As I travel around for work, mostly in the Central US, I have grown accustomed to expect the worst when it comes to dining options in certain areas. Springfield, MO, Fargo, ND, and anywhere in Texas outside of Houston, Austin, and Dallas. And even in these cities (Houston, Austin, Dallas), finding a good vegan meal in Texas can be a little tough at times. For example, I was in Houston last night, looking for a good vegan meal and the place I found had decided to close early that day, after I made a 20 mile drive! Nice.
Anyway, there are occasions when I stumble upon a jewel when I least expect it. I was in San Antonio this week and I was not expecting much when I found Green Vegetarian Cafe (www.greensanantonio.com) in Happy Cow, but I felt compelled to give it a try.
WOW! Was I pleasantly surprised!! Now, I don't know San Antonio very well, but this place does seem to be a little off the beaten path and maybe a little difficult to get to if you don't have a car, but I could be wrong. In any case, any difficulty in getting to Green is greatly rewarded.
Green is deceptively large. From the outside, it looks rather small, even when you first walk in, but there is a large dining area in the back and a spacious patio along the side of the building. It is clean and brightly decorated.
Because I live in Chicago, and the weather that day in Chicago was incredibly cold and rainy, I chose to sit outside and enjoy the warm sunshine. It was a Tuesday at around noon and the patio was nearly full, but not crowded.
The staff was warm and friendly and the service was exceptional. The person that waited on me took plenty of time explaining the menu to me, educating me on what was and wasn't vegan, and how I could order most anything on the menu in any way I needed in order to accommodate food allergies or food sensitivities. She also explained to me how they make their food and how many of the vegetables used are grown right there on premise. I was very impressed with how much time she spent with me, given that it was right in the middle of the lunch rush and they were filling up. I would like to think it was my incredible mojo, but I noticed that the other tables were getting an equal level of attention, so I think this is a consistent level of service.
The menu was very large. VERY large. I can honestly tell you, no matter what you are in the mood for, you will find it on this menu. Green is 100% vegetarian an
d mostly vegan. Most of what is not vegan can easily be made vegan. I had the opportunity to speak with the owner/chef, Mike Behrend. He was walking through the tables, clearing away empty plates and filling water glasses (Have I told you the service was exceptional?). We struck up a conversation and he ended up sitting down and spending about 15 minutes with me. He explained that they intentionally have a very large menu because they want to be sure that they have something for everyone. Because so many of their guests are actually not veg*n, but often just friends and family of veg*ns that coax them to come along, they want to be sure that they find something that suits their tastes. The best way to get through to a meat eater is to feed them a good vegan meal!
I wanted to eat everything. Not only was I incredibly hungry, but there were so many great options to choose from. I was almost in sensory overload! When in doubt, go the healthy route. I decided to go with the macrobiotic plate, which was steamed kale, quinoa tabouli, beans, red sauerkraut, and smothered in a miso sauce. As the menu said, 22 grams of fiber and 26 grams of protein! It was fresh, not oily, not salty, tasty, and very healthy. In fact, it was so healthy, I didn't feel the least bit guilty when I ordered dessert.
I don't know if I have said this before, but I am a vegan dessert snob. I have no patience for dry, crumbly, tasteless vegan pastries. There is absolutely no excuse for poor desserts. I can't figure out what the issue is, really, but very few places actually get it right. There are several restaurants that I frequent regularly because I love their food, but their desserts just plain suck. Really. It's embarrassing. What makes it worse is when you get non-vegans that try them and think that this is actually how all vegan pastries are, dry and tasteless. Oh, wait, I am ranting, aren't I?
Well, I am happy to say that the pastries at Green are excellent! Not just good, but excellent. I ate a chocolate cupcake with strawberry icing and, solely for research purposes, I swear, I also ate a tapioca cupcake. Both were excellent. I then got a triple chocolate cookie and took that back to the office for the meat munchers. They scarfed it down. They couldn't believe that it was vegan. As I always explain, you do not have to give up flavor and richness because you don't use critter parts and secretions.
When you go to San Antonio, make sure that you find a way to get to Green. If you do go, make sure that you save room for dessert. With all of the great food, it won't be easy, but you will miss out if you don't get the chance to sample one of their great pastries (or two!).
I have eaten at veggie places around the world, literally. I have to say that I am thoroughly impressed with the food, the service, the staff and the atmosphere at Green. I rank it right on par with Herbivore in San Francisco, The Chicago Diner, Native Foods in California, Candle Cafe in NYC, and Watercourse Foods in Denver.
Hats off to you, Mike!