“Even more despised than the Brunch People are the vegetarians. Serious cooks regard these members of the dining public — and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans — as enemies of everything that’s good and decent in the human spirit.”
— Anthony Bourdain writing in 1999
Some people may still joke like this about vegetarians — and why not? — but the fact is that we have a far easier time in the world of high-end restaurants than we did back in 1999. Serious cooks don’t actually despise us, and the best ones are getting downright inspired by vegetables.
Just this month, The New York Times matter-of-factly mentioned the “vegetarian-heavy menu trend in downtown Manhattan” and asserted that unlike other food fads, this one doesn’t seem likely to fall out of fashion.
Locally, it was big news last summer when Lanny Lancarte III, scion of the family behind Joe T’s and one of the most gifted chefs in Fort Worth, said he was closing his much-loved Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana and opening Righteous Foods, a restaurant dedicated to whole foods with health-giving qualities.
We vegetarians instantly wondered what it would mean for us.
Righteous Foods opened last week, and though it’s not a vegetarian restaurant, it is very good news for meatless diners. Here are some first impressions from a vegetarian’s point of view (look for a full DFW.com review in a few weeks).
I counted six entrees, five salads and four starters that were lacto-ovo vegetarian (other dishes include seafood, or organic chicken or beef), but I found that vegetarians and especially vegans do need to be careful here. I’d still ask questions about almost every dish. Our helpful server, Celina, was a vegan herself and pointed out a couple of surprises: The guacamole has egg white in it as a bonding agent (fine for me but not for vegans), and the tomato soup base is chicken stock.
The lunch/dinner menu gives you lots to consider, with many little sections labeled “grabs,” “greens,” “grains,” “goodies,” “grinders” and, leaving the G’s, “soups,” “detox” (juices, teas) and “retox” (artisanal cocktails with lots of fresh produce and herbs).
From the “detox” list, we tried and liked the “O” Face pressed juice (carrots, sweet potato, yellow pepper, orange and ginger) and the mango drinking vinegar, one of eight vinegar flavors on that day’s blackboard menu. Lancarte told me that drinking vinegars are a digestive aid, and give you a light, clean feeling. They’re what he’s offering instead of soft drinks, and he serves them in a big, tall glass over ice. Mine was refreshing, though the vinegar flavor is something I’ll have to get used to.
Vegetarian starters included deviled eggs and a carrot and sweet potato ravioli in ginger broth, but we enjoyed the grilled organic eggplant bocaditos (little sandwiches) with goat cheese and tomato confit. Only one of three soups listed was vegetarian — sweet potato and mung bean.
Any of the six items under “Grains” can function as a vegetarian’s main dish. They include Job’s tears (a grain rarely seen on menus) with salsify, spinach, golden raisins and crushed pecans; Himalayan red rice with Brussels sprouts, roasted organic sweet potato and organic baby shiitakes; and organic wheat berries with baby bok choy, pickled vegetables and ginger broth.
In a nice reversal of the usual way of things, each is set up so that carnivores can ask for a particular protein to be added (scallops on the red rice, blackened salmon on the wheat berries, etc.), but the default dish is a balanced, well-thought-out vegetarian creation.
I chose the toasted farro risotto with organic baby shiitakes, charred organic cauliflower and a soft-poached organic egg — an earthy, comforting plate.
We also liked, from the salad menu, a small dish designed to comply with a raw-foods diet (nothing heated to more than 108 degrees): delicate kelp noodles topped with pickled organic carrots, cucumbers, black olives and a cashew cream.
Breakfast, which I haven’t yet tried, may be even more veggie-friendly. Sweet options during opening week included an acai bowl with three fruits; house-made granola with lavender honey; banana and chocolate waffles with berries and a raspberry beet puree; and a coconut and quinoa “oatmeal.” Savory choices were a couple of sandwiches; an omelet with spinach, shiitakes and salsify; and the “Burrito for Gluten and Meat Haters,” with egg, roasted yellow peppers and black beans.
In addition to the all-day juices, drinking vinegars and coffee from Portland’s famed Stumptown Coffee Roasters (a Metroplex exclusive), the restaurant is blending up righteous-sounding smoothies at breakfast.
Righteous Foods, 3405 W. Seventh St., Fort Worth; 817-850-9996. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday, with a reduced menu during off-peak hours.
Hopdoddy Burger Bar (two locations in Dallas) is celebrating Halloween with a special veggie burger, the Great Kabocha. It’s the first burger I’ve had whose star ingredient is winter squash, in this case the Japanese pumpkin known as kabocha. The patty is vegan, Hopdoddy says, but the toppings are not, and vegans would have to ask for a lot of substitutions. But I loved it as it came, with a sweet-and-spicy mix of house-made pumpkin butter, jalapeño coleslaw, pepper jack, tomato, cilantro and chipotle mayo. Available only through Nov. 2. www.hopdoddy.com