When any significant new restaurant is announced for the Fort Worth area, I immediately daydream about how we meatless types might fare there. Often I can eat only one or two dishes on any given menu, so I burn out on restaurants quickly and am shamelessly promiscuous, always on the prowl for something new.
I love dairy, but I challenged myself to eat an all-vegan meal at the new 24 Plates, which opened June 30 on Magnolia Avenue in Fort Worth with a menu of about 24 seasonal plates, some large, some small. The initial menu has no meatless main dishes, but that wasnt a problem we ordered five vegan small plates, and it was more than enough dinner for two:
• Roasted kale sprouts ($5): The first time Ive seen this newfangled vegetable on a Fort Worth menu (its so new, the name hasnt quite gelled; its also called lollipop kale, BrusselKale or flower sprouts). It was the inevitable next step in the cruciferous vegetable craze: a hybrid of kale and Brussels sprouts. We ordered the dish made without pancetta the only tweak we had to ask for. At least in this preparation, it tastes (and looks) like kale.
• G-mas Southern-style Popcorn ($5): A vegetarian answer to popcorn shrimp, with chunks of battered and fried zucchini and okra (yum).
• House-made hummus ($7): You cant expect hummus to be exciting, but this was one of the best versions I can remember, with spicy smoked paprika and the traditional garlic flavor coming from a dollop of pesto on top.
• Jicama salad ($7): The vegan choice among the three salads had romaine, avocado, jicama strips and an herbaceous cilantro dressing.
• Shishito peppers ($6) with lime-soy dipping sauce: a chefs special. (Shishito peppers may have become a full-on restaurant cliche, but if they replaced fried calamari everywhere, Id be happy.)
The staff was well-informed and cheerful about all our veggie questions. Owner Joel Kleven said the restaurants designer, Marta Rozanich, is a near-vegetarian and helped school him. Kleven and chef Beau Johnson were more focused on developing gluten-free options for this first menu, and came up with a flatbread crust that you can try at brunch and lunch although both lunch and brunch have fewer vegetarian/vegan options than the dinner menu I explored. More information at www.24platesfw.com.
Two other newish restaurants are also doing vegetarian small plates, and are places where its fun to make small plates your meal. Sera Dining & Wine, the Spanish restaurant that opened last year in the former Sapristi! spot, has a summer tapas menu with a roasted cauliflower and leeks dish and a traditional Spanish tortilla (omelet with potato and onion), among other choices; http://seradiningandwine.com. And Bird Café has a number of interesting small plates, including a great tofu with chiles and a Chinatown fried farro with mushroom, ginger and egg, a nifty spin on fried rice; www.birdinthe.net.
• Meatless Mondays at Whole Foods Colleyville features vegetarian cooking demonstrations, including dishes from the Health Starts Here vegan program. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays. 4801 Colleyville Blvd.; www.wholefoodsmarket.com.
• DFW Restaurant Week, coming in August, is hard for vegetarians, maybe impossible for vegans. Each participating restaurant does a three-course prix fixe menu for $35 or $45, and special requests usually cant be accommodated. For those who eat dairy and eggs, Bijoux in Dallas Inwood Village shopping center is a wonderful exception. Every course has a meatless option; the entree this year is a truffled risotto with Parmigiano-Reggiano. $45, Aug. 8-31; reserve beginning July 14. Click events at www.bijouxrestaurant.com for the menu. Bijoux is also worth seeking out for its everyday vegetarian tasting menu, six courses by chef Scott Gottlich for $85.