Few Dallas restaurants mark their debut appearance on the culinary scene with national coverage on Fox News, but V-Eats Modern Vegan did just that, thanks to their all-vegan brisket. Not all Texans, it seems, are ready to chow down on vegan barbecue.
Now that the spotlight has turned elsewhere, V-Eats is still putting its brisket into sandwiches, tacos and sliders, but the rest of its menu resists controversy and silly headlines. Truth be told, the food at V-Eats is mostly pretty good — and that’s coming from a carnivorous critic. The kitchen works with skill and creativity, and the best dishes are legitimately terrific. But not every meat substitute works, and dessert is a work in progress.
To start with, consider the flatbread pizza ($12), a super-thin-crust creation with smoked artichokes and vegan sausage. The crust is crisp and the flavors are well-balanced; the vegan cheese is enjoyable. Crispy spring rolls ($9), stuffed with avocado and cabbage, are fried to delicate, grease-free perfection, and the mango-cilantro salsa is a good accompaniment, although something a little spicier would have been even better.
There’s salmon sushi on the menu ($10). How does that work? The salmon is in fact marinated tomato, which achieves the right color, a veiny texture and a happy juiciness. It tastes good, without fooling salmon enthusiasts; the real bummer is the too-big and too-firm lump of rice underneath.
One notable misfire on the appetizer list: the now-notorious brisket tacos ($10). The problem isn’t with the restaurant’s good tortillas, pickled onions or even the seitan “brisket.” The problem is the barbecue sauce used to give that fake brisket its flavor. It’s overbearingly spicy-sweet, like an intensified version of Kansas City-style sauce, and it left an aftertaste that lingered in my mouth until my main course arrived. The salsa verde, made creamy and mild thanks to avocado, helped somewhat.
As with the appetizer list, V-Eats has enough good main courses to conceal its weak spots. The beggar’s purse plate ($14) brings two delicate phyllo pastries, stuffed with mushroom, spinach and potato; they’re filling and excellent. The grilled vegetables alongside demonstrate the high level of skill with which V-Eats tackles the basics: carrots, for instance, sliced ultra-thin but, after grilling and dressing, still as crisply textured as anyone could want.
No surprise here, but V-Eats excels at salads. The house specialty is named, concisely, “‘THE’ Salad” ($14), and it’s a foot-wide heap of premium greens mixed with all sorts of goodies: seeds, quinoa, enormous smoky artichoke hearts, roasted bell peppers, pickled onions and crunchy croutons that are made from (surprise) tofu. This festival of textures and flavors is both filling and satisfying; the restaurant’s house-made blue “cheese” even succeeds in evoking funk and flavor, though not creaminess.
Salisbury steak is very credible as a meat substitute ($15), though it’s a food most of us probably haven’t eaten outside of cafeterias. The V-Eats version is a big step up over what I remember from school days, including the fake meat, which sports very real char from the grill. Its sides — mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, broccolini — are spot-on and artfully plated with two onion rings for garnish.
There are two burgers here, both $12: a black bean patty that tends to instantly fall apart and a seitan patty that faithfully mimics the texture of ground beef. Both are served on whole wheat bread with winning slathers of guacamole and grilled onions, and they’re as messy as a meat burger. A little more heat wouldn't hurt; the seitan might benefit from my family's trick of adding kofte spice mix when forming burger patties. Yucca fries are good but rather lightly fried and not as addicting as the unhealthy kind; go for chopped broccoli salad, with dried cherries, carrots, almonds and a gently sweet vinaigrette.
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There’s one problem V-Eats hasn’t solved: vegan desserts. A trio sampler ($12) came with a spiced chocolate and cherry gelato with bittersweet undertones, not unpleasant; a cheesecake that tasted oddly similar; and a bananas foster bread pudding bite that was frankly a disaster. It didn’t help that the waiter described it as a “pecan tart,” giving us false expectations, but my girlfriend described the texture as “boogery.” In a clear attempt to steal my food writing job, she then added, “They should have named it banana goo.”
A more surprising slip-up occurred on my first visit, when, in a dramatic fit of Mad Men-era sexism, our waiter offered cocktail suggestions: for my girlfriend a bright pink fruity drink with edible flowers, and for myself a manlier mix named after Jack Ruby. He later placed the bill directly into my hand. Luckily, on two subsequent visits our service was flawless. (The beer, wine and liquor here are all vegan, by the way; most prominent liquors and local craft breweries are vegan-friendly.)
The best dishes at V-Eats, like “THE” Salad and the beggar’s purse, demonstrate that meatless meals can be excellent without trying to imitate or replace dead animals. I do wish V-Eats did more like this. When executive chef Troy Gardner posted a stream of tantalizing Instagram photos from a vegan cooking camp in Spain this summer, the most mouthwatering items were bold “I would never have thought of that” dishes that celebrated all the ways plants are underappreciated. I followed them with mounting excitement.
Even when they demonstrate great imagination, the menu’s forays into comfort food standards, like “fried chick-none,” macaroni and cheese, burgers and brisket, feel like a compromise. Although V-Eats is making things like vegan fried chicken into canvases for its creativity, I wonder if the Trinity Groves development is reminding its new tenant that business is business and they need to make the rent.
The good news is V-Eats Modern Vegan is working on new menu items all the time. Lasagna is reportedly coming soon. If Gardner and his team feel free to keep creating cool new dishes, this will prove to be one of the standout eateries at Trinity Groves. V-Eats is headed in a good direction, and I’ll even eat the vegan Salisbury steak. Take that, cafeteria.
V-Eats Modern Vegan, 3011 Gulden Lane, Suite 102, 214-377-6009. Open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday.