First Look

Verts Expands Its Fast-Casual Mediterranean Franchise to Denton

In a few words, Verts could be summed up as the Mediterranean Chipotle. The expanding Austin-based chain follows the now familiar model of fast casual dining by offering a limited, vessel-based menu with nearly endless opportunities for diners to create dishes catering to their specific tastes through the art of toppings Jenga. A line of friendly employees boldly attempt to cram your vegetable, cheese and sauce choices inside of a wrap/salad/bowl before sending you on your merry way. 

Verts Mediterranean Grill (previously known as VertsKebap) opened its newest DFW-area location in Denton last weekend with a charity launch event benefitting Serve Denton, an organization that helps Denton-area nonprofits grow. The crowd was thin at first, but the promise of free food soon had the line curling out the door.

At Verts, entrée price is determined by protein choice: spit-roasted beef and lamb, chicken, beef meatballs, or falafel. Diners can choose between four "bases," or protein delivery vessels. The pita pocket is grilled until crisp then stuffed with a heaping helping of add-ons. The rice bowl option is a large serving of turmeric and lemon-flavored jasmine rice as a base. Wrap and salad options are also available. 

When it comes to toppings, Verts does not disappoint. Everything on the line looked bright, fresh and flavorful. Hot options include roasted broccoli or roasted red peppers. Cold veggies run the gamut: fresh red bell pepper, crunchy cucumbers, spiced chickpeas, greens, crumbled feta and a selection of house-made pickled veggies. I highly recommend the pickled onions and pickled jalapeños.

A good vegetarian dish, the pita with falafel was fresh, filling and sometimes challenging to eat while observing common table manners. The falafel was crisp on the outside with a moist interior, but had a bit of a kick to it. Falafel begs for tzatziki sauce, but at Verts it was thin and somewhat sweet. It could have used a creamier base and more onion. A quick glance at the nutritional information suggests the tzatziki is meant to be a low-calorie option with only 16 calories per serving, by far the "healthiest" sauce on the menu. This is great if you're counting calories, but as a fan of butterfat in condiments, I have no desire to order it again.

For the beef and lamb, a combination of 5 percent lamb and 95 percent beef is spit-roasted and carved upon request. This was moist and peppery but tasted less like fresh-roasted spit fare and more like commercial pre-packaged gyro meat. Flavor wasn't too much of an issue though, especially served atop a heaping bowl of rice, vegetables, hummus and sauce. Altogether, the dish was a bright and satisfying lunch for under $10, but I probably would have enjoyed it just as much without the small amount of meat. 
Surprisingly though, the beef and lamb option is gluten free, good news for GF folks who avoid commercial gyro meat due to the common wheat fillers. 

Falafel also comes as a side order if you, too, want to try ALL THE THINGS. A healthier alternative to fries, pair it with a complementary sauce or order a side of sauce with pita chips. Staff recommended the house sauce (yogurt, dill and garlic) but like the tzatziki, it was too sweet. However, there are no less than seven sauces to choose from, so the condiment-obsessed will likely find something that interests them. The hummus is surprisingly good and had a nice texture you don't often find in mass-produced options. 

The UT Austin grads who created Verts in 2011 wanted to bring their favorite Mediterranean street-foods to Texas in a casual, affordable atmosphere. Having enjoyed my share of Israeli falafel stands and Turkish doner kebap in Germany, I wasn't bowled over by authenticity or flavor, but I was pleasantly surprised to find fresh and healthy fast food alternatives with a Mediterranean flair in Denton. Is this the place you take out-of-town-friends for a bite of local cuisine? Probably not. But this is the place to take your kid for dinner after swim practice when you're too tired to cook but you need to put protein and veggies in that child stat. 

The only downside is the location: Verts opened this past Saturday inside the fast food strip along Loop 288. Crammed into the same building as a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Verts' closest neighbors are Chick-fil-A, Carl's Jr. and Long John Silvers. Would Verts would be more successful around the North Denton area where it could feed hordes of hungry and increasingly health-conscious University students? Time will tell. Unlike the original VertsKebap in the heart of UT Austin's campus, the Denton Verts is a driving destination for most. This is unfortunate, because Verts will soon have beer on tap, and who could say no to a patio pint and hot falafel happy hour?

Verts, 1715 S. Loop 288, Denton, open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.