14 August 2012

Vegan options at Red Robin

I've loaned my soul to the devil. It's nothing serious, just a summer lease. For the past three months, I've been working in a high class burger joint. The tables are always clean, the ketchup bottles are always full, and refills (of both drinks and fries) are free. It's a very nice restaurant. However, it is also, in my opinion, a death accelerator.

As a server, I am caught in an ethical dilemma between wanting to increase the guests' bill (and, consequently, my tip) and trying to convince every person who walks into this respectable, carnivorous establishment to get out while they still can. I feel compromised when I smile and ask “How is everything?” right after they've taken their first bites of burger. There's no turning back for them now. I tried my best to save them by highlighting the addition of roasted vegetable soup to our menu, but they were so much more excited when I offered them free fries to nibble on while they waited eagerly for their hunks of beef and flour.

It's probably ironic that I work in a restaurant at which I would never eat. Of course, they offer a couple of salads which, minus the crispy or grilled chicken, I have enjoyed in the past. However, even this lighter fare still isn't up to my health freak standards. The salad mix is, at its best, little better than romaine, and at its worst, is full of enough iceberg to sink the Titanic. To someone with a devotion to spinach and spring mix, it just doesn't cut it.

When asked for recommendations, I always blame my hesitancy on my vegetarianism. However, that is only partly why I don't know what to suggest to undecided patrons. In my head, I have to take a minute to wonder, “Which burger will kill this person slower?” and I usually come up empty. So, Red Robin is far from a vegan paradise, but I have come up with some ways for my fellow vegheads to navigate through their menu.

First of all, any of their “gourmet” burgers can be substituted with a vegan Boca patty. Although it's not an ideal replacement, it is a dependable solution. (You can also make a Boca substitution for the chicken burgers, chicken wraps, and other sandwiches.) Of course, pretty much all of Red Robin's burgers, with the exception of the Natural Burger, come laden with cheese.

For vegans, this may seem like a deal breaker, but your server just has to press one extra button to modify any burger. Unfortunately, Red Robin does not offer any vegan cheese substitutions, but most burgers can exist tastily without it. For example, the Whiskey River Barbecue burger can be veganized with a Boca burger and an omission of cheddar cheese. What is left is a still yummy burger slathered with barbecue sauce and cushioned with onion straws. Of course, this burger, as most Red Robin burgers, comes almost dripping with mayonnaise. However, eliminating the mayo takes just another press of a button. Don't be afraid to ask your server for special modifications to your burger.

I know from months of experience that it takes less than a minute to order a completely customized burger, and I want to instill this confidence in you. Besides veganizing your burger, another way to make your burger healthier in general is to switch out the standard sesame bun for a spinach or lettuce wrap. The spinach wrap is a pressed wrap made out of spinach, while the lettuce wrap is literally two wedges of cool, crisp lettuce. Personally, I favor the lettuce wrap because I love the cool, crispy contrast of the lettuce to the warmth of the burger. These quick switches can take a standard RR burger from about 900 calories to only 200. I don't normally suggest counting calories as a tenant of healthy living, but the types of calories you would be ingesting (animal protein and empty carbs) are also superior with the vegan version.

What's also great about Red Robin is the feature on their website (http://redrobin.com/menu) that lets you customize your meal and calculate its nutrition ahead of time. This is a great tool for vegans because you can make sure that you don't ingest any accidental dairy or eggs that might be hidden in sauces or spreads. With these tools and information, you can empower yourself before and during your visit to Red Robin, making any item not only vegan-friendly but vegan-happy.

Lindsay Geller | Blog | Twitter| Pinterest | LinkedIn
Boston, MA Lindsay is a Writing, Literature, and Publishing and Marketing Communications double major at Emerson College. She originally hails from rural northeastern Pennsylvania where the first day of hunting season merited a day off from school. She has been a vegetarian for over five years and is currently transitioning into veganism. When she isn't writing magazine articles, she writes touching and/or creepy and/or sarcastic fiction which can be found at her blog. She also enjoys making 140 character diary entries comparing her life to a Lifetime movie on her Twitter.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/davedugdale