Spiral Diner’s Sketti & Meat­balls, made with soy protein and topped with pesto and pine nuts, is among the many hearty entrées. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)I am not a vegan, though I’m not much of a meat-eater, either. So I empathize with the challenges vegans and vegetarians face when dining out, especially in the heart of cattle country. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Spiral Diner & Bakery, a vegan café featuring classic American and Tex-Mex fare in Fort Worth—Cowtown of all places!

I meet my daughter, Lucy, who is a vegetarian, for lunch at the restaurant’s original location, in the Fairmount/Southside Historic District, a hip haven of restaurants, bars, and shops just east of Texas Christian University. (There’s a second location in Dallas’ equally hip-and-historic Oak Cliff area.) The relaxed ambiance includes brightly painted shelves stocked with organic coffees, teas, and natural foods; however, the dining area, outfitted in stylish black-and-turquoise ’50’s-retro decor, evokes anything but the granola-and-sprouts health-food-store stereotype.

Instead of ordering a typical vegetable plate, I put the multi-page, meatless menu to the test and order what a curious carnivore might: a “hamburger.” Spiral Diner offers three types of burgers: a classic patty, made from soy protein and wheat; a nut patty, which contains sunflower seeds, brown rice, and carrots; and a portobello mushroom cap.

I choose the El Paso Burger, classic style—topped with guacamole and served with chipotle mayonnaise—and add cheese. Lucy orders the Cowboy Burger, dotted with barbecue sauce—and bacon bits? I ask the server about the bacon bits, and he replies, “They’re like Bac-Os, but made with organic ingredients.”

My grilled soy-and-wheat burger has the juicy taste and texture of lean ground beef. Lucy concurs, having had her share of various vega-burgers. The generous layer of guacamole on my burger is as smooth as the chipotle mayo. In addition, pickled jalapeños give subtle-but-assertive heat to the smoky-cool combo. Usually, I’m not a burger-bun fan, but I find Spiral Diner’s whole-wheat bun exceptionally flavorful and light. Spelt-quinoa bread also is available.

Appetites satiated, we missed sampling Spiral’s tempting array of cakes, brownies, cookies, and I-Scream shakes. The Fort Worth location also serves microbrewed and organic beer and wine.

Spiral Diner is the brainchild of filmmaker Amy McNutt, who became a vegan after shooting a short film about factory-farmed cows in California (Vegans
don’t eat any animal by-products.) McNutt developed the recipes with her husband, James M. Johnston, who serves as executive chef. Lindsey Akey, a longtime employee, purchased the Fort Worth diner from McNutt, who remains as consultant and owner of the Spiral Diner brand.

Akey counts non-vegans and health-conscious omnivores among her regular patrons. “Folks come here because they want to eat more healthily, and to  cut back on meat in their diets,” she explains. “They also come for the desserts. A few customers have told me that our brownies are the best they’ve ever had.”

Fort Worth and Dallas aren’t the only Texas cities where you’ll find restaurants that appeal to vegans and vegetarians. Plentiful choices abound in Austin, including longtime favorite Mother’s Cafe & Garden (I recommend the chile relleno, stuffed with currants), Veggie Heaven’s abundant Asian menu, and Mr. Natural for healthy and zesty Tex-Mex. Houston has numerous options, ranging from Pepper Tree for pan-Asian (try Peking Vegan Duck), to the venerable A Movable Feast. In San Antonio, Green Vegetarian Cuisine offers a vegan-kosher-Southern comfort-food menu, which includes a soy-based “chicken-fried steak.”

For listings in other cities and areas of the state, I found www.HappyCow.net helpful for seeking out vegan/vegetarian spots in Texas, and throughout the planet.

As more people discover that giving up (or eating less) meat doesn’t have to mean giving up flavor, expect to see more of these restaurants sprout up across the state.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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