A new Felipe Armenta restaurant is happy news for vegetarian dining. That’s what we’ve learned from Fort Worth’s The Tavern, Pacific Table and Press Cafe — all places where vegetarianism is hardly the main point but where the meatless dishes are much more than afterthoughts.
I wasn’t too sure about Armenta’s latest, though. His new West 7th restaurant has a meaty name: Cork & Pig Tavern. And it’s an import from Odessa and San Angelo — no slight intended to those West Texas towns, but I have family roots in Odessa and it’s no one’s idea of a vegetarian paradise.
A first glance at the online menu made me think “uh-oh.” Right up top, all five salads list meat or seafood. So do all six appetizers except guacamole. The brawny entrees, cooked on a wood-fired grill, run to ribs, chops, rotisserie chicken and seafood, and the sandwich list is all meat, too.
Fortunately, down at the bottom, there’s pizza. Turns out Cork & Pig is also a good pizza restaurant, with a brick oven and a flair with ambitious toppings. Fully half of the choices are meatless.
So far I’ve tried two. The “So. Cal” ($14) — which gets baked with mozzarella, manchego and tomatoes then scattered with fresh avocado slices and basil — is a good summer pie.
The Napa Valley ($14) — with wild mushrooms, Kalamata olives, mozzarella, garlic and not too much kale — was even better, with a deep umami flavor. Friends have raved about the third option, the Black Truffle ($15, with roasted mushrooms, fresh thyme, mozzarella and fontina), which sounds similarly intense.
At the moment, the salad menu is a little less meaty than the online menu suggests. In person, we found a choice of four salads, one of them meat-free. It was a composed salad ($7) of greens in a champagne vinaigrette with apricots, toasted pumpkin seeds and generous slices of manchego.
Changes at Max’s
I also checked in at nearby Max’s Wine Dive, whose new executive chef, Victor Villarreal, has worked at Sera Dining & Wine, Grace, Clay Pigeon and the Mansion on Turtle Creek. Though Max’s is a small chain with locations in four other Texas cities, it allows local chefs a lot of latitude to add items to the classic Max’s fare like fried chicken and burgers.
Villarreal says he’s developing new dishes to make the menu less one-note. (There’s a lot of deep-fried goodness at Max’s, some of it vegetarian like the excellent pimento cheese tater tots and the fried artichokes. But yes, it’s a bit one-note.)
If two off-menu specials he’s making right now are indicative of the direction he’s going, I’m going to be a big fan.
A plate of shishito peppers is a common-enough appetizer around here, but Villarreal is topping his with a sweet hibiscus gastrique, plus ricotta, hazelnuts and fleur de sel.
And a dish of burrata cheese with toasted bread includes heirloom tomatoes, shaved red onion, micro celery and a prickly pear champagne vinaigrette.
Max’s has plenty of other meatless dishes, such as a fried egg sandwich, the luxurious MAX ’n’ cheese, and chilaquiles and a roasted relleno at brunch. Give it big points, too, for serving that brunch Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Have a suggestion, a veggie news tip or a question? Send it to Marilyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter, @LonesomeVeg. For more Lonesome Vegetarian columns, visit dfw.com/vegetarian.