances (some free) at both the Musical Arts Center (1,446 seats!) and the worth-touring Indiana University Auditorium. For a few centuries’ worth of handheld puzzles that make the Rubik’s Cube look like kid’s stuff, visit the Lilly Library.

To see urban farming in action, head to the Hilltop Garden and Nature Center on the northeast side of campus. Youth programs foster the idea of growing your own food—a great component of healthier and more humane eating.

As for food, the following is a sampling:

FARMbloomington chef Daniel Orr and his superb sous chefs have mastered dozens of farm-to-table dishes (many of them vegetarian and vegan), and they love coming up with new ones inspired by their own gardens and by the daily harvests of local farmers. The day that I visited, delights included a soft+firm tofu scramble, vegan quesadilla (with a great faux cheese), and the Veganista, a roasted veggie pine nut pizza. While awaiting your meal, check out the walls, which are lined with intriguing collections of food art, vintage farm tools, and, ahem, bedpans.

Roots on the Square was all-vegetarian until the recent addition of fish dishes, but there are still plenty of great vegan appetizers, vegan entrées, juices, and vegan desserts. I loved the Thai ginger curry vegetable plate, sweet potato soup, and sampler platter.

Laughing Planet is known for its fantastic vegetarian and vegan burritos and all-vegan soups (e.g., vegan chili and Hungarian mushroom). Since I ate so much for lunch, I was in the mood for a salad when I arrived at Laughing Planet for dinner. The Asian salad with vegetables, almonds, and a coconut-peanut curry sauce had me scraping the plate. The walls of the restaurant are bright and feature R. Crumb prints, bicycling posters, and Frank Zappa paintings by a local artist. The eatery also has a funky altar where patrons can leave notes (some implored kindness to animals).

In the same building, Soma is the place to go for great coffee and vegan desserts. One fit young guy returned to the coffee house within minutes of leaving to buy a second cappuccino chocolate chip cookie, saying, “It’s that good.”

Committed to running a local, sustainable business, Upland Brewing Company serves a few veggie dishes (go for the vegan portobello mushroom pizza or seitan tenderloin), supports environmental protection causes, and uses local fruits in some of its excellent microbrews.

In Bloomington, you can walk nearly everywhere except to the fine wineries and the Tibetan cultural center. But you can get to the latter by bicycle. By the way, Bloomington was the setting for the 1979 film Breaking Away, which won an Oscar for IU graduate Steve Tesich.

Make time to visit the serene, sprawling Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center.  The interfaith center features beautiful works of sacred art, including the new Mani Khorlo, which displays incredible prayer wheels and was dedicated this May when the Dalai Lama visited Bloomington. There are even low-priced overnight accommodations available. The only campus of its kind in the western hemisphere, it’s a place to pray for something that will benefit all beings: more compassion in this world.

Have you visited Bloomington? If so, do you have any more recommendations?

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    Misty says...

    January 20th, 2012, 8:59 pm

    I went to The Farm recently, and they had very few vegan options and certainly no vegan quesadillas or tofu dishes. I ended up just getting appetizers. I also found it a bit expensive for the price. There was plenty of odd things in there to look at, at least.

    Robin S says...

    January 23rd, 2012, 8:59 pm

    I’m sorry to hear that The Farm had very few vegan options when you visited. I wonder if they changed their menu? When ordering, I asked what was vegan and what could be made vegan, since I find that when the chefs are asked, they often are happy to veganize. The more we ask or vegan options, the more that chefs/restaurant owners will see there’s demand.

    Sara Sawochka says...

    August 24th, 2012, 12:36 pm

    Be careful of Oliver Winery. They have excellent wines but the fining process they use makes them non-vegan.

    Sarathlete

    Andera says...

    January 14th, 2013, 9:16 am

    This needs to be updated to include The Owlery. The only completely vegetarian restaurant in Bloomington, and the menu is almost completely vegan. The “chicken” sandwich is so delicious that it might be the best thing I’ve ever had at a restaurant. Ever. This place is worth another trip to Bloomington!

    Vegan Man says...

    January 26th, 2013, 7:04 am

    I cobbled together this Vegan / Vegetarian dining guide for Bloomington, Indiana from many other lists. I think it’s complete, but I can’t verify the info in it. Feel free to copy, paste and print it for yourself or loved one.

    —————————-
    VEGAN DINING GUIDE: Make sure you ask for VEGAN dishes when you dine out. If they don’t have them, ask for vegetarian. If they don’t have those either, leave and go spend your money elsewhere. This list will help guide you. Print it twice – one to hang on the fridge when you just don’t feel like cooking, and one for the car so you can choose “where to go, on the go.” GO VEGAN!!!

    Abasha Restaurant – Vegan-Friendly
    Ethiopian food
    424 East Fourth Street, Bloomington, IN812-333-5522
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Anyetsang’s Little Tibet – Vegan-Friendly
    Tibetan, Thai and Indian food
    415 E 4th Street, Bloomington, IN812-331-0122
    Mon: 11am – 9pmTue: closedWed – Sun: 11am – 9pm

    B-Town Pizza – Vegan-Friendly
    Pizza joint with vegan soy cheese
    2604 E. 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47408812-332-8696
    Mon – Wed: 11:30am – 2:30amThu: 11:30am – 3:30amFri – Sat: 11:30am – 4amSun: 11:30am – 1:30am

    Bloomingfoods Market & Deli(Grocery/Bakery/Deli) – Vegan-Friendly
    Natural foods co-op
    3220 East Third St, Bloomington, IN 47401812-336-5400
    Open Daily: 8am – 10pm

    Bloomingfoods Market & Deli(Grocery/Bakery/Deli) – Vegan-Friendly -
    Natural foods co-op
    419 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington, IN 47408812-336-5300
    Mon – Sat: 8am – 9pmSun: 9am – 8pm

    Bloomingfoods Market (Restaurant, Coffee/Tea/Juice, Grocery/Bakery/Deli) – Vegan-Friendly
    Natural foods co-op and vegan-friendly coffee shop
    316 W. Sixth St., Bloomington, IN 47404812-333-7312
    Mon – Sat: 7am – 10pmSun: 9am – 9pm

    Bloomington Farmer’s Market(Grocery/Bakery/Deli) – Vegan-Friendly
    Bloomington market that offers locally grown produce, wines, annual and perennial plants, and freshly baked bread with weekly live entertainment, 401 N. Morton St., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 349-3738
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Cafe Django(Restaurant, Bar) – Vegan-Friendly
    Jazz nightclub and vegan-friendly restaurant
    116 N. Grant St., Bloomington, IN 47408812-335-1297
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Casablanca Cafe – Vegan-Friendly
    Provides authentic Mediterranean food with vegan entrees, which include a seasoned couscous with vegetables, penne primavera without cheese, and anti pasta without cheese
    402 E. 4th St., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 335-9048
    Hours of Operation – ?

    end of page 1 of 5

    Dats – Vegan-Friendly
    Serves tasty Cajun food with many vegan dishes, such as their vegan succotash, which includes a hearty blend of tomatoes, red and navy beans, fresh onion, bell peppers, corn, and okra all in a secret blend of Creole spices
    211 S. Grant, Bloomington, Indiana(812) 339-3090
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Dragon – Vegan-Friendly
    Offers tasty Chinese food with a variety of vegan options, including sauteed broccoli, home-style bean curd, spicy string beans, sauteed water chestnuts with snow peas, and eggplant in a garlic sauce
    3261 W. 3rd St., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 332-6610
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Dunn Meadow Cafe(Restaurant, Coffee/Tea/Juice) – Vegan-Friendly
    Cafe with vegan entrees in the Indiana Memorial Union
    900 East 7th Street, Indiana Memorial Union, Bloomington, IN 47405812-856-6381
    Mon – Fri: 10:30am – 3pmSat – Sun: closed

    El Norteno Restaurant – Vegan-Friendly
    Several vegan options including the vegetarian fajitas (ask for no sour cream or cheese), bean burrito, rice, and beans
    206 N. Walnut St., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 333-0692
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Esan Thai – Vegan-Friendly –
    For appetizers, start with Miang Esan (spring rolls filled with vegetables and tofu), fried tofu, Tom Yum soup (hot and sour soup with tofu) or Tom Kha (coconut milk soup with tofu)
    221 E. Kirkwood Ave. #D, Bloomington, Indiana(812) 333-8424
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Falafel’s – Vegan-Friendly –
    Middle Eastern Grill
    430 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington, IN 47402812-355-3555
    Mon – Sat: 11:30am – 9:30pmSun: 1pm – 9pm

    Finch’s Brasserie- Vegan-Friendly
    Finch’s is an upscale diner featuring local food, artists, and musicians
    514 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 333-2700
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Fortune Cookies- Vegan-Friendly
    Fortune Cookies is a Chinese favorite of IU students, because of its late hours and reasonable prices
    1809 E. 10th St., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 822-2828
    Hours of Operation – ?

    The Great Wall Chinese Restaurant- Vegan-Friendly-
    Vegan-friendly Chinese restaurant with food made to order
    2038 N. Walnut Street, Bloomington, IN 47404(812) 323-8778
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Laughing Planet Cafe- Vegan-Friendly-
    Vegan-friendly Mexican food
    322 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47408812-323-2233
    Open Daily: 11am – 9pm

    end of page 2 of 5

    Lennie’s- Vegan-Friendly (Options include oven roasted vegetables tossed in olive oil and basil, roasted garlic focaccia garnished with garlic and rosemary served with marinara and a roasted garlic bulb, and veggie stromboli with artichoke hearts, spinach, button mushrooms, etc. 1795 E. 10th St., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 323-2112, Hours of Operation – ?

    Little Tibet – in the 4th street row of restaurants near campus.

    Obo’s Asian Market – many veggie and vegan items. Great produce selection.
    East 3rd Street, in Eastland Plaza close to HooHot entrance of Eastland Plaza. ***There is also another Asian Market – I think it is called Saraga (see listing below). It is in Jackson Creek Shopping Center between Hobby Lobby and the movie theater. It is cheaper than many other Asian Markets in town.***

    The Owlery- Vegetarian & Vegan
    Traditional dishes made vegetarian and vegan
    118 W. 6th Street, Bloomington, IN 47404(812) 333-7344
    Mon – Sat: 11am – 10pmSun: 10am – 3pm

    The Pourhouse Cafe(Coffee/Tea/Juice)- Vegan-Friendly
    Vegan-friendly coffee shop with worldwide coffees
    314 E. Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47408812-339-7000
    Mon – Sat: 8am – 11pmSun: closed

    Rachel’s Cafe(Restaurant, Coffee/Tea/Juice)- Vegan-Friendly
    Coffee shop/cafe with unusual vegan options and open-mic nite
    303 E. 3rd Street, Suite C62, Bloomington, IN 47401812-330-1882
    Mon – Fri: 7am – 9pmSat: 9am – 9pmSun: 9am – 7pm

    Rockit’s Famous Pizza – Vegan-Friendly –
    Pizza joint offering vegan soy cheese and mockmeat toppings
    222 N. Walnut Street, Bloomington, IN 47404812-336-7625
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Roots (on the northeast corner of the square) – Vegetarian & vegan
    124 N. Walnut St, Bloomington, IN 47404812-336-7668
    Mon – Thu: 11am – 9pmFri – Sat: 11am – 10pmSun: 11am – 8pm

    Runcible Spoon – Vegan-Friendly
    This unique Irish-type diner serves a vegan home fries and veggie platter throughout the day
    412 E. 6th St., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 334-3997
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Sahara Mart(Grocery/Bakery/Deli) – Vegan-Friendly -
    This grocery mart offers an array of vegan mock meats and dairy products, bulk items and spices, vegan frozen food, bulk grains, and organic fresh produce — S. 106 E. 2nd St., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 333-0502 — hours: ?

    Sahara Mart(Grocery/Bakery/Deli) – Vegan-Friendly
    This grocery mart offers an array of vegan mock meats and dairy products, bulk items and spices, vegan frozen food, bulk grains, and organic fresh produce — 2611 E. 3rd St., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 339-6222

    Saraga Oriental Market(Grocery/Bakery/Deli) – Vegan-Friendly
    Offers over 20 different kinds of fresh Chinese, Japanese, and Korean produce
    1305 S. College Mall Rd., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 330-1821
    Hours of Operation – ?

    end of page 3 of 5

    Scenic View Lodge(Restaurant, Bar, Hotel/B&B) – Vegan-Friendly
    Upscale bed and breakfast with vegan options
    4600 S State Road 446, Bloomington, IN 47401812-837-9495
    Hours of Operation – ?

    Siam House- Vegan-Friendly-
    Thai cuisine — 430 E 4th St, Bloomington, IN 47408812-331-1233
    Mon – Fri: 11am – 10pmSat: noon – 10pmSun: noon – 9pm

    Snow Lion- Vegan-Friendly
    Tibetan food in the Dalai Lama’s nephew’s restaurant
    113 S. Grant St., Bloomington, IN 47408812-336-0835 Hours of Operation – ?

    Soma Coffee House(Coffee/Tea/Juice)- Vegan-Friendly-
    Coffee shop with home-made vegan baked goods
    322 E Kirkwood Avenue, Bloomington, IN 47408812-331-2770 Hours of Operation – ?

    Sweet Claire Bakery – many veggie and vegan options – just ask
    309 East Third Street Bloomington, IN 47401

    Taste of India- Vegan-Friendly-
    North & south Indian food with many vegan options
    316 E. 4th Street, Bloomington, Indiana(812) 333-1399‎ Open Daily: 11am – 2:30pm, 5pm – 10pm

    The Trojan Horse- Vegan-Friendly
    This downtown Bloomington restaurant and tavern serves Greek and American type foods
    100 E. Kirkwood Ave., Bloomington, Indiana(812) 332-1101 Hours of Operation – ?

    Upland Brewing Co.(Restaurant, Bar)- Vegan-Friendly
    Brew pub with vegan-friendly options 350 W. 11th Street, Bloomington, IN 47404812-336-2337
    Mon – Thu: 11am – 11pmFri – Sat: 11am – 11:30pmSun: noon – 11pm

    Uptown Cafe -many veggie and vegan options – just ask
    102 E Kirkwood Ave (at N Walnut St ) Bloomington Indiana 47408 812-339-0900

    *Vegan/Vegetarian Organization at Indiana University(Organization): The Vegan/Vegetarian Organization at Indiana University is a social and support group for people interested in vegetarianism or veganism.

    Winter Farmer’s Market – Bloomington Winter Farmers’ Market
    Saturdays December 1- March 30th from 9 am- 12pm
    Located at Harmony School – 909 E 2nd St. Bloomington, IN 47403

    Spring/Summer/Fall Farmer’s Market: April-Sept, Saturdays, 8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
    October&November, Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
    Tuesdays, June through September 4a.m – 7 p.m.
    Contact Information, 812-349-3738, Marcia Veldman, http://www.bloomington.in.gov/farmersmarket

    end of page 4 of 5

    ADDITIONAL LIST FOUND ON DIFFERENT WEBSITE:

    Alchemy
    Bloomington – Chinese, Modern American 254 N. Walnut

    Amol India
    Bloomington – Indian 416 East 4th Street

    Anatolia
    Bloomington – Turkish, Mediterranean 405 E 4th St

    Baked of Bloomington
    Bloomington – Bakery, Vegetarian 313 E 3rd St

    Darn Good Soup
    Bloomington – American, Soups, Vegetarian 107 N. College

    Feast Bakery Cafe
    Bloomington – Bakery, American, International 581 E Hillside, Ste 104

    Soups On
    Bloomington – Soups, Sandwiches/Subs 108 S Rogers St

    PIZZA ORDERS: Always ask if their sauce and pizza dough are vegan. If not call another place. Avers Pizza, Pizza X and Rockets offer vegan sauce, dough and cheese we think (but don’t quote us on that). No matter what pizza place you call, just ask for vegan stuff. If they have vegan dough, and vegan sauce, but no vegan cheese, then you can still order a pie. Just get whatever veggies you want, then instruct them to slather an additional layer of tomato sauce ON TOP of the pizza AFTER the toppings have been placed on the initial tomato sauce layer. If you don’t “your pie will be dry!” man. Btw, repeat your order several times for them if they’re too dumb to get it. And then MAKE SURE that you check your pie when it arrives – if it’s wrong, reject it, then go order somewhere else because they will surely spit on your next order if they have to correct it.

    end of page 5 of 5

    Rob says...

    February 9th, 2013, 11:22 pm

    Thanks, Vegan Man, for the extensive list of vegan-friendly places to eat!

    JaK says...

    April 22nd, 2013, 6:13 pm

    Great Post, Vegan Man. I would note a couple of changes – Casablanca is no more – it’s been replaced by My Thai – which has veg/vegan options. And The Snow Lion has moved to West 4th Street & is carry-out only now. B’ton is great for veggie/vegan eats!

    Jessika says...

    November 5th, 2013, 2:03 pm

    This page says Farm is vegan friendly, when it is actually one of the least vegan friendly places in Bloomington. Even the whopping two items that “can be made vegan” don’t end up so, because they still put cheese all over them.

    I don’t recommend this overpriced , and not even that tasty, restaurant

    Robin says...

    November 12th, 2013, 4:25 pm

    Jessika, thanks for the update. Since my last visit to Farm a couple of years ago, apparently the menu got more cheese-centric and pricey. But Bloomington still offers great restaurants – see Vegan Man’s post…and check out HappyCow.net.

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