I’ve been doing some thinking about what kind of content you, dear readers, might find valuable to read here. I think that the recipe reviews I typically do are interesting enough, but I want to start expanding the scope of this blog to include other areas of veganism. You might have guessed this was coming with the new design and layout, but here we finally are! Starting today, I am going to try to feature some of my favorite Austin vegan-friendly spots in a new feature called “Local Austin Haunts.” And what better place to begin than with Counter Culture?
The first time I went to Counter Culture, the cute, bright-blue retro diner situated on the corner of East Caesar Chavez and Clara, I left feeling disappointed. It was one of my first forays into 100% vegan restaurants shortly after I decided to try to go vegan myself. I don’t know what I was expecting, but there’s this funny phenomenon I’ve noticed about vegan food: people always hold it to impossible standards. Even vegetarians! Not only do vegan meals have to be just as good as their meat and cheese serving counterparts, they have to exceed them. Just like women in the workplace, vegan restaurants have to perform at 200% to get the same credit that people give to other restaurants without a second thought.
It’s so strange when I think back on that disappointment because I cannot pinpoint its cause. Maybe Counter Culture was having an off day. Or, let’s be honest, maybe I was having an off day. All I know is that I haven’t experienced that same feeling since, and Counter Culture has quickly sky-rocketed to become one of my favorite vegan places in Austin. I drag JB and the rest of our vegan crew at least twice a month, and one of those visits is always for brunch.
My favorite brunch item is the Pancake Platter. Counter Culture features a different pancake every weekend, so you’ll never get bored ordering this over and over again. Trust me, I’ve tried. Some of my personal favorite flavors have been the banana and strawberry, the blackberry with lemon butter, and the apple crisp. The pancakes always gluten free as well, making this an incredible win for those who are allergic. The platter comes with a side of tofu rancheros, as well as an additional side of your choosing. I always get the tempeh bacon. Counter Culture has my favorite tempeh bacon in town.
Yesterday happened to be one of those Sundays where I woke up and my belly was screaming, “Counter Culture!” Off we went. Although I had pancakes on the brain all week, I found myself facing the urge to try something new as I scanned the menu. I ordered the Migas Tacos with, of course, tempeh bacon and an additional side spelt biscuit and gravy. The biscuit was so good that I promised myself I’d get the biscuit and gravy bowl the next time we go. I’m so excited.
The migas taco filling is made some sort of chickpea flour plus magic combination that makes these an incredible option for folks trying to avoid soy. It reminded me of the 20-Minute Bean and Cheese Tacos from Keepin’ it Kind. They’re slathered in Counter Culture’s homemade creamy cashew cheeze sauce and come with tomatoes, spinach, and cilantro. For those of you keeping track, they’re served on non-GMO corn tortillas.
If you’re going for lunch or dinner, treat yourself and start with either the cheeze plate (which changes weekly) or the baked artichoke dip. Spinach and Artichoke dip was one of my favorite pre-gan hors d’oeuvres, and Counter Culture’s version deserves a spot alongside the best. Despite omitting dairy, it is intensely creamy, but my favorite thing about it is that it packs a spicy kick. I also haven’t met a cheeze plate that I didn’t like, but my absolute favorite was the chardonnay cashew. Seriously, try not to start drooling at some of their past cheezes:
- Mesquite Sage Cashew Cheeze
- Pesto stuffed White Cashew Cheeze
- Roasted Red Jalapeño Cheeze
- Smoked Gouda Coconut Cheeze
As far as lunch and dinner options go, you can’t go wrong with the pastrami melt or the tempeh reuben. I always order them with a side Caesar salad or the potato salad, both of which are amazing. The GF Mac & Cheeze and Southern Baked Seitan are also delicious if you’re looking for heartier options. I like to pair those with the jalapeño cornbread.
Besides the food, Counter Culture also has the cutest atmosphere. The inside hearkens back to diners of old, styled in a retro blue and complete with (you guessed it!) counter service. They feature rotating art installations, usually animal-inspired, which are always a lot of fun to look at. Their patio is the perfect place to sip a glass of wine on a summer (or, let’s be honest, also spring and fall) evening.
Perhaps one of my favorite things about the space, as strange as it sounds, is their bathroom situation. They have two separate single bathrooms, which are both labeled as inclusive and non-gender specific. Even in a town as liberal as Austin, this is not something that I frequently see, and I love that the vegan community here puts an emphasis on intersectionality and inclusion.
Too Long; Didn’t Read: go to Counter Culture. It is incredible.