It is noon on a Sunday and a line is predictably snaking its way from Jonathon’s Oak Cliff. People drive for miles to have their chicken and waffles, making Jonathon’s more than a place to simply consume brunch, but rather a brunch destination.
But if you keep walking down North Beckley Avenue a few more paces, you will quickly find yourself stumbling upon another restaurant with another, albeit smaller, line. This one doesn’t spill out onto the street but instead takes the form of people biding their time on benches inside. These patrons are waiting to be seated at Spiral Diner, the vegan eatery that has built an ardent following over the 14 years it has been in operation.
For those whose suspicions are aroused by restaurants that only serve plant-based foods (and the people who choose to eat them), picture this. Spiral Diner is a happy place. It has the look of a '50s diner — tin ceilings, Formica tables — that’s collided with a candy store, with its enthusiastic embrace of springy, youthful colors.
If you fear vegan restaurants because of a stereotyped (but also semi-accurate) perception of the people who work there as militant vegans who will throw red paint on your Cole Haan loafers, fear not. Spiral Diner is staffed by people who may be collectively described as hip but also nonthreatening. They won’t mention your leather shoes, but they will ask you how you like the pancakes.
And yes, Spiral serves pancakes. And quesadillas. And biscuits and gravy. So if you fear vegan food because of its foreignness, fear not. Spiral Diner’s brunch menu is all about the familiar faces.
It's also all about the tofu scramble. Every dish on the menu, save for the pancakes and disco home fries — more on these later — features tofu scramble in some way. Now before you complain about tofu being foreign, just know that tofu scramble has the consistency and appearance of scrambled eggs but the taste of something that has been kissed by a turmeric-loving God that wants us to eat well and live for a long, long time.
Spiral Diner elevates the humble scramble to new, cumin-scented heights. The tofu is scrambled with a generous hand of spices, bits of potato and other veggies, which provide a nice textural breath between the monotone mouth-feel afforded by the tofu. One dish that brings the scramble into its fold is the breakfast quesadilla ($10.95). Here you’ll find the scramble tucked into a whole-wheat tortilla along with a smattering of vegetables and peppers, vegan sausage and Daiya cheese. Daiya cheese is akin to American in that it has that distinctly silken texture when melted that can only arise from being highly processed. The overall effect is a quesadilla that is exceedingly rich yet virtuous.
That whiplash between indulgence and altruism continued with an order of the disco fries ($4.95). These fries present the eater with a rare opportunity to feel both the delight of not perpetuating a pattern of systematic animal exploitation and also the unbridled joy of eating poutine. It’s true that the gravy has a slightly mottled, broken appearance and tastes subtly and oddly of vanilla, but one can only expect so much when cow udders have been spared.
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The gravy captures that creamy, rich, artery-painting quality of traditional gravy just the same. It’s particularly enjoyable when served on a couple of the diner’s sky-high biscuits, which manage both a hearty chew and a delicate crumb. Paired with a couple of herbaceous and toothsome sausages with a bit of scramble (the Lumberjack, $9.95), this is the kind of food that, despite its ingredient list, doesn’t shy far from grandma’s table.
But if you’re going to order one item only from Spiral’s brunch menu, let it be the pancakes. Light with nutty crumb, these cinnamon-studded beauties, when drizzled with a bit of golden agave nectar, are divine. A true, well-made pancake if there ever were one.
Spiral Diner is a vegan restaurant, yes. And in our steak-adoring city, it’s nice to have an option for those who have chosen an animal product-free path. But in truth, Spiral is simply a restaurant — a place which can readily accommodate the majority of palates. And Spiral Diner has demonstrated what perhaps all of us — omnivores, vegetarians and vegans alike — always secretly knew, that Horace Mann is full of crock: Biscuits and gravy are the great equalizers.
Spiral Diner, 1101 N Beckley Ave. Brunch served 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday