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Plant-based pedaling: A vegan bike tour of the Twin Cities

Lucy Hawthorne

Lucy Hawthorne

For years we’ve known Minneapolis is a great biking city. But recently, it’s also moved toward the top of the list of the best vegan cities in the United States. This begs the question: How do we fare as a vegan biking city?

To investigate the overlap, I patronized seven vegan restaurants across the Twin Cities via bicycle to eat breakfast, a mid-morning pastry, brunch, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, dinner, and dessert, all without touching a car or public transit. I rode through Minneapolis and St. Paul; the cities are so closely related that a vegan and/or biking experience in one can’t exist without the other.

I left my home in northeast Minneapolis for my first stop just across the river, at Rise Bagel Co. at Third Street and Sixth Avenue North. By far the best part of biking to Rise is the convenience, when finding car parking in the North Loop often takes longer than eating your meal.

All of Rise’s bagels are vegan, and they have a selection of four vegan spreads. The bagels are the perfect ratio of crispy and chewy, and a vegan cream cheese is easily mistakable for the real deal. I chose a rosemary bagel with scallion cream cheese, neither of which went light on flavor.

For my mid-morning pastry, I visited Vegan East on 24th Street and Lyndale Avenue South. Getting there meant weaving toward Hennepin, cutting through Loring Park, and heading to Bryant Avenue. Biking let me avoid the disastrous Hennepin/Lyndale/94/Walker Art Center intersection, and as far as bike boulevards go, Bryant is one of the best around. It’s narrow and full of parked cars, but traffic is very light. Bryant’s biggest danger is looking away from the road to admire the Replacements’ Let It Be house.

At Vegan East, they offer some nicer cakes and cinnamon rolls, but I went with the pop tart. Softer but just as sugary as the name-brand version, it will likely exceed the standards of any longtime toaster pastry fan.

Lucy Hawthorne

Lucy Hawthorne

Minneapolis is the city that gets most of the vegan and biking press, which is unfair to St. Paul. The state capital may not be full of plant-based restaurants and bike paths, but it’s not exactly void of them. Sure, J. Selby’s gets lots of love, but places like Eureka Compass Vegan foods (a combined grocery store and restaurant) and Evan’s Organic Eatery in the skyway receive lamentably little press.

Today was my chance to visit those lesser-known contributors.

I headed toward downtown St. Paul via the Midtown Greenway, a personal favorite route for cycling, before shifting to Lake Street/Marshall Avenue once I reached the river.

As you start on Marshall, there’s a nice bike lane that’s incredibly smooth with nothing more than gradual hills. Heading east, I was betrayed by this smoothness when I crossed Lexington Parkway. If you like your teeth better when they aren’t rattling out of your mouth, head over to Selby to finish your journey.

Even with its numerous one-ways, limited bike lanes, and slanted grid, downtown St. Paul isn’t too daunting for outsiders. It’s also self-contained enough that biking to your destination is relatively stress-free, regardless of your route.

What at first looks like a standard food-court lunch cafe at skyway level is actually Evan’s Organic Eatery, a fully vegan restaurant serving breakfast and lunch. I chose a sausage breakfast sandwich. It was great—clean and hearty, stacked with greens, onion, tomatoes, some Herbivorous Butcher sausage, and Brake Bread bread. And that’s to say nothing of the friendly service; they’d taken down the breakfast menu but let me order from it anyway.

There’s no perfect exit strategy from downtown St. Paul. Taking the Green Line back to Minneapolis would have been easier, and safer, but it’s hard to top the satisfaction of biking from one downtown to another.

I ended up on University Avenue. It’s a major thoroughfare, but wide enough and well paved, so you could do worse. Still, I headed toward Marshall as quickly as possible, arriving one block too soon and jarring my skeleton loose again before coasting back into Minneapolis.

When I returned to the Midtown Greenway, I remembered that there’s no such thing as a perfect bike route as the wind picked up en route to Seed Café, just past Bde Maka Ska. At this point in the day nothing I’d eaten would really make a vegan-doubter turn their head. Seed is a little different, with salads, rice bowls, and smoothies populating the menu.

But those who’d derisively call it “hippie food” would have a hard time saying anything bad about the Grown Up Grilled Cheese. With kimchi and fermented chili sauce, it’s still pretty stereotypically vegan, but those ingredients added a welcome zing and crunchier texture to an old standard.

By now it was mid-afternoon snack time from Dulceria Bakery on 42nd and Cedar. Nearby 36th Street was smooth and open enough to bike most of the way—definitely a good route for crossing 35W, taking me through quieter neighborhoods for a change of pace.

The meal was even better than the biking. It had slowly become a hot day, and my mango concha was delicious and refreshing, loaded with its fruit filling. The horchata surprised me too; the first time I tried horchata was in high school and I thought it tasted like a candle—not this time. The cinnamon is welcome in a cool drink, too.

With time to kill before dinner at Trio Plant-based on Lake Street and Lyndale, I meandered about the lakes after riding the RiverLake Greenway back toward Uptown. I ordered Trio’s soul food platter with ribs, collard greens, and mac & cheeze. The mac & cheeze was my favorite; its creamy fake cheese imparted top-notch flavor without feeling gross. The ribs, while tasty, are fairly dense, so on this long, hot day I struggled to finish them.

Reversing my morning route home to Northeast brought me to the fully vegan Crepe & Spoon. Nearly all their flavors are unique, but I opted for a two-scoop cone of Orange Chocolate Chip and Avocado Lemon. Ice cream doesn’t afford the luxury of time like Trio’s ribs, so I sprinted to my finish. This might have been easier if I’d chosen the wider waffle cone instead of a sugar cone, but I’m smarter now than I was then.

As I reflected upon my day—biking roughly 50 miles, almost entirely in comfort, to eat at seven diverse restaurants—I concluded that the Twin Cities is a great vegan biking metro, where comfort need only be sacrificed when one’s eyes prove bigger than one’s stomach.

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Click here for a photo tour of Seed Cafe