"No regular potato fries? Goddamn hipsters."
So spoke the quintessential Meatless Monday opponent, also known as my boyfriend. We sat across a bar-height table at Sundown, the new restaurant/beer garden situated next to the Granada Theater, on a stretch of Greenville Avenue that's also home to seafood shack Aw Shucks and cheese-fry haven Snuffer's. He was slightly dismayed to find that the kitchen only offered sweet potato fries to accompany his uber-manly Manitoba burger, a Kobe patty topped with shredded brisket, bacon and cheddar: an edible relic of meaty, artery-clogging excess.
My meat-free eating extravaganza had begun much earlier, around 2 a.m., slumped into a booth at Buzzbrews Deep Ellum after consuming a few too many beers at a birthday party (in retrospect, it was probably the party cup half-full of vodka that did me in).
I devoured my plate of build-your-own crepes as only a drunk person could, leaving behind toast crumbs and the requisite cantaloupe and honeydew from the otherwise respectable fruit cup. My crepes were stuffed with chunks of veggie sausage, wilted baby spinach and avocado (chosen from a long list of other veggie-friendly filling options, from bell peppers to nopales to artichokes) and topped with a spicy poblano sauce. Too late for last call, I sipped instead on mango kombucha tea, courtesy of Buzzbrews' Holy Kombucha taps; any potential health benefits were probably a moot point after the alcohol I'd just consumed, but it seemed a fitting accompaniment to my relatively virtuous late-night meal, in contrast to the tablemate who ordered "a BLT -- hold the L and T." My meat-free breakfast knocked out well ahead of schedule, I was free to head home and sleep well into the afternoon.
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For lunch I hit Velvet Taco. Before I'm ridiculed for patronizing a "gourmet" taco joint when there's so many authentic ones in the area, allow me to point out that the typical neighborhood taqueria isn't exactly veggie-friendly. VT, on the other hand, besides having a heavily euphemistic name, has a small but interesting selection of meatless tacos, including a wild mushroom variety with goat cheese and purple potatoes, and my choice, the #5, an Indian-influenced combo of fried paneer, tomato chutney, tikka sauce, a cooling raita crema and Thai basil on a reasonably fresh flour tortilla from El Rio Grande. A few too many ingredients to shove into one taco, maybe, but the end result was tasty, the creamy mild cheese warmly embraced by ginger and coriander and perked up by a squeeze of the housemade hot sauce. One generously sized taco with a side of their insanely good elotes-style corn was perfectly satiating and ran me around 7 bucks.
Flash forward to dinnertime at Sundown. Besides the aforementioned meat orgy on a bun, the menu also holds an array of vegetarian and vegan options, more than I've seen anywhere else in town (other than places specifically geared toward a niche crowd, like Cosmic Café or Spiral Diner). Offerings of note included stuffed avocados with black bean, corn, tomatoes, hemp seed and agave; butternut squash risotto with sunflower seeds and sprouts; and an intriguing-sounding Indian curry with chickpeas, apricots, almonds and crispy pappadam. Prices are considerably higher than I expected for a place whose cuisine seems to lean into crunchy-granola territory ($18 for risotto at a "beer garden"? What is this, Manhattan?), which I assume can be attributed to Sundown's focus on "local" and "farm-to-table" ingredients, although none of their sources were disclosed on the menu.
I opted for the $10 Buddha burger, a housemade quinoa patty with a chili-lime slaw, avocado and chipotle cream, determined to find an incarnation of protein-packed quinoa I could learn to love. I realized when it arrived at the table that it was nearly identical in ingredients to the El Paso burger I'd had at Spiral Diner the previous week, and it paled in comparison; the patty's blandness wasn't helped much by the toppings, which seemed to lack any spice implied by the words "chipotle" and "chili." I found myself wishing for a bottle of Valentina -- or hell, maybe some bacon. The sweet potato fries, on the other hand, were crisp and greaseless, sprinkled with a sweet/salty/lemony seasoning that I couldn't quite identify, and were even better dipped in the accompanying tarragon cream.
I'm finding this whole meat-free thing easier and easier as time goes by, and my vegetarian meals occasionally pop up on other days of the week; I've officially had my fill of veggie burgers but will continue to happily consume my weight in avocados on a weekly basis. And eat bacon every Tuesday.