Austin Extravaganza, Day 4: Daily Juice, Sweet Ritual, & the Wheatsville Co-op

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?

Raw chocolate-covered strawberries with walnuts and coconut in Daily Juice’s dessert case.

Goji chocolate truffle cups.

YUM.

Raw Enchilada.

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.

Lavender Blossom Blueberry and Salted Caramel ice creams topped with toasted coconut.

Sundae of the Day.

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.

One of many vegan & gluten-free baked goods at Wheatsville.

Samples of raw energy bars from local company the Bearded Bros.

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.

Tacos!

Kale-Beet Salad.

Lulu’s Chocolate-Hazelnut “Love” Truffle.

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.

Austin Extravaganza, Day 3: Casa de Luz & Beets Cafe

Don’t miss the vegan eats and adventures of my first two days in Austin here and here.

The penultimate day of my visit to the liberal-hippie-progressive-veg-friendly city of Austin, TX commenced with a scenic stroll along Lady Bird Lake, which eventually led Ashley and I to our lunch destination of Casa de Luz. The “favorite place in the world to eat” of one of my ultimate vegan inspirations James McWilliams, who attests to patronizing the restaurant for breakfast every morning, Casa de Luz serves macrobiotic vegan fare out of an open kitchen in a community-centered atmosphere, with a group of different chefs providing each meal. The restaurant offers a set meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day (no menus here!), which always includes tea, soup, salad, and an entree complete with a whole grain, a bean, a leafy green, and a pickled vegetable—all for $12, not including dessert. On the day that Ashley and I patronized Casa de Luz, the menu boasted a creamy soup of cauliflower and yellow squash; a salad of crisp greens and red cabbage in a tangy sunflower seed, basil, and parsley dressing; meltingly tender pinto beans swimming in their own silky broth; short-grain brown rice in an earthy mushroom sauce; a saute of crisp-tender burdock root, carrots, and green beans; steamed greens topped with a dollop of sesame-almond-pecan sauce; and pickled red sauerkraut. I sprinkled my serving generously with a Japanese sesame seed condiment known as gomasio, a jar of which graced every table.

The picturesque walkway into Casa de Luz.

Casa de Luz’s open-style kitchen.

Creamy cauliflower and yellow squash soup.

Crisp Salad with Sunflower Seed, Basil and Parsley Dressing.

Entree plate.

Gluten-Free Pecan Pie.

Nourishing to both the body and the soul, macrobiotic cuisine never fails to impart a feeling of having given a generous gift to myself; indeed, I would argue that nothing more holistically fulfilling exists than the act of enjoying and truly appreciating a wholesome vegan meal prepared by caring hands. Surrounded by diners and restaurant employees who clearly shared in my sentiments, I could certainly understand why James McWilliams speaks so highly of Casa de Luz. Before departing from the oasis-esque nature of Casa de Luz, Ashley and I shared a slice of sticky and scrumptious gluten-free pecan pie, and browsed through the shelves of the restaurant’s mini macrobiotic market, which offers books on macrobiotic principles, animal rights, and veganism, as well as traditional Japanese food products and cooking supplies like miso, umeboshi plums, mochi, bamboo rolling mats, and suribachi.

Raspberry-flavored brown rice syrup; yes, please.

Love me some mochi, especially with medicinal herbs thrown in!

Harboring an avid sweet tooth and a passion for crafting baked goods, Ashley requested to learn the ways of animal secretion-free baking from the experienced vegan gastronomer that she held at her fingertips for the next couple of days. Thanks to the multiple dairy-and-egg-less desserts we’d enjoyed prior to our baking excursion, Ashley already felt quite confident about the high quality of sweet vegan treats, and ardently awaited the opportunity to craft her own. Unfortunely, our first bout of recipe experimentation with a veganized version of this Pomegranate-Soaked Almond Hazelnut Cake fell rather flat due to my mistaking of the 1/2 cup measure for the full cup measure to yield a lack of flour…oops. Determined to fully impart to Ashley the joy and success that usually ensues from vegan baking, I searched for recipes that would use up the rest of the baking ingredients we had purchased from Whole Foods, and discovered two cookies: Almond Flour Cookies with Almond Butter and Pistachios (we subbed peanut butter for almond butter and walnuts for pistachios), and Banana-Flax Crackers. Both of these recipes yielded infinitely more delicious results than our failed cake, and even impressed Ashley’s skeptical meat-eating boyfriend.

Our baking extravaganza filled up most of the afternoon, but Ashley and I decided to while away the remaining few hours before dinner by perusing the area around Guadalupe Street, which includes such desirable locations as the nostalgic wonderland of Toy Joy; the vintage, thrift, and clothing swap store of Buffalo Exchange, which recently participated in the noble endeavors of discontinuing the use of plastic bags and accepting used fur apparel donations to benefit Coats for Cubs; and my new happiest place on earth, the Wheatsville Co-op, of which I’ll provide a full review in the blog post regaling my final day in Austin.

For dinner, Ashley and I excitedly visited Beets Café—a raw restaurant serving up gourmet uncooked cuisine in a chic yet unpretentious and quite welcoming dining room to everyone from moms with strollers to bulky machismos to bespectacled hipsters to college students. After a bit of a bus-induced planning hiccup (thank you, Austin bus system, for picking us up an hour later than scheduled), Ashley and I yearned to fill our growling tummies immediately and began our meal with raw treats from Beets Cafe’s dessert case. While all of the sweets looked absolutely beautiful and surely ambrosial (can you say Blueberry-Lavender Cheesecake and Chocolate Macaroons?), Ashley and I decided to partake in the Almond-Raspberry Cookies and the cacao-coated Superfood Clusters (chock full of goji berries, coconut, brazil nuts, spirulina, raisins, inca berries, maca powder, and mesquite powder), respectively. Bittersweet, chewy, crunchy, and creamy all at once, the Superfood Clusters served as the perfect beginning to a stunning meal. However, even though Ashley regaled the wonders of her Almond-Raspberry Cookies, the bite I snuck of them left me unimpressed by their miserly amount of raspberry filling and rather unflavorful cookie exterior. Glad I made the right choice on pre-dinner dessert.

While I beat Ashley on dessert choices, she prevailed in entree selection by ordering the Raw Reuben—two pliable slices of sunflower seed flatbread layered with Thousand Island dressing, sauerkraut, marinated portabella mushrooms, dehydrated “caramelized” onions, and cashew Swiss cheese, served alongside a shredded beet salad and a pile of dill-and-nooch-dusted sweet potato chips. Ashley generously offered me a bite of her sandwich, which transported me to veritable raw food heaven due to the genius mingling of creamy-tender-tangy-umami-ness bursting from in between the flatbread, the hearty and chewy texture of which impressed me more than most of the raw flatbreads I’ve sampled in the past. With Ashley’s blessing, I also finished off the last of her sweet potato chips, which exactly resembled an oil-free, dehydrated variation on sour-cream-and-onion potato chips.

Though Ashley’s entree proved a tad more extraordinary than mine, I still thoroughly enjoyed my Cha-Lu-Pas—two crunchy corn tostadas spread with sunflower seed “refried beans,” topped with shredded lettuce, salsa, guacamole, and olives, drizzled with a cashew sour cream, and served alongside a kale salad in a tangy marinara-style dressing. All of the components proved quite fresh-tasting, though the creamy sunflower seed beans served as my favorite aspect of the dish, which satisfied my intense day-long craving for avocado. While quite tasty, the Cha-Lu-Pas simply could not match the sheer perfection of Ashley’s Reuben. I suppose I’ll just have to return to Beets Café during my next visit to Austin—darn.

On the bus ride back to her apartment, Ashley expressed her happy surprise at how much she enjoyed her first experience at a raw food restaurant. In fact, for the remainder of my trip, she continually waxed poetic about her sandwich at Beets Café, and even asked me if she could make a version of the sunflower seed flatbread at home (I passed these two recipes from Gena at Choosing Raw along to her). If not for the slightly out-of-reach price tag, Ashley would have suggested that we dine at Beets Café again the next day. Instead, we planned our meals for my final day in Austin to include ice cream at Sweet Ritual and dinner from the Wheatsville Co-op (more details on our eventful lunch excursion in the next post).

Until next time, Ali.

Austin Extravaganza, Day 2: Juiceland, Nomad Dosa, & Counter Culture

You can find the first post of my Austin Extravaganza series here.

The first full day of my long-anticipated spring break jaunt to Austin, TX began with a green smoothie sprinkled with my new favorite granola, both of which I picked up at the flagship Whole Foods market the night before. After waiting for Ashley—my best friend of eleven years who provided the main reason for my visit to the southern U.S.—to awake from her slumber, I suggested that we kick off our action-packed day with a journey to Barton Springs. A man-made pool incorporated into a channel of Barton Creek, Barton Springs serves as a popular venue for nature enthusiasts who prefer to swim in fresh spring water, as opposed to chemically treated pools, surrounded by chirping birds and lush foliage. The area proved absolutely gorgeous and rife with wildlife, including lizards and a regal blue jay of whom I managed to snap a photo.

During our lengthy stroll to Barton Springs, I began to feel a bit peckish and enthusiastically welcomed the sight of Juiceland, a juice and smoothie bar with four locations around Austin that specializes in cleanses and liquid nutrition. Their extensive menu boasts three categories of juices (milder “fresh & easy” juices; fruity agua frescas; and “next-level” juices packed with veggies, greens, and spices), four categories of smoothies (basic fruit smoothies; sweet green smoothies; protein smoothies—many of which implement whey protein, unfortunately—; decadent dessert smoothies; and “next-level” smoothies, one of which even includes durian fruit, wowza!), superfood “cocktails,” herbal tonics, energizing shots, and a selection of premade to-go salads and raw desserts. The tiny liquiteria also sold a wide array of locally prepared kombucha, fresh young thai coconuts, raw chocolates, and vegan fruit-and-nut bars, including those crafted by Caleb and Chris of the Bearded Brothers—an organic snackfood company specializing in generously sized raw, gluten-free, and vegan energy bars. Ashley and I would later have the pleasure of sampling their tantalizing snack bars at the Wheatsville Co-op, but for the time being, we would simply stare longingly at mouthwatering flavors like Bodacious Blueberry Vanilla, Fabulous Ginger Peach, and Mighty Maca Chocolate. Yum. Wanting to satiate myself until lunch without ruining my appetite, I opted for a light snack of a wheatgrass shot and a couple sips of Ashley’s “Hydrator” smoothie of watermelon juice, peaches, and lemon.

Premade juices, oodles of kombucha, and fresh coconuts for sippin’.

Ahh, the sound of a wheatgrass juicer motor.

A journey back across town to Congress Ave landed Ashley and I smack-dab in the middle of a conglomeration of food trucks, including a health-conscious Indian one, referenced in many of my Google searches of “best food trucks Austin,” known as Nomad Dosa. The young hipsters inside Nomad Dosa’s sleek, silver caravan create all of the truck’s fare without the use of meat, wheat, gluten, soy, additives, gums, refined flours, and sugars (whew!), and implement nourishing food preparations including fermenting their soaked rice-and-lentil batter for several hours, carefully selecting spices to optimize digestion, and utilizing only olive and coconut oils in their cooking. Not only do Nomad Dosa’s gastronomic tenets jive perfectly with my own, they also mingle to produce some of the freshest, most flavorful, and most satisfying Indian cuisine I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting—completely unlike the overly greasy, muddled-tasting dishes I’ve sampled at many an Indian restaurant. Hungry and eager to dosa, Ashley and I put in our orders, paid an incredibly reasonable sum (only $9-$10 for ginormous dosa, a chutney, and a side of either rice or lentil soup), and awaited our food for a mere five minutes before hearing the sweet call of, “Ali and Ashley—your order is ready!” Ashley ordered the “Holy Cow” filling—creamy spiced potatoes, sauteed onions, roasted cashews, and green peas—on a soft dosa topped with shredded carrots served alongside a mild coconut chutney and a lentil dipping soup known as sambar, while I opted for the “Kerala Kokonut” filling—butternut squash, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, and cauliflower in a coconut curry—on a soft dosa topped with romaine lettuce and avocado, served alongside a spicy cilantro chutney and sambar. A spongy, sourdough-tasting dosa wrapped around impeccably spiced, veggie-laden stews and accompanied by a thick, bliss-inducing lentil soup? Be still my beating heart.

Ashley’s “Holy Cow” dosa.

An inside view of my “Kerala Kokonut” dosa.

After our immensely fulfilling lunch, Ashley and I meandered down Congress Ave, popping in just about every storefront along the road, including a nifty antique shop called Uncommon Objects, described by Austinites as “your eccentric uncle’s attic on steroids.” There, I fawned over the vintage mason jars, old-style cameras, and clickety-clacky typewriters while Ashley revealed a peculiar obsession with science-lab-style glass vials. We also passed an open-air adoption event hosted by Austin Pets Alive!, the city’s most prominent and almost completely volunteer-run organization devoted to achiving a 100% no-kill rate of sheltered companion animals in Austin.

Sufficiently tuckered out after our active morning and afternoon, Ashley and I rejuvenated from the balmy Austin weather in her air-conditioned apartment. However, another bout of hunger soon overcame us, and we trekked out once more to enjoy a casual yet scrumptious meal at Austin’s almost-one-year-old vegan restaurant, Counter Culture. Born from humble beginnings in July 2009 as a food truck, Counter Culture launched a wildly successful Kickstarter project in February 2012, the 195 donors of which enabled the business to relocate to a brick-and-mortar, diner-style restaurant bedecked in cheerful aquamarine-and-brown decor. On the Counter Culture menu, owner Sue Davis emphasizes nourishing, wholesome versions of comfort foods alongside playful raw dishes, while devoting her restaurant’s ethos to animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and long-term health. In utter support of Counter Culture’s mission and drooling over the tantalizing photos on their website, I quite looked forward to sampling their dinner fare. Though the Raw Bruschetta with flax crackers, cashew cheese, pesto, and tomatoes called my name, Ashley turned down my offer to split the appetizer, arguing that she’d like to save her money for dessert. Her miserliness couldn’t stop me, however, from ordering the Meltdown sandwich—a creamy garbanzo bean “tuna” salad with celery and dulse flakes, topped with melty cashew cheese and sliced tomatoes, layered between two slices of toasted gluten-free bread and accompanied by a side of the novel Pac Man salad of kale, Pac-Man-shaped carrot slices, and chia seeds in a creamy garlic dressing. If you recall my recent declaration of love for sandwiches, you can no doubt envision a starry-eyed, beaming Ali munching on the Meltdown’s hearty layers, each bursting with unique flavor (including the tomatoes! Perhaps the south enjoys quality tomatoes earlier in the year than does the midwest). After analyzing Counter Culture’s online menu, Ashley continually expressed her excitement toward ordering the Jackfruit BBQ sandwich—shredded jackfruit smothered in chipotle barbeque sauce, topped with red onions and pickles, and stuffed inside a multigrain hoagie bun, accompanied by a side of perfectly roasted sweet potatoes and beets. The meal certainly lived up to Ashley’s high expectations, causing her to exclaim how surprisingly accurately the shredded jackfruit resembled pulled pork (in texture and flavor, not oppression and exploitation, of course). For dessert, Ashley and I shared an ice cream sundae of vanilla coconut milk ice cream (supplied by local vegan ice creamery Sweet Ritual, which Ashley and I would visit in two days), silky raw cashew cream, and berries, as well as a tropical-flavored raw truffle of almonds, dried pineapple, shredded coconut, and dates. While delicious, the meal left my stomach not quite as full as I would have preferred; Counter Culture seems to keep its portions on the small side. I knew I should have partaken in that bruschetta appetizer!

Counter Culture interior.

Meltdown Sandwich with Pac-Man kale salad.

BBQ Jackfruit Sandwich with roasted sweet potatoes and beets.

Ice cream sundae.

Raw tropical truffle.

After catching a bus back to Ashley’s apartment and pajama-ing up, we planned our eating excursions for the following day, which would include lunch at Austin’s staple macrobiotic, community-based restaurant, Casa de Luz, and dinner at the gourmet raw eatery of Beets Cafe. Stay tuned for summaries of those meals in an upcoming post.

Until next time, Ali.

Austin Extravaganza, Day 1: Welcome & the Whole Foods Flagship Market

If you’ve followed the recent flurry of activity on my Facebook account and Twitter feed, you’ll know full well that for the past four days I’ve reveled in the sheer joy inspired by the southern hippie hub of Austin, Texas. Three years ago, my best friend of eleven years relocated from Madison to Austin (much to my obvious and immense dismay), and I finally found the time and resources to complete the halfway-cross-country trek and visit my dearest Ashley. The trip, however, not only constituted a long-awaited and quite heartfelt reunion, but also a veritable festival of impressive vegan eats, a peek into one of the most extensive food truck cultures in the nation, an almost comical abundance of vintage/thrift shops, and a 75° escape from the brisk New York weather.

To the Vassar students who wrinkled their noses and inquired accusatorily, “Why are you going down south for spring break?”, unaware of Austin’s intensely liberal, progressive atmosphere, I silently pitied their geographical ignorance before calmly reciting this analogy: Austin is to the southern United States as Madison is to Wisconsin; both serve as open-minded oases in conservative deserts. Indeed, Austin holds a number of hip titles, including live music capital of the world; #1 city in the U.S. to live, work, and make movies; #7 of America’s best hipster neighborhoods; #2 best city for young adults; and (most importantly) #8 of America’s top vegetarian cities, as ranked by number of vegetarian restaurants. Boasting four all-vegan food trucks, four allvegan bakeries, two vegan catering/delivery services, the infamous vegan queso company Food for Lovers, and a 90% save-rate of animals in shelters, Austin offers one heck of a cruelty-free scene that even those harboring the most ardent aversion to southern culture won’t want to miss.

I arrived at the Austin-Bergstrom Internation Airport at 4:40 pm on Saturday afternoon—perfect timing to shower my best friend with love and hugs, acquaint myself with her apartment, and semi-unpack before experiencing my first taste (pun oh-so intended) of Austin’s vegan culture at Whole Foods’ flagship market. With 30 years of history, 80,000 square feet, a rooftop patio, a bike-repair center, and nearly every health-food product known to humankind, this Whole Foods reduced me to a incoherent maniac exclaiming gleefully at every bottle of locally brewed kombucha, superfood-infused granola, and raw chocolate bar I discovered. You can imagine my absolute explosion of excitement when I spotted the 100% vegan, largely raw deli counter flanked by the produce and bulk sections, at which I picked up a glorious dinner of avocado-massaged kale salad, creamy chickpea salad with cashew mayonnaise and celery, and cinnamon-dusted butternut squash slices.

After preparing for the days ahead by purchasing four bottles of kombucha, four green smoothies from the juice bar, and a bag of astoundingly delicious raw granola called Hemp and Green Superfood Cereal, I accompanied Ashley up to the roof to share a lovely meal, a slice of raw blueberry cheesecake from Earth Cafe (which left Ashley, who previously harbored a rather negative view of vegan dessertsabsolutely emphatic about animal-product-free sweet treats), and a flood of intriguing conversation by which to catch up on the current events of each others’ lives.

Ashley and I decided to enjoy the rest of the balmy evening by walking back to her apartment via one of Austin’s lively main drags of Congress Avenue. Loaded with cafes, food truck gathering spots, and vintage stores, Congress Ave immediately endeared me to the city and ensured our return to the street the following day. That night, however, my travel fatigue kicked in and prompted an early bedtime for Ashley and I, after which I dreamed of the many vegan noms and adventures soon to ensue.

Stay tuned for the next post regaling my second day of Austin ventures, which featured mouthwatering jaunts to Juiceland, Nomad Dosa, and Counter Culture.

Until next time, Ali.