As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block has ceased publication. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. 

TODAY

Thursday, April 25

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


Drive-Thru
« Top Chef, Episode 9: "Who Drove the Bus?" Cocktail & Food Pairing Dinner »

Feature Thu May 08 2008

A Local Guide to Vegan Austin

I arrived Austin with a few friends – one, once a local, as a guide – ready to take on a near continuous sampling of vegan-friendly restaurants.

Our first stop after dropping luggage was at Mister Natural. They made a rich and thick pipian sauce, a mole they served made from peanuts, pumpkin and breadcrumbs. It heated my stomach in the kind of warm, lingering way you'd want on a very cold day. Tofu was bathing in it – sauce clinging to the tofu like suds to a body in a bubble bath. The tofu leaked out juice with every bite. Someone recommended the chilled pineapple juice cut with spinach – enough spinach for me to associate it with the refreshing shade of the green Hi-C Kool Aid I grew up with. I find pineapple juice a bit sweet, as if it's asking to be paired with a leafy green. The translucent green roof of the outside patio cast its own shade. The food was much too tasty to let that matter. Perhaps they even made the corn tortillas themselves, something apparently not at all too uncommon in Austin. The refried beans were warm and soft, and a small gordita fat and pudgy with tofu. My friend's tamale was tender like a soft carrot cake. My other friend's veggie chorizo taco salad was quite savory – tasting fatty enough she told me, contrary to her initial guess that it'd be too lean. We left without a taste from the expansive bakery case of vegan treats behind us, even the selection of vegan tres leches unscathed.

We were on the East Side of town, soon walking down some allies trying to find a lot my friend had bought. Honeysuckle seemed to grow wild. One friend showed me how to massage the flowers into releasing their sweet nectar, and how to sample it. Bushes of rosemary tempted our fingers, soon fragrant from rubbing them through.

We popped over for a rest at Spiderhouse café, chewing the most moist vegan carrot cake I think I've ever had – plenty of oil, I heard from a friend of my guide. I washed it down with a double soy late – as if the cake needed any assistance – served in a pilsner glass, chilled with a nice amount of ice. One of us had taken a peanut butter cup to share. The room temperature air outside had softened it so well that it melted in my mouth like a soft truffle. She tempted me with thoughts her own version, adding a graham cracker base. The expansive patio held an assortment of battered metal outdoor furniture, in various shapes and sizes. Green plant life seemed to be all around us, including a sea of leafy green trees. A low fence in front looked to be backed with a line-up of headboards, but seemed well placed in this relaxed environment. Airy, oily nacho chips interrupted a pause in my eating. Their salsa burned deeply and intensely. A debate soon followed about a proper guacamole. Is tomato just a filler? Do you want only avocado mashed with salt, lime and a bit of garlic?

One more meal today: a long walkway through tall green plants and trees led us into Casa De Luz after listening to MARR's Pump Up the Volume on the radio. It takes vegan to a whole different level – earthy and wholesome in a communal atmosphere. Our fixed marcobiotic dinner included kale – tangy with the taste of a tahini-based dressing. Flat and wide beans, lima perhaps, came with the piquant likes of a nutritional yeast sauce. The brown rice felt a bit dry, but seemed to have the surprisingly nice touch of cinnamon. The pizza was no means traditional pizza even in the vegan variety. Think of a dense, earthy bread topped with a hummus-like spread and olives, that just happens to be shaped like pizza, and I think you might be happy with it.

Day two kicked off with a lovely fruit salad from my friend's family, and then Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse. An assortment of various tables and chairs emerged again. The mild day's sun lent a soft breeze. Mismatched coffee cups were set straight with the clean white cup of an acquaintance's Americano. I ordered at the front counter, down from a "Tofu Master" T-shirt displayed on the wall. I desperately wanted this shirt to amuse myself, but they only had ladies sizes too small for even my small frame. The text was in edgy letters, with a tofu block wielding a cleaver and wearing an apron. The cashier told me – with such great eye contact that I must make mention of it in hopes of encouraging it in others – that the gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookie was the best kind. How about the chorizo taco made vegan, with tofu instead of egg? They're known for their tofu, she told me. I could see why. Tofu came in very crispy bits, shaped like they could have been squeezed into a scramble by hand, and then stuck back together while being pan-fried in a sea of heavily seasoned oil. The only thing that could have been better, would have been an entire plate of it. I think they figured that out, because they have a whole meal of it, named The Predictable. Toast comes with. As does a potato pancake that's both tender and crispy. When drizzled with ketchup, the pancake will make you wonder why you would ever order anything else. Except perhaps the cookie, so succulent with the most tender chocolate chips – at least under this sun – and with greasy oil that compliments the crumb so well that you want it as much as you want juice leaking from the flesh of a ripe peach. This is a place of function. When you pick up your flatware, a sample piece is on display, bent over its container, to tell you which jar is full of spoons, which for forks and which for knives. We left past plenty of utility bicycles on our way to our borrowed vehicle, past a sticker at the front door telling us to be kind to cyclists. It was a place where alternative dudes intently embraced each other in hugs when they left. Most important of all, it's where food seemed to be made as tasty as possible, as if without any regard for the density of calories being consumed. And let's face it, it's not that greasy good is bad; it's just that you perhaps don't want to eat pounds of it. The marcobiotic Casa De Luz fit in so well the day before.

Dhaba Joy came after an informal tour of the Texas Capitol, and plenty of lounging with friends of my guide friend on the grassy grounds. Dhaba Joy's vegan cinnamon roll had a soft creamy icing that relaxed the slight chew of the pastry. The topping of a cookies and mint cupcake looked full enough to be mistaken for ice cream. The best of these three was the cheesecake, super creamy with a crackery bottom. We shared.

Hotel San José: I heard it was where movie stars stay when they come to town. The only thing that makes me question this a bit, is that we got in to the outdoor lounge with such ease. It's an upscale but simple haven, nestled between a lobby you pass through into it, and a quaint two-story building of guest rooms. To be more accurate, we were able to pull together three poolside chairs and fetch our own drinks because there were not any table seats immediately available. Yet, service – at the bar – was extremely warm and gracious. Our fellow lounge patrons were well dressed, and seemed so comfortable in the space that I melted into my chair and into chat with my friends. If someone had canon-balled into the pool, splashing all about with a loud thud, I can't imagine anyone making much a fuss over it. If I ever need a hotel in Austin, this will be my first choice – even though I haven't been inside any other.

We had moved on, stopping in nearby Farm to Market Grocery to survey the pickings, which aligned to my likings with coconut-based vegan ice cream and coco nibs. Then, we were off to dinner at Veggie Heaven. Mixed reviews aside, the fried gluten of their Protein 2000, wasn't my favorite of the trip, but it kept my consumption of rich foods from falling off to abruptly. The sweet gravy was basic. The meal's redemption came with the seitan's gently chewy and crunchy outside, as if ever so slightly candied. Plus, they offered brown rice, a nice change from some Asian spots I've seen only offer white rice.

Final stop: Whole Foods, flagship store, Austin. An escalator lay flat for carts and electronic digital read-outs displayed prices on the shelves. Everyone seemed extremely friendly. Two cashiers went jumpy and happy, waving up their hands when they saw each other. A man working the candied nut counter engaged us with a guessing game. It was the type where he asks us to secretly write down a few words in specific categories – like a color and type of animal – and then asks a few questions designed precisely to narrow the words down to a few guessable options. I don't think I'd ever received this level of service at a supermarket. I think my friends and I appreciated the gesture, but not everyone. The man told us of someone who that game had encouraged to slam her nuts down on the counter, and tell him she wanted nothing to do with the experience. Around the corner, small hoppers of nuts fed into grinders, ready to be turned on, to churn out nut butters. A vegan deli case made me wish I could stay another day for a picnic. A chocolate case's vegan peppermint chocolate truffle led me in to see barks of toffee and chocolate that made me take note to throw a wine and chocolate party. At the airport, I ate the unusual breakfast of Late July dark chocolate sandwich cookies, deep with a velvety and creamy filling, from Farm to Market. Later, I moved on to Whole Food's maple pecans, coated in a crunchy sugar and a hint of bourbon. The slight indulgences of the journey seemed to have put a pimple on the back of my left ear.

 
GB store
GB store

Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

GB store

 

Events


Drive-Thru on Flickr

Join the Drive-Thru Flickr Pool.


About Drive-Thru

Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
Drive-Thru staff inbox: drivethru@gapersblock.com

Archives

 

 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15