Dinner at Spiral Diner: Let's Take This Meat-Free Business Right into the Lion's Den

Categories: Veg

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Booze correspondent Whitney Filloon is experiment with going meat-free once a week. Here's her latest animal-fat-less dispatch.

"How can you hate on a joint whose tagline is 'We Love You'?"

This is what I thought to myself as I walked through the door at Oak Cliff vegan destination Spiral Diner. A hostess stand located right in front displayed menus and a "Please Seat Yourself" sign (Is it still called a hostess stand if there's no hostess?). I obediently grabbed a menu and slid into a booth, slightly terrified by what I had talked myself into.

I'm no vegetable hater, but the thought of strange meat substitutes didn't exactly excite me. Decorated in a retro palette of pastels and stainless steel, Spiral Diner has the look and feel of a classic 1950s diner, but everything is 100 percent animal-free -- no meat, dairy, eggs, honey (bees have feelings too, apparently) or refined sugar (because it's often processed with the char of animal bones). The employees definitely look pretty crunchy, and I spotted more than one pair of white-kid dreads, but the customers were anything but homogenized: older conservative-looking couples, groups of office workers, families with young children.

A friendly server explained that drinks are self-serve, but they'd take my order when I was ready, so I sidled over to the beverage station to pour myself a cup of Ethiopian fair-trade coffee. Various hippie condiments were on display: Bragg's Liquid Aminos (raw unfermented soy sauce), organic ketchup, nutritional yeast flakes. I gave my coffee mug a generous squeeze of vanilla agave nectar and settled in to decipher the menu.

There's a glossary in the front to define some of the more unusual terms that non-vegans may not be familiar with: tempeh is a mixture of fermented soy and grains, TVP stands for textured vegetable protein, and seitan is made from wheat gluten and (supposedly) has a texture similar to shredded chicken. Yum! I put in my order for a cup of the soup du jour and a veggie burger with a side of quinoa and sipped my coffee, content with the knowledge that no Ethiopian coffee farmers had been ripped off in the name of my caffeine consumption.

The soup du jour, butternut fennel, wouldn't have seemed out of a place in a regular, non-vegan restaurant. The natural sweetness of the vegetables was accented with herbs, and the soup was surprisingly smooth and creamy, a quality I'd normally attribute to the addition of cream or butter.

I had ordered the El Paso burger, opting for the "classic" soy protein patty (they also offer a nut patty made from sunflower seeds and brown rice, or a marinated portobello cap). The patty wasn't especially juicy -- that would be soy juice as opposed to meat juice, I suppose -- but it had a familiar meaty texture, and all the toppings harmonized: spicy chipotle mayo, pickled jalapenos, and delicious creamy guacamole, plus the usual LT&O.

I had politely declined the server's suggestion to add "cheeze" to my burger, having read on the menu that their cheese substitute is cashew-based. ("Nut cheese," it turns out? Not that appealing.)

This was my first run-in with quinoa, and frankly I was a bit alarmed by the sight of it. It was cooked in the style of Spanish rice, and with the bright orange hue it resembled something akin to insect larvae. Luckily it tasted better than it looked, slightly spicy with a texture somewhere between rice and pearl couscous. I wouldn't order it there again, as I think it needs some other ingredients to break up the texture -- it would've benefited greatly from the addition of some dried fruit and toasted nuts for chewiness and crunch. I will, however, attempt to cook it at home soon, as quinoa is widely popular for being a complete protein (rare to find in a plant-based food).

My belly full of cruelty-free nourishment, I paid my bill at the cash register and couldn't resist something out of the bakery case. Vegan or not, Spiral Diner makes a damn good chocolate chip cookie. Soft, chewy and generously studded with rich chocolate, it reminded me of a Soft Batch or Chewy Chips Ahoy -- that is, obviously made with vegetable shortening or oil rather than butter, but I still inhaled it in under three minutes. (I came back the very next day for another cookie and a dairy-free chocolate milkshake, which was ridiculously good until I got to the weirdly artificial whipped "cream" on top. I'm slightly lactose intolerant so it was nice to indulge without worrying about wreaking havoc on my digestive system.)

Spiral Diner does a great job of making vegan food accessible and even appealing to the masses. I won't be rushing back for a plate of cashew cheeze nachos anytime soon, but I'll definitely consider grabbing a veggie burger and a milkshake next time I'm in the area. It's nice to know that I can have a tasty meal with minimal impact on both the environment and my cholesterol.

Note: Oddly, Spiral Diner is closed on Mondays -- I know, I know, but I observe my meat-free day later in the week so I can write a piece to run on Monday. Even though this one's running Tuesday, since the blog was off yesterday. The intention of the movement is more about the Meatless and less about the Monday, so enjoy your Tempeh Tuesday or whatever.



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15 comments
veryveg
veryveg

I am happy to see more people attempting to change the way we think about food and what we are consuming– Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from and how animals are treated before they reach their plates. This is a good, short video to watch about this topic: MeatVideo.com. Or visit ChooseVeg.com for information on adapting a more compassionate lifestyle.

NachoMama
NachoMama

Seriously, those nachos are awesome.  I was hesitant to try them but now it's just about the only thing I order there.  So.Damn.Good.

Iheartbabyjr
Iheartbabyjr

Sir, you most definitely SHOULD run back for some cashew cheeze nachos. I suspect that if you would have ordered them, your impression of SD would have been even better. Those nachos rock.

Mark Maxey
Mark Maxey

I know it's been noted earlier in the comments, but the cheese they put on burgers is not the cashew based stuff. They only put the cashew cheese on nachos. The stuff they put on the burgers and quisadillas is Daiya. It's a tapioca based cheese that has the consistency of american cheese.  You can buy is at most Krogers and health food stores.

Andy Morris
Andy Morris

That's great you're giving Vegan a try even if only one day a week. There are Vegan Meetups that welcome everyone as we check out different local restuarants such as Spiral and others. I've been Vegan now for just over a month.

Spiritwick
Spiritwick

Believe it or not, their Nachos Supremo is one of the best things on the menu. We tried them shortly after going vegan, thought they were delicious then, and have ordered them nearly every time since. My parents, who are slightly afraid of vegan food, even think they're great! Go ahead and try them sometime.

Christy Morgan
Christy Morgan

I invite you to come to a Thursday night vegan cooking classes at the Dallas Farmer's Market so you can learn how to make delish vegan food at home. It's not like you have to eat out every meal :) theblissfulchef.com

Dallas Vegan
Dallas Vegan

Try the cashew "nut cheese" - it's actually really good. One of the tastiest things on the menu is the loaded nachos. Btw...the "cheeze" on the burger is not soy based, it's gluten-free/soy-free (tapioca based)...if anyone cares.

Agreed Lee - the brownie is pretty amazing.

One of the best sandwiches that I've heard even die-hard meat-eaters say they love is "The Mitch" tofu-club. I know, it doesn't make sense - but it's definitely worth a try.

Lee
Lee

The brownie at Spiral is one of the best I have ever had.  Not a big fan of fake burgers or a plate of rice and beans for dinner (unless I make it myself at home for a few cents) but they have some sort of magic in their bakery stuff because it's incredible.

Brian
Brian

their philly cheesestake was real good. too bad it is louder than blazes there. it is like being at a concert without the light show

Guest
Guest

Actually, Spiral Diner's portobello and "cheese" wheat quesadilla is pretty good. I never thought soy cheese could taste and melt like real cheese. Although, I did feel a bit like I was eating on another planet at times.

Kergo 1 Spaceship
Kergo 1 Spaceship

Hey Whitney,   Can you ask the Vegan if my Patriots will win by more than 30 this week?  So nice to watch football in January!  Hey, atleast ya'll can watch the Stars, ehhhhh, Mav's, (yawning)-well, atleast the sun is out!

Red
Red

Every time I go to Spiral and order something that's not The Mitch I feel guilty, like I'm cheating on my favorite sandwich.

And I agree with several of the comments below about trying the nachos. I am very taste-intolerant of vegan cheese sauces, but I wanted to lick the bowl after getting Spiral's nachos.

Vegan 8-Ball
Vegan 8-Ball

Signs point to yes, but footballs are made of pigskin therefore we cannot endorse your barbaric sport.

Kergo 1 Spaceship
Kergo 1 Spaceship

dang it!  

Hey Vegan,    Any recommendations on frozen Vegan foods in supermarkets? I have tried the vegetarian corn dog, and burger last week.....just curious.  Seems like said products have come a long way; the food I ate last week was fantastic.  

ps-Do you think my Sawx will win the AL East? 

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