Vegans and gaming (role playing games ala Dungeons & Dragons, board games, video games for example) go together like nutritional yeast and popcorn. It’s no secret my interests including vegan stuff often swerves in the direction of games, comics and sci-fi. And I’m not alone: the vegan nerd–tribe is growing every day. This week I’m off to Gen Con in Indianapolis (kind of like a Comic Con for gamers) to carouse with thousands of other die-hard gamers and very likely there will be a smattering of vegans (plus more vegetarians) wandering the convention grounds.
Epidiah Ravachol, commonly known as Eppy, has not only allotted skill points to his vegan ability but is also a proven independent role playing game designer. Author of Dread, Time and Temp and the shiny and new Dread House and Swords Without Master, Eppy is also a veteran attendee of Gen Con. He and I chat about the ups and downs and all-arounds of finding vegan eats when you’re resigned to days at a big convention center and nights in hotel and mall centric downtown (without a car to do much exploring) and with just an hour to refuel before the next big convention event.
T: It’s interesting how over the years of visiting downtown Indy we’ve seen places come and go, most of them uneventfully but you always remember the ones that make an effort for veggie eats. The now closed J. Gumbo was a regular for me two years ago with a homemade white bean vegetable gumbo, great beer and chatty service: the waiter told me personally how the chef made sure to work in a good vegan entree on a typically non-veg friendly menu.
But the biggest surprise had to be the first time we stumbled upon Hard Times Cafe (RIP) many years back. How would you describe the vegan chili there? Remember the peanuts…it had freakin’ peanuts!
E: Yeah, so Hard Times Cafe. When I first went in there, I was all ready for the vegan diet of the road: french fries and coffee. If I was lucky, a pickle. But no, amongst all the bar food and not-so-vegan chili there it was. Vegan veggie chili that was not only edible, but downright toothsome. And with peanuts. Brilliant!
My memory’s fading, but I vaguely recall you could also get the chili on a bed of noodles [think it was optional to have it served “Cincinnati-style”, THR]. Though that might be some Skyline chili from the road trip to Indianapolis. The things I put in my mouth getting and from Gen Con, I swear.
T: Conventions can be quite the test when it come to staying fed, it’s usually all chain restaurants and ferreting out veggie-friendly mall food. What was the best meal you’ve had at Gen Con, and dare I ask the worst?
E: Gen Con meals are all about who you’re with. There’s a super-expensive place right near the convention center that isn’t exactly vegan-friendly, but super-expensive often means a bit more accommodating.
For the past two years the Design Matters booth has been going there near the end of the con ostensibly to celebrate and discuss the future. Though generally we just end up trying to teach our Scotsman [and fellow game designer Gregor Hutton, THR] how to pronounce “condom”. And you’d be surprised at how that truly makes a meal.
T: Agreed on all counts! It pays to pay more sometimes. There’s a few sushi places (great for basic veggie rolls and edamame) I plan on hitting up and dragging friends along with. I’m sure we can locate a surplus Scottish game designer to read the menu out loud to us.
E: The worst meal has to be Stake-n-Shake. And I’ll leave it at that.
T: I shudder on your behalf, but that’s in the past. Here’s to a bright future convention full of memorable, or at least interesting meals! Last year I recall many of our proverbial veggie butts were saved by a new convention area spot Noodles & Company (they actually knew what vegan was). I typically went for the udon with extra broccoli. What’s your favorite? How many times did you eat there (myself maybe 5 times at least)? I’m not ashamed to say I probably went there twice in one day. When you’re pressed for time there’s comfort in familiarity (and cheapness).
E: The Udon is good. Damn good. But it’s my backup. It’s my first choice for my second visit to Noodles & Company in a day. My first choice for my first choice is always the Indonesian Peanut Sauté, often with grilled tofu. That peanut sauce with the cilantro and the fresh squeezed lime on it! And a liberal helping of Sriracha, because that’s how I roll.
T: Oh man that ‘s right, they have Sriracha! A breath of hot, garlicky, fiery fresh air.
E: I was so damn happy to see Noodles & Co last year. Last year, as were rolling in, I was getting all warmed up to complain about what a cruel joke it was that they left the sign for Hard Times up a vicious reminder of the vegan chili that was once right next door to the convention center. But there it was, Noodles & Co., a franchise I remembered from my Madison days. And again, so freaking close to the convention center. Relatively cheap, filling and tasty vegan food, all for the having!
T: Do you pack vegan provisions with you? I have the standard rations of granola bars, dried fruit and nuts and tea ready to go. One year I brought hummus with me thinking I would just unpack the mini bar fridge in the hotel room, load it with hummus and fill it back up with the unopened $6 soda cans when we check out (not a soda fan so no risk drinking it). Imagine my surprise when all of the mini fridges were replaced with strange new devices rigged and ready to ring up any charge at the slightest tampering…kind of like that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark with the golden idol head and bag of sand switch out. Except I’m no Indy in Indy and can’t elude that trap.
E: I always think I’m going to pack some vegan provisions to tide me over. I also always think I’m going to publish my games months before the Gen Con deadline. In both cases I tend to fail. So I end up eating a lot of bagels with peanut butter or the fruit that coffee shops keep around to look healthier. But here’s the thing: If you’re willing to walk just a few blocks more than your average Gen Con goer, you’re in for a few treats. Again, my memory’s fading, but there’s amazing guacamole to be had just outside the Gen Con consumer radius. There’s also the Indian restaurant. I went there a couple years ago and I haven’t found it since. But I hear tell it’s still there, perhaps it moved.
T: That Indian restaurant was a life-saver and it definitely went somewhere else, I mourn the loss. It’s true though that the good stuff is probably at least good 20 minute walk from the convention center, such as a farmer’s market on the weekend and I’ve been told the really good vegan stuff is in the Broad Ripple neighborhood, but it sounds like we’d need wheels to effective get to and from it in time. Either way I think we’ll find something to keep our hit points flush for the next few days.
E: Thanks! I figured you’d enjoy it. That’s an aesthetic we share. The younger kids with their ironing-board-swords and porcupine armor might not get what’s happening there, but we old-timers know that’s a little something called Fantasy. I might have a preview edition of Swords Without Masters ready for Gen Con but I’ll have finished editions of Dread House and Time & Temp to sell.
Visit Eppy and his Design Matters cohorts at their booth #2100 in the Dealer’s Hall at Gen Con Indianapolis this week August 5th-8th. If you’re a master of downtown Indy vegan eats post your wisdom-nuggest below and keep vegan gaming alive this year!