The Early Bird Catches the Brunch

The early bird catches the plant-based worm, if you can find it hidden within this upscale corner store. Brunch Bird has taken nest inside RiverCity Market, thoroughly hidden without proper signage. You just have to trust that it exists, and if you truly believe, your faith will be rewarded with some amazing meatless fare.

We’re taking monster burgers with legit (dairy-free!) blue cheese and sauteed mushrooms, paired with spuds slathered with an impossibly rich, savory gravy, or for the sweet tooth, stuffed French toast loaded with cream cheese and raspberry jam. They go HARD on bold flavor, pulling no punches when it comes to sourcing quality, local ingredients. You’ve got your Easy Tiger ciabatta for the sandwiches, Rebel Cheese bringing the funk, and so many more local stars shining brightly within these chefs’ confident hands.

Don’t sleep on the masterfully brined carrot lox, perched atop crisp toast and adorned with a genuinely runny, spherified eggless yolk. Golden rivulets bath each bite; it’s the runny crown jewel on this dazzling dish.

A menu like this is the stuff of dreams, but also worth waking up for. Luckily, you don’t even need to set an alarm, since they’re open until 5PM everyday.

Brunch Bird
2209 S Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704

Hit the Snooze Button

Don’t sleep on Snooze AM Eatery. As the name would imply, the door of this establishment opens bright and early, but you’ve still gotta be quick to snag a table. Devoted to all things breakfast, brunch, and lunch, you’re out of luck if you show up in the afternoon. That considerable barrier to entry is just one of many reasons it took me so long to venture out, even though it’s a few minutes away. Tallying up the strikes against Snooze, my hesitancy was not without merit.

For one, it’s a franchise, boasting 46 restaurants spread out across 8 southern states, bringing quality and consistency into question. Second, and this is a big one, the “plant-powered” section of its egg-heavy menu isn’t actually a cheat sheet for vegans. Those helpful suggestions are still littered with eggs and cheese, turning a simple order into a daunting demand. Study up online before arriving and don’t expect assistance from your server, who’s more surly than smiley after dealing with grouchy hipsters in need of a coffee fix. On top of all that, no matter which location you visit, parking is almost guaranteed to be a nightmare, and lines are inevitable. Do check in on the virtual waiting list but don’t forget to clear your agenda for the next few hours, regardless.

Sounds like a terrible experience, right? Speaking to the strength of the food itself, despite those myriad affronts to common sense, I’d still sign up for another round of impersonal insults for another bite. Much as I want to hate it, especially in this sea of brilliant plant-based eateries, Snooze still pulls its weight with some truly winning dishes.

Thank goodness, the cocktail program is equally strong, because you’re going to need a drink to take off the edge. The wait is much easier to stomach with a stiff Cosmopolitan in hand. Tart, bright, slightly sweet, it’s the eye-opener you didn’t know you needed.

For optimal results, pretend it’s the late 90’s again and no one really understands what the word “vegan” means. Stress that all toast comes dry, no butter, cheese, or milk in any entrees, and substitute tofu for eggs. True, some dishes are emblazoned with an unmistakable “V”, like the impossibly light and fluffy Vegan Bliss Pancakes, but don’t let your guard down. It never hurts to make your needs known, especially in an establishment not necessarily built with dietary restraint in mind.

Throwing down a Tofu Scramble that could hold its own against the heavy hitters in town, you get your choice of three inclusions from a generous list of options. All the usual vegetables make an appearance, in addition to subtly spicy soyrizo, and even a whole lobe of buttery avocado at no extra cost. Savory, well-seasoned, hot, and deeply satisfying, you can’t go wrong with this classic dish. Plus, it comes with a side of hash browns, which are delicious served in a tight cylinder or smashed flat if requested “extra crispy.”

Branch out just a little bit to try the Sweet Potato Veggie Smash Up, veganized with that eggy tofu scramble crowning two grilled sweet potatoes, infused with a touch of maple syrup. Piled high with asparagus and umami-rich mushrooms, it’s finished with pickled onions for a perfect briny contrast.

You snooze, you lose. Set your alarm clock at least an hour or two earlier to beat the crowds and claim your table. It might sound daunting, but it’s worth the extra effort to start your day on a delicious note.

Over-the-Counter Remedies

While so many of us are redoubling efforts to support small businesses in this particularly fraught moment in time, some of those small businesses are actually doing the same. Literally starting from the ground up, sourcing from local farmers is part of the puzzle that those in the dining room don’t see, but when it goes missing, it’s obvious when the bigger picture doesn’t look right. An essential, core element of the community, Counter Culture is weathering the storm of the pandemic without ever losing sight of that crucial aspect, among many others.

To discuss Counter Culture without mentioning their outreach and impact across all of Austin would do a terrible disservice to all that it stands for. Food is a form of activism here as a way of positive reinforcement, making environmentally-sound, cruelty-free options an easy choice. Inclusivity has been part of that compassionate approach from day one, which means that there’s something for everyone at the table, offered at affordable prices that still allow employees a living wage. It’s a delicate balance to maintain, if not an impossible compromise to strike between ethics and business, which makes the past decade of success all the more inspiring. If every meal is a battle, they’re winning this war.

At the end of the day, it’s the food that keeps customers coming back, after all. Approachable, comforting classics are menu mainstays, but that’s not all. You can also find raw specialties like zucchini noodles and raw cheesecakes for healthier cravings, or on the flip side, strong mixed drinks if you’d rather re-tox than detox.

Sandwiches are the stuff of deli dreams, layered with thick, hand crafted and cured seitan pastrami, or sweet apple jam with “bacun”. Though few people would rave about a green salad, the BLTA salad deserves such praise, sharply dressed in creamy ranch with lavish piles of buttery avocado, smoked tempeh, and hemp Parmesan. Show up for happy hour to get a smart discount on their crowd-pleasing buffalo mac & cheese balls, or the towering plate of east side nachos that could feed an army.

Visitors should put it at the top of their itinerary and plant-based residents should be regulars. Counter Culture is the kind of cornerstone establishment that any city, big or small, would be lucky to host.

Counter Culture
2337 E Cesar Chavez St.
Austin, TX 78702

Caring is Sharing

Sometimes, being vegan is easier said than done, especially depending on where you live. Even as veganism rises in popularity, many restaurants and grocery stores still have only a small selection of plant-based options. However, this movement has been continuously on the rise and wider varieties of food and cosmetic items have popped up, particularly online. The accessibility of these virtual shopping ops mean that it’s effortless to spoil that special vegan in your life with thoughtful, cruelty-free gifts shipped directly to their door.

Continue reading “Caring is Sharing”

All About That Base

Cake mixes get a bad rap- in most cases, rightly so. Little more than overpriced packages of flour, the advantage they offer to conventional baking is slim to none. Hapless bakers end up investing their precious time and money on treats that taste no better than a processed, packaged dessert straight off the grocery store shelf. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of the concept. I’ve always railed against such purported “conveniences” that merely cut out the step of measuring ingredients already ready and waiting in the pantry.

To every rule, however, there is an exception. PastryBase is that rare unicorn that makes the cut, quite literally in the case of their adorable Unicorn Cupcake Baking Kit. What sets this apart from the pack is that you get so much more than just a bag of dusty white flour.

One box contains everything you need to hit the ground baking, which is exceptionally helpful if you’re not a regularly keep the pantry fully stocked. That includes rainbow cupcake papers, a disposable piping bag, two types of sprinkles, those highly Instagrammable unicorn toothpick toppers, and of course, both cake and frosting mix. All you need to supply is a splash of non-dairy milk, oil, and some vegan butter.

Did I mention yet that it’s gluten-free? It’s an important feature, but the least of my concerns when I’m savoring the fruits of my scant labor. This is one of those rare baked goods that dessert devotees would flock to, expressing genuine shock and disbelief that they are, in fact, gluten-free. Moist and tender all the way through, there’s not a dry crumb to be found. Of course, there’s not a crumb left by the time you finish licking the paper clean, either.

Just as importantly, they’re not bound so tightly with gums or thickeners that they’re more dense than osmium. For all the conventional ingredients omitted in this mix, these little cakes truly lack nothing.

Whipping up in mere minutes, the soft, gooey frosting comes together like a standard American buttercream. Though I held back on the liquid, adding only 1 of 3 suggested tablespoons, mine came out far less fluffy than that pictured. Regardless, I certainly can’t complain about the taste. Bearing a subtle hint of marshmallow and notes of vanilla, it crowns those golden cakes with a gentle kiss of sweetness.

Enjoyed altogether, these treats deliver a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth experience. Plus, that coarse colored sugar isn’t just for show; it adds a crunchy, satisfyingly granular texture for welcome contrast.

Easy enough for a child but too much fun to let them enjoy all the glory alone, PastryBase is the only mix I will allow in my kitchen. PastryBase is passionate about changing the notion that baking is too difficult, arduous, and time-consuming for the home cook. Their mission is to encourage everyone, from beginners to pastry mavens, to bake more often, with higher-quality ingredients, and no worries. Now that is something I can happily sink my teeth into.

This post was made possible as a collaboration with PastryBase. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

Sunny Side Up

How is it possible for a city that got its name by “keeping it weird,” that celebrates craft beer, and hosts an above average percentage of plant-based denizens hasn’t yet found a way to combine these factors into one harmonious outpost? At least, it hadn’t, up until now. Sunny’s Backyard is the first 100% vegan bar, or pub, as they call themselves, to hit Austin. Still open softly, the interior of the building is still closed, but they’re slinging food fast and furious from the trailer parked out front.

While it’s not exactly a drinking destination yet, until they get their liquor license, the beer is FREE! That said, the food itself is reason enough to trek out to the east side. We’re talking about wonton cheese sticks served with sriracha aioli, giant soft pretzels, and crispy fried banana peppers, just to get you started.

While you’re loading up on all the comfort food your stomach can handle, don’t be misled by the healthy-sounding Brussels sprout salad. They’re actually fried to crispy, cravable perfection, drenched in a sweet and sour ponzu sauce, drizzled with spicy, creamy aioli, and finish with pickled vegetables. It’s brilliantly balanced, and also an impressive pile of food. You definitely get your money’s worth here.

If you can only order one thing, though, make it the street dog. It’s not just a meatless frank; it’s dipped in beer batter, covered in French fries, and slathered in more of that godly creamy sauce. Highly Instagrammable, yes, but also a culinary feat well worth the calories.

Even without all systems go, I’m already smitten with this new watering hole. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine it getting even better, but you can bet I’ll come back to see it happen.

Sunny’s Backyard
3526 E 7th St.
Austin, TX 78702