Aware that the conclusion of my Austin adventure would pass the next morning, I resolved to take full advantage of my final day in the southern gem of a city by indulging in vegan soft-serve sundaes at Sweet Ritual and sampling the animal-product-free portion of Austin’s famed taco culture. Ashley and I intended to accomplish the latter endeavor at The Vegan Nom—an electric-blue food truck self-described as “Austin’s first vegan taco hub” specializing in breakfast and regular tacos loaded with tofu scrambles, caramelized veggies, alfalfa sprouts, avocados, plant-based meats, refried beans, and non-dairy cheeses. However, after waiting for a bus that arrived over 30 minutes late, trekking down a rather godforsaken street, and all the while nursing a grumbling tummy, we reached a very not-open Vegan Nom only to discover the owner preparing to take the truck in for inspection. Short story: no tacos for Ali and Ashley.
Disappointed, irritated, and ravenous, Ashley and I frantically searched HappyCow.net on her iPhone, desperately hoping for a vegan restaurant within walking distance. Thankfully, we discovered that dining at Mother’s Cafe and Garden—a vegetarian restaurant boasting standard café-style fare as well as enchiladas—would require only a couple block’s walk. However, as we approached the intersection of Duval and 45th Streets, a mere two blocks away from Mother’s, Ashley and I stumbled upon an adorable eatery called Daily Juice located in a refurbished gas station and offering nourishing vegan eats alongside raw entrees, desserts, and green juices. Lo and behold, the cozy sunlight establishment also housed Sweet Ritual, the vegan soft-serve joint that Ashley and I had planned to patronize since day one of my arrival to Austin. Clearly, the universe decided to smile upon Ashley and I after throwing us a curveball of a morning.
Never one to pass up a gourmet raw meal, I ordered from the uncooked portion of the Daily Juice menu, opting for the Raw Enchilada—a tomato “tortilla” rolled around a kale salad with sesame seeds and Bragg’s liquid aminos, smothered in cashew queso and topped with red bell peppers and alfalfa sprouts. Tempted by the raw dessert case while waiting for my entree, I decided to immediately satisfy my hunger with a chocolate-walnut truffle cup topped with a mixture of goji berries and coconut. Gorgeously dense, silky smooth chocolate encased crunchy walnuts and provided a decadent base for the fruity, chewy topping to culminate in an extravaganza of bittersweet gastronomic luxury. So, like, yeah, the truffle was okay. As for the enchilada, each of its components offered a lovely fresh flavor, though the massaged kale filling felt a bit ersatz without a more hearty accompaniment inside the tortilla—perhaps some spiced ground walnut meat?
Ashley fell for the Avocado Wrap—a spinach tortilla folded around a generous amount of avocado, mixed salad greens, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, and onions. Both overly excited and overly hungry, Ashley began to devour the wrap before I could even snap a photo (hence the teeth marks in the picture below).
After returning to Ashley’s apartment and working up another appetite, Ashley and I commissioned her skeptical-of-veganism boyfriend to drive us back to the Daily Juice location for vegan ice cream sundaes at Sweet Ritual. The shoppe’s hard-pack case offered such tantalizing flavors as lavender blossom blueberry, salted caramel, and raspberry chocolate, while the sundae menu included Rocky Road (chocolate sauce, Dandie’s marshmallows, and pecans), Dirt and Worms (oreos and gummy worms), Faux Butterfinger (Chick-o-Stix and chocolate sauce), and Glitterbeast (salted caramel sauce, strawberry sauce, and edible glitter). Seduced by the lavender blossom blueberry and salted caramel ice creams, I opted for one scoop of each flavor topped with toasted coconut, while Ashley (after much deliberation) ordered the Turtle Sundae—vanilla soft-serve drizzled in chocolate sauce and sprinkled with pecans (no photo, many apologies!). Somewhat begrudgingly, Ashley’s boyfriend tested the waters of vegan desserts with the sundae of the day—salted caramel ice cream drizzled with peanut butter hard-shell, salted peanuts, and chocolate-covered cookies. Needless to say, all three of us immensely enjoyed the creamy, animal-cruelty-free deliciousness. What better way to showcase the pleasures of a vegan lifestyle to cynics than with plant-based ice cream? Effective and yummy, I must say.
I mentioned in my Austin Extravaganza, Day 3 post an absolutely magical place known as the Wheatsville Co-op. Enamored with the vast array of vegan & gluten-free baked goods; the hot foods bar rife with vegan options, the entire half-aisle devoted to raw foods like kale chips; flax crackers, and cacao truffles; the well-stocked bulk section; and a whole host of other various health-food products, Ashley and I journeyed to the co-op two days in a row to gawk at the impressive selection housed between their colorful walls. While perhaps Wheatsville’s material offerings don’t appear too dissimilar from those of other co-ops around the country, the overwhelmingly welcoming, knowledgable atmosphere cultivated in this friendly Austin co-op provided in me a deep sense of homecoming—I felt quite confident that the vast majority of the co-op’s employees wouldn’t question my veganism or choice not to consume sugar, would share in my enthusiasm for kombucha, and would understand (and confidently answer) my inquiry as to the gluten-free-ness of the tempeh taco filling offered on the deli menu. In other words, the folks at Wheatsville seemed like my kind of people.
During our first excursion to Wheatsville, Ashley and I merely oohed and ahhed at their exciting selection, but on our second visit, we actually purchased some of the co-op’s tantalizing offerings in the form of our final dinner together in Austin. Determined to enjoy tacos in the land of acclaimed southwestern food before I returned to the east coast, I ameliorated my lunchtime taco failure by ordering from the Wheatsville made-to-order deli counter two fragrant corn tortillas filled with juicy and spicy tempeh crumbles, diced tomatoes, jalapeno slices, shredded carrot, romaine lettuce, and alfalfa sprouts. I accompanied these delightful handheld eats with a salad of kale, beets, and alfala sprouts coated liberally in a creamy, tangy tahini dressing, also from the deli case. To round out the meal, I picked up a small box of raw chocolate-hazelnut “love” truffles from Lulu’s. Ashley and I enjoyed our meal while basking in the evening’s setting sun and entertaining Bella, Ashley’s boyfriend’s absolutely delightful canine companion—a perfect finale to a perfect four-day adventure.
Needless to say, my four days in Austin proved absolutely magical, both because of the 48 straight hours I spent with my best friend of eleven years after not seeing her in person since sophomore year of high school, and because of the vibrant vegan community rampant in the heart of Texas. I also found myself truly appreciating Ashley’s open-mindedness regarding and support of my veganism—by the end of my visit, she truly seemed to understand the reasons behind my leading a vegan lifestyle. I don’t know if she intends to start making the shift towards a plant-based diet, but the fact that she will advocate on behalf of the vegan community against her antagonistic boyfriend means the world to me. My spreading of the compassionate message into Ashley’s life, as well as into the lives of everyone I meet wherever I journey, reminds me of Johnny Appleseed except with veganism—just call me Ali Vegan-seed!…or something like that. I eagerly await my next bout of traveling during which to positively affect the hearts and minds of those I meet.
Until next time, Ali.