I wondered if I should eat a large breakfast in advance of Saturday’s 2011 Dallas Vegan Tour (organized by Steven Doyle). After all, just how far through the day can a piece of lettuce and a few shreds of carrot take you? After finishing a stonking good vegan chili (Va-Va-Vegan Chili, $4.95) at our first stop which was the Anvil Pub, the question became inverted: How would I get through the day if each of our half-dozen planned stops served this much food? Beans, onions and Smart Ground substituted for the meat. I never tasted the difference.
Slightly puzzlingly, the chili incorporated vegan sour cream and cheese. This was puzzling because I had thought of vegan food as a departure from the mainstream, but here it was shadowing it. And I’m not sure this is a good strategy. Creamy, sweet and tangy sour cream was replaced by something that fooled the camera but tasted like wallpaper paste. The substitute for processed shredded cheese was visually just as well disguised as the sour cream but its taste was not objectionable. Although, it was not the taste of cheese. Maybe it was some kind of flour product, or perhaps soy noodles. In fact, one thing I discovered on this tour was that if you are in doubt what a vegan substitute is made of, assume it is soy. They use it for everything from milk to garden furniture.
The other thing I learned at our stop at the Anvil Pub was that vegans don’t use napkins. We had to substitute the napkins used to catch spillage under our bowls. Oh well, at least the planet is saved.
While we waited for stragglers at the Anvil Pub I spoke with James Scott of Dallasvegan.com, the ideas man behind the tour. I was giving him a generally hard time about vegan life. Things like, travel problems (gasoline is dead animals), buying shoes (no leather, presumably). He is remarkably calm in the face of questions like this. His philosophy is to pursue his vegan beliefs as best he can in a sometimes uncooperative world.
Leaving the Anvil, we headed north. Sol’s Nieto Mexican Grill at Mockingbird and Abrams in Lakewood. Sol’s is Tex-Mex without apology. However they use canola oil for frying and can substitute vegan cheese in their “chile relleno” and other dishes if you wish. They did this for us in an extensive buffet of Tex-Mex favorites (quesadillas, tacos, tostadas, beans, chile relleno, nachos) at a bargain $5. Other than the cheese, which I found a heavy and slithery industrial product (actually “Filtered water, tapioca and/or arrowroot flours, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and /or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, salt, inactive yeast, vegan natural flavours, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid (for flavor), annatto” in Oprah and Ellen’s favorite brand) everything was good.
Next we were off to Bliss Raw Café and Elixir Bar in Preston Center. It was amusing to see the faces of the well-coiffed Park Cities types inside as the party bus pulled up. “Heaven forbid, they are letting vegans in! Call the Department of Homeland Security!”. Given Bliss’s thriving after-lunch trade at 2:30pm, and not on account of the dress code, we were served on the sidewalk outside. First, three cocktails: goji paradise, chocolate, and horchata. Goji berries taste like very sweet carrots (they are also called wolfberries, but this doesn’t sound very vegan). The chocolate had the refined bitterness of high end raw cocoa solids and the horchata was just like the horchata drink at countless taquerias although Bliss apparently makes their version with hemp.
Next came a mixed plate pad thai, two types of sushi, and margherita pizza. These vegan incarnations gave up nothing to their animal-based counterparts in flavor or appearance. While chatting on the curb we spoke to Toria Villreal, a friend of the owner helping out at the restaurant that day, and she alerted us to her restaurant VSpot opening ‘soon’ at 1908 N. Henderson (next to Pearl Cup and a short walk after shopping at Sunflower). Check out the tattoos on her arms when you go by – there isn’t a square inch of pink.
Before we left Bliss I took a trip inside. The whole restaurant is spotlessly clean, from the dining area to the tiny kitchen, to the bathroom. That cleanliness is apparently one extension of the owner’s philosophy, of which veganism is another.
Next we were back on the bus, to the relief of the Park Cities, and went down the back route to The OC and Spiral Diner. The place was still buzzing despite it being mid-afternoon. While we waited, I asked the vegans seated near me at our communal table why they were vegan. It turned out they had all converted, rather than being raised vegan. Two reasons dominated in explaining their decisions. For some, it was animal cruelty. The more they heard about the way that animals were treated to provide food, the less they wanted to be part of that food chain. They took the practical step of just getting off. For others, it was provenance. Food generally nowadays was the product of such a convoluted supply chain along which all kinds of additives and chemical treatments could occur that they no longer trusted mass-produced food. Becoming vegan short-circuited the ingestion of a lot of mass-produced food, but was not enough in itself. One vegan described how she had taken a visiting vegan friend to vegan restaurants in Dallas where the servers could not explain where their vegetables came from. The fact that the dishes were vegan was not enough for her friend who simply refused to eat anonymous food.
As well as vegan restaurants around town this group liked the core of Indian restaurants that specialized in vegetarian food. I was surprised to learn that, although India is the country with the most vegetarians and vegans, Taiwan is the country with the highest percentage of the population who adhere to the two philosophies. In the US the proportion is 4-10% vegetarian, 2.8% vegan, according to a 2003 Harris poll. These proportions are growing.
Spiral Diner prepared three sandwiches: Chopped BBQ, The Mitch Tofu Club, and a Meatball Sub. Seitan substituted for meat in the BBQ.
Our penultimate stop was in the Bishop Arts district of The OC where Zen Sushi provided what was, without a doubt, the most photogenic spread of the day. Not only that, the food proved a big taste hit too. A kebob made of yellow and red onions and Brussels sprouts was lusciously sweet. Nigirizushi with longways sliced asparagus, or okra, and with a shitake mushroom lashed to the rice with nori were novel because the vegetables and mushroom were so tasty. However, enjoying these novelties left me reminiscing about days of fresh sushi with vegetable flavors this good, but ell, or salmon, or tuna, as well.
Last, we headed back to Deep Ellum for a preview of Jay Jerrier’s homage to pizza as culinary art form Cane Rosso. He is about a week away from opening (depending on permits and construction) so we milled around the counter that fronts the magnificent red oven. Jay and his crew threw together half a dozen vegan pizzas (and one ‘cheat’ pizza –
meat included) including a spectacular seared kale variation as well as foccacia bread. Vegans give up nothing at Cane Rosso.
I learned a lot about vegan food in just one day and while I have not converted to vegan, I have decided to become a Post-Vegan. That is like a vegan, but you can have a certain amount of meat under restriction. The restriction is that it must be on a day with an ‘a’ in it.