It arrives at my table in taco form, thin dark strips filling corn tortillas piled high with pickled onion and something resembling Parmesan cheese. I pull one of the julienned strips of brown mystery out of the taco and taste it on its own. It's smoky and moist, tangy from barbecue sauce. It's kind of chewy. It's vegan brisket.
And it's pretty good.
V-Eats Modern Vegan, opening sometime this week, is the latest addition to Trinity Groves, the restaurant mini-mall at the foot of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in West Dallas. The development's food offerings are varied: seafood at AmberJax Fish Market Grille, burgers at Off-Site Kitchen, Moroccan at Souk, craft beer and comfort food at Luck. And now, something for vegetarians and vegans, a population that doesn't exactly have it easy dining out in a city revered for its steakhouses and burger joints.
Vegan restaurants tend to go one of two routes: animal-free takes on classic meat-filled favorites, or an unabashed celebration of veggie-centric dishes that don't try to be anything other than what they are. V-Eats has robust salads and vegetable dishes, but much of the menu is devoted to vegan takes on Texas favorites.
Chef Troy Gardner "specializes in crafting succulent plant-based 'meats' that will amaze your taste buds," V-Eats website reads. "His clever use of cruelty-free ingredients creates the texture and flavors of meat with compassion."
Southwest chili ($5/$8), brisket sliders ($10), Texas Frito pie ($9), Salisbury steak ($15) — the menu is filled with dishes that attempt to lure meat-eaters into a sense of comfort that some omnivores don't always find in vegan restaurants. The brisket is made of seitan, the chicken-fried steak is made with breadfruit and the salmon sushi is made with a curious pink "meat" that was somewhat translucent and mostly flavorless – the server was unwilling (or unable) to describe exactly what the salmon was made of.
The brisket — which comes in a slider, taco ($10 for three) or sandwich ($12) — did not, on its own, immediately bring the warm fattiness of classic brisket to mind, particularly texturally, but on tacos, it made for a fun and tangy bite that was reminiscent of beef. It's not going to fool a pitmaster, but it is something I'd order again.
Tortilla-encrusted fried "Chick-None" ($15) proved particularly interesting. It's made with breadfruit, a dense, starchy tropical fruit that's nutrient-rich and easy to grow, which makes it particularly of interest to international organizations trying to fight food scarcity and malnutrition in impoverished countries. Whether or not the breadfruit could cure world hunger has yet to be seen; but how does it really stack up when served as a substitute to chicken?
Texturally, breadfruit is much thicker and starchier than chicken – it's less chicken breast and more like a roasted root vegetable. Even with the surprising texture, this dish was delicious — the breading was crunchy and flavorful and the mushroom sauce drizzled on top added a nice umami depth. The combination of the breading and gravy did give it a flavor reminiscent of a chicken-fried steak, but meat purists will probably balk at the texture. To do so, however, would be to miss the point — this is a fun, inventive dish with surprisingly crave-worthy flavors and delightful roasted veggies. The mac and cheese on the side won't convince you it's Kraft, but it did have a surprisingly cheesy consistency and tasted pleasantly comforting.
There's a small beer and wine list and a few fun cocktails, too. The Herb Garden ($12) was a sweet, herbaceous drink made with house herb-infused gin, lemon tonic and fresh spinach juice. Brunch is forthcoming, which should be music to meat-free ears, and the eatery will likely announce its official open date this week.
Whether you're meat-free or not, V-Eats is a fun, inventive spot to visit — and in a city that loves meat as much as Dallas, sometimes it's nice to walk awake and alert from a plant-based meal that doesn't rely on all the trappings of meat.
V-Eats Modern Vegan, 3011 Gulden Lane