VSG Q&A with Cool Beans

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This week we took advantage of the absurdly warm Austin weather to hit up the brand new 100% vegan food truck on East 7th, Cool Beans. Here you’ll find authentic Mexican cuisine made with natural and organic ingredients and served up on adorable plates made from vinyl records.

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It was a sunny, windy day when we visited, perfect for sipping Topo Chico and remembering why we love Austin (beautiful weather, easy vegan lunches, imminent tacos). We dove into the Tamale Plate (organic sweet corn tamale, served with house made pepita coconut cream and a side of Mexican rice) and two of their “signature tacos”: The Warrior (quinoa chorizo, cilantro and onions) and The Native (Hearty Vegan garbanzo tempeh marinated in their homemade authentic al pastor sauce and topped with seared pineapple, fresh onion and cilantro).

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While there are plenty of vegan taco and Tex-Mex options in town, Cool Beans stands apart as a place to order up authentic Mexican cuisine made vegan. Dishes are prepared according to family recipes that have been handed down for generations. The spelt tortillas for the tacos were fresh out of the fryer and the Mexican rice was simple perfection.

The truck’s operators are very active on social media. Be sure to follow them to keep up with daily specials and a variety of vegan sweets (including fudge!!!) occasionally on offer.

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We had the chance to ask the Cool Beans crew a few questions about their menu, their decision to set their wheels in Austin, and what it takes to establish a food trailer in this town.

VSG: What brought you to Austin from Brownsville? Why did you decide to set up shop here?

CB: Well first off, we are very big fans of Austin. We noticed how vibrant and supportive the vegan community is here, and we are happy to now be a part of it. In Brownsville, we were forced to cook our meals daily because there were very few vegan options. This blessing in disguise made us quite the chefs and pros at vegan cuisine. A lot of our inspiration came from our favorite meals that we had growing up. These include tacos, tamales, beans, and rice because we are of Hispanic heritage. Visiting Austin, we had some great variations of vegan tacos, some ranging from simply grilled veggies to creative fusions. After many vegan tacos (we call it research and development…and it was delicious! lol) we felt it was our obligation to bring our tacos to Austin and showcase our take on authentic Mexican classics.

VSG: What prompted you to open a vegan Mexican food trailer in the first place?

CB: We love the food truck scene here in Austin!! We figured it would be a great start for Cool Beans. The idea was sparked by family and friends (all non-vegan) whom motivated us to open our own food truck.

Our food left such a lasting impression on our family and friends that they would rave about the meals that we realized the good impression the food left on people. We loved the idea of doing that every day for a living. Reviewing our options, we preferred the versatility and practicality of owning our own food truck.

VSG: What’s it been like opening a food truck from scratch in Austin? What have been some of the unexpected challenges and pleasant surprises?

CB: We got to build our food truck and design it to meet every one of Austin’s health codes in order to receive the permit.

We took a few extra measures to make it more efficient and professional. The City of Austin is friendly to food trucks and made most of the information easy to access and there is usually an inspector available for anything else. We actually converted the truck so, while it was a lot of work, we got to design it to our specifications and needs. The challenge right now is the weather, the cold and rain is not helpful for food trucks and we have been seeing that first hand. We are pleasantly surprised at how happy our customers are that we are open for business. Many are learning about us online and coming to try us out. We are grateful for that opportunity.

VSG: What distinguishes Cool Beans from other food trailers and vegan eateries in town?

CB: We bring authentic Mexican taste to the vegan market, prepared with recipes that go back several generations. Everything is made from scratch from the tortillas to the seasoning mix and marinades. We avoid artificial colors and flavors, buy BPA free cans, and avoid ingredients we do not know about and consume ourselves. There is nothing like a freshly cooked handmade corn tortilla. Anyone who has experienced one will testify. We are fans of all the vegan eateries in town but what will distinguish us from the rest is the taste. We take recipes passed down from our heritage and make them vegan in a way that still celebrates the history.

VSG: What’s your specialty? What’s your favorite item on the menu?

CB: We are excited to bring our homemade Q-rizo (as we call it) to Austin. This is a soy-free gluten-free organic quinoa based version of one of our grandmothers’ famous chorizo recipes full of authentic flavor and perfect consistency. People are creating a buzz about our homemade tortillas. The desserts we offer are vegan versions of favorites, like Masapan (Mexican peanut candy) and fudge. Our favorite taco on the menu is ”the Native” made from locally sourced garbanzo tempeh in our homemade pastor marinade topped with seared pineapple served fresh organic cilantro and onion wrapped in our corn tortilla, thus encompassing Cool Beans in one taco. We are big advocates of the organic and local movement, and we try our best to offer as much organic and local items as possible. Our tortillas are made from local and organic masa and spelt. We buy our tempeh from Austin’s own The Hearty Vegan which in our opinion is the best out there right now. The pastor sauce can be dated to the Mayan civilization, and is a huge staple of Mexican flavor. We marry the old with the new and bring you, The Native!

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Get out there and sample Cool Beans!

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Vegan Survival Guide to Austin Launch Party!

 

We’re having a party and EVERYONE is invited!

Join us at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar Blvd., Austin) on Wednesday, February 4th at 7pm to celebrate the release of Vegan Survival Guide to Austin! We’ll be there to say a few words about the book and sign copies. BookPeople will provide beverages and Counter Culture will provide snacks. Thanks so much to both of them for their kindness and generosity!

This book has been an absolute labor of love born out of a commitment to celebrate the people who work hard to make Austin a veritable vegan paradise. This party is an opportunity for us to thank everyone who shared their stories and helped make Vegan Survival Guide to Austin a reality.

Come out and raise a glass to all of the awesome Austin vegans in this book! BookPeople is also taking pre-orders for signed copies of Vegan Survival Guide to Austin. Order a signed copy right over here.

We hope to see you on February 4th!

 

Q&A with Bistro Vonish

Bistro Vonish Lunch Menu

(photo courtesy of Bistro Vonish facebook page)

This week we finally caught a free hour to check out Bistro Vonish for lunch. Proprietor Craig Vanis recently launched the trailer as a precursor to the brick and mortar restaurant he hopes to open some time this year. We’ve been eager to sample his unique high end vegan fare and took advantage of the first (long awaited) sunny day this week to head over to Manor Road and place our orders.

We pulled up a seat at the orange picnic tables and dug into the Hoppin’ Jean Polenta with Seitan and the Apple Arugula Pizza.

Craig was kind enough to take the time to answer some of our questions about the trailer, his plans for the brick & mortar, and why he’s bringing gourmet vegan dishes to Austin.

VSG: Tell us about Bistro Vonish. What distinguishes you from other food trailers and vegan eateries in Austin?

CV: Bistro Vonish offers an elevated approach to vegan cuisine, with inspired dishes that showcase local, seasonal produce.  We’re always working to get the freshest flavors from Central Texas farms onto the menu.

VSG: How did you get into the field of fine/gourmet vegan cooking?

CV: I actually started my professional life as a mechanical engineer, graduating with honors form the Worcester Polytechnic Institute and working for several years in everything from building jet engines with GE to the oil fields of East Texas.  When my entire department was laid off, I took that as an opportunity to go anD pursue what I was truly passionate about: vegan cookery.  Within nine months of this transition, I was managing my first restaurant kitchen with my own menus out.  From there I’ve worked in a couple raw foods kitchens, a couple bakeries, restaurants, farmers markets, and more.  What began to really stand out was the way we experience food not only as nutrition, but also as social and emotional creatures.  I want to help create moments for people to sit and enjoy a meal that brings them closer to their friends and family, that brings back those warm feelings of eating in grandma’s kitchen, or something else that is new, interesting, and entertaining.

VSG: Where do your recipes come from? How are they developed?

CV: One thing I remind myself of continually, is that I am not the first one to create a recipe.  These foods have many, many long, storied traditions and cultures deeply intertwined with them.  I look to take inspiration from places like my Czech heritage, and carry them into the modern world I find myself in.  When a recipe goes from something fundamental to something that I can call my own, it has been made over and over again, continually thinking of where it could use improvement, then trying it over and over again with this new approach.

VSG: Why did you choose to set up shop in Austin?

CV: I swore to myself ten years ago that I would never drive in snow again.  But Austin has quite a bit more to offer than its warmer climate, though the year round growing season does make it a pretty ideal place for local foods.  Austin IS a place that is young enough, as a city, where there is still a lot of room for a new idea to take off, but is established enough that there is infrastructure and establishED communities to support these new ideas.

VSG: What’s on the menu this season at BV? What recipes are you excited to work on/develop?

CV: Right now we’re doing an Apple-Arugula Pizza with candied walnuts and a mozzarella mornay sauce as the base, and a Butternut Suppli with butternut risotto formed into a croquette, pan seared, and served over collard greens, sweet potato, onion, and pickled cranberries.  I’m very excited by both those dishes.  It’s always fun finding ways to bring seasonal flavors into the sweet and savory kolaches we create here every day.

VSG: What are your plans for a vegan brick & mortar fine vegan restaurant in Austin?

CV: Bistro Vonish started as a supper club (something we are still looking to do periodically), and has moved into the trailer.  Once we move into the brick and mortar, we’d love to keep the trailer going with the kolaches and its own seasonal menus.  The full restaurant, however, is a tremendous opportunity to create a complete, start to finish, dining experience with service, ambiance, and beverages aimed at matching the quality of the food.  We’re keeping our eyes out for the right moment and space to move to the next level.

For more about Bistro Vonish, check out their website and follow them on facebook.

Vegan RAAAAAMEN at Daruma Ramen

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(post by Julie)

It’s Free Week here in Austin, the week when the city makes up for the mayhem SXSW inflicts on locals by letting us wander in and out of bars and music venues without paying a cover (or that’s the origin story I’ve heard, at least; however it happened, it’s a week of free music and I’ll gladly take advantage). It’s been chilly here and, while it wasn’t quite freezing last night, the forecast calls for some mighty low temperatures later in the week. The only way to prepare for the impending tundra was with soup. And not just any soup. RAMEN.

I’ve passed Daruma Ramen on Sixth Street many times, but had never ventured in before last night. The restaurant squeezes an impressive amount of comfortable seating into its small space. Two long communal tables fill up the room, with bar seating offered on either side. We pulled up a stool, unwound our scarves and ordered a bottle of sake.

I was pleasantly surprised to find not one but two clearly labeled vegan ramen options on the menu. I expected to have to do a lot of “Hold the egg,” and “You swear under penalty of Zeus that this is VEGGIE broth, right?” Nope. No such issues. My dining buddy and I ordered both vegan bowls.

I had the Veg Ramen, which is basically a bad ass salad on top of a bad ass bowl of noodles and veggie broth. Spring mix, carrots, grape tomato, red onion, scallions, fried onion, ginger oil and lime. I ate the whole damn thing. It was nourishing and satisfying and left me wondering why I haven’t been combining my soup and my salad my entire life.

My buddy had the Veg Miso Ramen. The broth in this bowl was rich and savory. The noodles were topped with a golden pillow of fried tofu and a pile of bean sprouts. My buddy also ate the whole damn thing, but not as fast as I ate mine.

This will now be a regular stop for me on a night out at the Red River bars. Nothing prepares your stomach for Lone Star and whiskey like a big bowl of floating veggies and noodles.

As for the music – we wandered into Swan Dive, peered over the fence at Cheer Up Charlie’s, and finally wound up at Mohawk where we caught a set by Feverbones. A good night all around. Cold weather, do your worst. I’ll just eat more salad soup.

Meatless Mondays at Counter Culture

How’s this for a happy new year – Counter Culture is now open 7 days a week. As of today, the restaurant is opening its doors on Mondays  to participate in Meatless Mondays. Special deals are being offered the first six Mondays of 2015, including, from night to night, free bowls of soup (which we ate tonight) desserts, drinks and a steep discount on your bill if you bring an omnivore in to fill up on meatless fare.

Meatless Monday is a national initiative launched by Johns Hopkins in 2003 to encourage people to eat without meat at least one day a week. The movement cites the positive impact a meatless diet can have not only on human health, but on the strength of our natural environment.

We’re happy for Meatless Monday because today means it nachos and french onion soup. Here’s what we ate at Counter Culture:

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You know what exorcises the demons that possess you after driving down 7th Street in five o’clock traffic? A giant plate of nachos. (PS anyone with nut allergies – the queso on this dish is oat-based, not nut-based. Chow down without fear!)

 

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FREE SOUP! Tonight’s Meatless Monday deal was, place an order for $6 or more, receive a free cup of French Onion soup (upon request). We love the croutons in this tasty, onion-thick broth. It was a solid little savory intermezzo between the nachos and the main event.

 

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The main event! What we had for dinner:

Spaghetti Squash and Beatball Pizza (on gluten free crust) – This is a filling, rich pizza with a dynamite sauce. The beatballs were big enough to cut up and spread across the entire pie. Squash on a winter night is one of life’s many pleasures and should be indulged at every opportunity. The beatballs and squash combined made for a most hearty dish.

Walnut Burger with some amazing greens we want to eat again right now – Let’s just start by talking about the greens; they had a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture and left just a touch of sweentess on the tongue. Perfect. Brilliant. A reason to live. These are good greens. The burger: this might be Carolyn’s new favorite item on the menu. Perfectly seasoned with a satisfying crunch, this patty proves that a veggie burger doesn’t have to consist of beans and mush. This is a burger to sink your teeth into. Important to note: the bun was also stellar.

Cold Cutz Sandwich –  Homemade, thinly sliced seitan on a long bun. The waiter was happy to replace the nut-based sauce on the sandwich with the same oat-based queso we had on the nachos.

We left no room for dessert, which is a shame, because the flourless chocolate cake with coconut whipped cream was singing its siren song something strong. This meal was totally worth the traffic. We hope Counter Culture finds it worthwhile to remain open on Mondays. We’ll be starting our weeks there and hope y’all will show them some love and do the same! You can follow their Meatless Mondays page on facebook to keep up with all of the mighty enticing specials.