Monthly Archives: January 2012

Elizabeth St. Cafe, a Vietnamese French cafe in South Austin

Traditionally, if you want quality Vietnamese food in Austin you have to be in the part of town where it’s hard to tell if you are in Pflugerville, Round Rock, or Austin. In South Austin we mostly have the standard Chinese-takeout-style Vietnamese places where you can get a ton of edible food for five dollars. When LuLu B’s trailer opened I loved that I could get a vegetarian bánh mì for 4 and I have long been obsessed with their 6 dollar bún. When the prices on each went up a while back, I stopped going so much. So at first I wasn’t so sure about how often I would go to the even more expensive Elizabeth St. Cafe which is even getting flack from foodies about the 22 dollar pho. But, unlike Lulu B’s it is open at night, has excellent service and has a super cute ambiance so I can see myself returning. It is kind of mind boggling that they could have made the old Bouldin Creek, certainly the cafe I have spent the most time in probably in my life, into such a elegant little place. Someone should make a “Where Have all the Hippies Gone” parody video. Or not.

The menu is definitely happy meat focused but I was gladdened to see that vegan options abound as well. We started with the Ginger Marinated Tofu Spring rolls. Since the peanut sauce wasn’t vegan we stuck with just the sweet chile vinegar and ginger jalapeno for dipping. Even with those sauces, I thought the spring rolls were a little dry, too heavy on the noodles and without enough herbs and vegetables. 

I think that the reason I was most excited to try the Elizabeth St. Cafe was in anticipation of their pho. I kind of became obsessed with pho when I lived in Washington and for years I was disappointed by every version in Austin that I tried. Recently I tried a recipe from Terry Hope Romero’s upcoming internationally themed cookbook and I it reawakened all the pho desire inside me. Elizabeth St has two different pho varieties and we went with the miso cauliflower version. It was delicious and I think would be perfect for someone that like the idea of pho but maybe not the Vietnamese version. We’ll call them fusion pho lovers. Next time I will try the tofu, mushroom, radish traditional version for sure. One thing I loved about this version was that it was completely packed with tofu and vegetables. A lot of times it seems like places skimp on all that stuff and just give you a ton of sprouts and herbs.

We skipped the bánh mì since they didn’t have vegan mayo and went onwards to the bún. The grilled tofu was a highlight for sure and there was plenty of vegetables in the bowl, in fact I think there were more vegetables than vermicelli. Everything was fresh and delicious and the vegan fish sauce was good enough, maybe a little tame. 

My favorite part of the meal was undoubtedly the bánh xèo (aka the Vietnamese crêpe) even thought it wasn’t on the menu and we had to special order it. Don’t you just love when restaurants are accommodating? The service, overall was great, our waitress was easily able to tell us what was vegan and what we could do special and when she wasn’t sure about the crêpe she checked with the kitchen staff. When the waitress returned to tell us they would make a special vegan version I was, in a word, stoked. This is the best bánh xèo I have ever had, although truthfully it was also only the second. It was coconutty, light and delicious and definitely what I will return for. 

We rounded out the meal with a delicious Lemongrass tea, although they do have a wide assortment of wine, saki, Vietnamese coffee, and drinks. 

It is a fantastic little spot, more expensive, no doubt then, a standard Vietnamese restaurant but with a charming atmosphere and excellent service.

Sweet Ritual Ice Cream Social

photo by Jon bouldin

Over the weekend I was so happy to attend the Vegans Rock Austin sponsored ice cream social at the new vegan ice cream parlor Sweet Ritual. I had such a hard time deciding what to get you would think it was going to be my last meal on earth. They have so many fun toppings like wasabi peanuts and vegan marshmallows that I kind of started to panic. I really wanted a waffle cone, because hello waffle cone, but I knew Kristen was specially making brownies for Brownie sundaes. Should I get Amelia and Valerie to shove a brownie into the cone? I started to think I should go with one of the ready made sundae combinations on the menu to make the decision easier and go with something well planned out. They have a butterfinger style sundae with chocolate sauce and chick-o-sticks that sounded so fabulous. Then I saw Marie order the Affogato and I immediately changed my mind because, I too wanted to pour hot espresso on my cold ice cream. Then I noticed the Glitterbeast which has salted caramel sauce, strawberry sauce, edible glitter which sounded super awesome but I knew that my friend Nanette would have to get that one and I could try it because she is a glitter lover if there ever was one. The next thing I knew it was my turn! I just started saying things and when they brought my sundae to me a few minutes later I didn’t even know if it was mine! It sure sounded like something I would order. I figured I could have my waffle cone and brownie too when I noticed that waffle cones were one of the toppings. Then I topped it with chocolate ice cream and peanut butter sauce. It was fantastic.

I was so happy with my decision until I looked directly to my left and saw the Almond Joy Sundae, in a waffle cone.

When I saw Wes with his Not-Tella milkshake a minute later I made him give me some and then I knew I would be back up to Hyde Park soon enough for some hazelnut goodness. I’ll probably still be overwhelmed with the decision of what to get.

If you haven’t tried it yet, get down there! They even have a scoutmob deal for 50% off! And if you are just visiting Austin for a day I recommend you look at the menu ahead of time and ponder your options although probably anything you get is going to be delicious.

Top Ten favorite vegan dishes in Austin for 2011

Upon reflection my 2011 was a mixed bag. I wonder where that expression came from? The first half was super fantastic, I got to present with Laura Beck of Vegansaurus at SXSW . We had the most vegan events, I think ever, at South By. Even Moby hosted a day party, the whole fest was really fun!  This year we also had more bakesales then ever before that raised a ton of money for various charities. I helped organize some of the vegan sales and two city wide bakesales with my fellow Austin food bloggers that we had for disaster relief. Actually with the droughts and the central Texas fires it seemed like life was all about raising money for a while and we put together the Sunny Days in Texas cook zine which, by the way, is still available!

The best part of my year was definitely my extended trip to Hawaii and I also was really excited to go to Vida Vegan Con in Portland to meet all tons of vegan food bloggers, see a bunch of my friends and eat at so many great restaurants. The second half of the year I am still recovering from. It was filled with family tragedies and I majorly injured my foot so I haven’t been able to walk since June so no fun there.

The vegan scene in Austin soldiered on, check out the Lonestar Plate’s Year in Review. All sorts of places, like Sweet Ritual and Arolo’s, opened up and a few favorites, like Iggie’s Texitarian, closed down. At Vegans Rock Austin they did a poll of the communities’ favorite eats which was a lot of fun to read….and disagree with! That is what I love about having a blog; sharing my biased opinion! I realized that my personal top ten was starting to look the same from year to year, and though I could keep telling you how much I love Counter CultureWhole Foods Breakfast Tacos and Food For Lover’s Queso I decided this year the theme would be NO REPEATS! So the 2011 list is all new!

2011 TOP 10

1. Wasota Vegan Platter

The first time I went to Wasota it was all I could think about for days after. The vegan platter has one of my favorite foods in the world: deep fried plantains along with a new favorite akara which are black-eyed pea fritters. The beans, greens, and rice are all different from one another and combine into a wonderful plate. Then everything is topped with spicy Benin sauce which is totally the Sriracha for 2012. Plus it is all served up by the nicest guy ever so save your appetite for a couple days and get down to south first for a feast.

2. The Juicebox Green Monster Smoothie

I can’t believe I haven’t reviewed the juicebox yet! Probably, after the Fair Bean, the Juicebox is the place in Austin that I went the most in 2011. In many ways it is the opposite of Wasota because there isn’t anything deep fried and it is all super organic raw vegan. Green Smoothies have been all the rage for a few years now among the healthy vegan crowd but I had never had much success making them at home, probably because I don’t have a professional blender. I am not buying one any time soon, I would much rather make the juicebox maintain their machines and search out fresh produce so I can just pull up and grab one whenever I am feeling like I need something healthy. Plus you can compost their cups! The Green Monster has broccoli and all sorts of other things that don’t belong in a smoothie and yet it is so tasty and creamy that it blows my mind every time. Their other smoothies are good too, but that is the one that I get the most. Some of the Daily Juice’s split off this year too and became Juiceland and I highly recommend their new menus as well, I had a smoothie with Kale, Durian, and Pecan Butter!

3. Uchiko Fried Avocado Sushi

This year I discovered the Uchiko happy hour and it made me really really happy. Many of the vegan items are available at happy hour and they have the most amazing fried Brussels sprouts. And the staff is always quick to tell me what is vegan and modify anything on the menu for me. And their sorbets are usually vegan too and they have fun flavors like sweet corn or tobacco. The lightly fried and oh so amazing avocado sushi roll was definitely my favorite although everything you have there is guaranteed to be good. The pictures, however, are guaranteed to be terrible. Damn you restaurants and your mood lighting!

4. Brixton Vegan Brunch

Our brunch options in Austin are getting better and better all the time. When the Brixton, a bar in East Austin, announced that it was going to start hosting a monthly all vegan brunch I was pretty excited. When I tried the first spread that included tempeh bennedicts and real maple syrup I was hooked for life. Then this last weekend I had migas and a cinnamon roll, now that is an Austin combination I have been waiting for. And the bar is so accommodating to vegans. It warmed my heart to see so many vegans drinking bloody marys without fear.

5. Red Rabbit Mexican Chocolate Doughnuts

Speaking of Cinnamon Rolls, Red Rabbit, the anarchist vegan co-op behind the best donuts in town has just started selling Cinnamon Rolls at the Hope Farmers Market in East Austin. I haven’t tried them yet but I have tried the doughnuts and they are fabulous! It was so wonderful to see Red Rabbit grown from selling their doughnuts at bakesales to half the coffee shops in town. Now they are all over the place. God I love them. The spicy Mexican chocolate is definitely my favorite but I will eat them all! I hope they open a store soon.

6. Hyden Park Tomato Tartare

Another exciting development this year was the advent of the Hyden Park Supper Club. These four-course dinner parties have been increasingly popular in Austin but I think the second one I went to might have been my favorite and it was all because of this tomato tartare. I really don’t know how Chef Elizabeth made this tomato taste so delectable and meaty. Maybe it was just peak of ripeness perfection but I loved the texture too.

7. Sunflower Vegan Crepe

I have wanted to try Sunflower, a Vietnamese restaurant in North Austin since I moved here but I never got around to it. Then, I finally got my act together after 9 years and made it up to North Austin to find out that it burned down. Thank goodness for everyone that they were able to reopen and I have been back a few times since I got to try their Vietnamese Crepe. If you haven’t tried it don’t wait 9 years to go. Restaurants close down before you know it in Austin and this is something you don’t want to miss.

8. Asters Ethiopian Platter

Aster’s is another Austin institution, along with Wasota and Sunflower that closed down and then, after we all wished hard enough, seemed to magically reopen. I love this place but I always want to go for lunch because the only thing better then getting a platter of delicious Ethiopian food served on top of Injera is to make one yourself off their fabulous lunch buffet. I love trying a little bit of everything there although my eyes are always bigger than my belly.

9.  Bananarchy frozen bananas

I love that the idea for the cart of frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and covered in delicious toppings was formed inspired by Arrested Development almost as much as I love eating here. All right, that is a total lie. I could never know the Arrested Development connection and still eat these bananas every day. They are delicious! I like to get one coated in chocolate and then dipped in oreos when I am seriously craving chocolate or going to the Alamo. It is the perfect thing to eat when it is 120 outside.

10. Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse- The Rennedict

photo by @veganchai

Oh the elusive rennedict, how I love you. This year our most famous most delicious vegetarian restaurant moved across the street from it’s previous shack into a converted tire shop. Even though I have been to the new one probably 20 times I don’t think I will ever get used to the newer nicer Bouldin Creek. Lucky for us, the food is exactly the same. AND they added the rennedict to the menu. It is their world famous tofu scramble atop english muffins layered with spinach, the best tofu bacon you will ever have, and then covered in a noochy hollandaise sauce. If you finish it you won’t have to eat again that day and you won’t even want to because nothing will compare to the goodness that is the rennedict.

Best New Product- Celeste’s Best Cookie Dough

I adore Celeste’s chocolate chip cookies. I get them at the Fair Bean along with my morning coffee when I know I’ll need chocolate later. I was just thrilled when I learned Celeste was going to start packaging the dough and having it for sale at Wheatsville and other independent shops around town. The best part about vegan cookie dough is that since it doesn’t have any animal product you can eat it right out of the container. Probably the best thing to do is buy at least two so if you want to have cookies you will have plenty of dough for snacking.

Most Missed Dog Almighty

So many places I loved closed up this year, Iggie’s Texitarian, Emerald City, Somnio’s Cafe, and even the screaming goat but nothing hits closer to home than Dog Almighty. Their vegetarian chili cookoff winning chili is my most favorite frito pie in town along with the best tater tots in the world. It was the best place to get fast food style vegetarian food and I will miss it every time I drive down south Lamar. Or settle for a less perfect tot.

So that’s it for 2011. I didn’t even get to try Arlo’s or go to Sweet Ritual before the new year but I have heard they are both great. This year I also want to get to Moaz Falafel, A Taste of Ethiopia, The Elizabeth Street Cafe, and of course the new Counter Culture.