On the fourth Sunday of every month, an assortment of vegetarians--police officers, an airline pilot, animal activists, nurses and all manner of otherwise normal people--gather for all-you-can-eat vegan Sunday brunch at Veggie Garden in Richardson. The restaurant is small and casual, occupying an unassuming suite in a strip mall near to a Brazilian church.
Fourth Sundays mark the unofficial meeting of the Vegetarian Network of Dallas, whose founder, Margaret Morin, is a tireless animal enthusiast who's so strict in her devotion to veganism she won't walk in the door of any restaurant using animal products.
Perfect! I thought. She'll know all the vegan places! She'll be Veggie Girl's new secret source! She could play Deep Throat to my Woodward!...um, that's a reference to journalism history, for those who don't know.
"I happen to love my own cooking," Morin says, dashing my hopes of having landed a vegan informant. She doesn't eat out much, due at least in part to the fact that Dallas simply doesn't support many exclusively vegan restaurants. So much for a vast, hidden ocean of vegan restaurants. There's no such ocean.
There is, however, "ocean tofu" in unlimited supply every Sunday at Veggie Garden. From what I could tell, it is basic fried tofu with some red peppers and soy sauce--and quite delicious. The Sunday brunch (a $7.95 unlimited buffet) includes a salad bar with the usual lettuce and raw vegetables, plus little vegan spring rolls and marinated bean sprouts. The buffet is a sampling of vegan versions of Asian dishes from kung pao chicken to fried rice and egg rolls.
"They have meat names," Morin explains to an aspiring vegetarian woman who was there for the first time. "But they're all vegan."
The best dish, if you like your tofu sweet, brown and fried, is the sesame soy pork: morsels of deep-fried tofu slathered in a delightfully syrupy brown sauce. As for the kung pao "chicken," in the words of a friend I brought along, "The chicken tastes like chicken."
"Everything tastes like chicken," counters my other friend. He, of course, had yet to try the cinnamon-sugar-coated donuts at the end of the buffet.
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The spinach-miso soup is nice, as is the soy beef with potatoes. And there are cross-cultural items like vegan sushi rolls and curried vegetables, somewhat on the bland side. On non-buffet evenings Veggie Garden provides an extensive--and I mean War and Peace-sized--a la carte menu, which includes everything from chicken-fried soy steak with French fries to 23 different soy chicken options. Terry and Troy, the vegan police officers, recommend the soy shrimp dishes, of which there are 17.
Somehow in the course of my upbringing, someone--and I'm not naming names, but it's the same someone who, inexplicably, made me go to cotillion to learn the foxtrot--neglected to teach me all-you-can-eat buffet survival, let alone etiquette. Is it mandatory to overeat? If I don't have Tums with me, can I drink a solution of baking soda and Coke? Should I fill my first plate to the point of overflow, or just go back to the buffet six times?
Still, in spite of my determination to get my money's worth in sesame tofu pork and cinnamon donuts, I walked away from the peaceful little haven of Veggie Garden feeling decidedly un-bloated. The only danger is with those prices and nearly 100 dishes left to try, I'll be spending all my gas money schlepping up to Richardson.
516 W. Arapaho Road, Suite 112 (just off Central Expressway at Arapaho)