|Green’s vegetarian delights, clockwise from left: Sweet-potato gnocchi, an appetizer sampler, and portabella steak. Photo by Antonia Padilla|
| Green |
1017 N. Flores
7am-9pm Mon-Thu; 7am-7pm Fri;
Entrée price range $6.99-$7.99
It is possible to avoid flesh on many local menus, especially the Asian ones; a few others, including Adelante, Gini’s, and Twin Sisters, are vegetarian-friendly. And when the San Antonio Vegetarian Society commandeers a restaurant for one of its monthly feasts, no animal is harmed in the making of the meal. Yet an unwary diner in south Texas usually risks ingesting broth and lard in dishes as simple as rice and beans.
However, the new establishment boldly proclaims: “No meat will ever be cooked at Green. When we do use eggs, they are free-range, hand-gathered eggs. All of our breads, dressings, and desserts are vegan `no eggs, dairy, or honey`. Our fried foods are all breaded using soy milk.” On his website (Greensanantonio.com), owner-chef Mike Behrend, whose weight once exceeded 300 pounds, explains his recent conversion to vegetarianism as motivated by health and sanctioned by the loss of 90 pounds. He used to run Lulu’s, a haven on Main for chicken-fried steak, but now runs marathons.
I hesitated before visiting Green. Might it be more gratifying to bask in self-righteousness about Bexar County barbarism than face an actual — inevitably imperfect — alternative to the brutal ambient culture of man-eat-beast? Passing the bicycle rack in the parking lot, I entered Green hungry for dinner but prepared for disappointment.
A glance at the ketchup bottles set out on each table dispels any confusion between Green and Green’s, the chic vegetarian restaurant in San Francisco where each exquisite entrée seems priceless, until you get the bill. At San Antonio’s Green, you order at the counter, with a clear view of the clean open kitchen, and you carry your own silverware and napkins to a spacious wooden booth lined up perpendicular to exposed brick walls. The most expensive dish in the house is $7.99.
The culinary style at Green is vintage American diner, so the options include such variations on familiar comfort foods as “neatloaf” (made with textured vegetable protein instead of ground beef), “not dogs,” and wheat-meat fajitas. Behrend has not given up on chicken-fried steak; he now makes it with seitan, a wheat product.
The menu for breakfast, served until 11, is unexceptional, except that eggs Benedict, French toast, and huevos rancheros are prepared with free-range eggs. There are no eggs in the pancakes, “steak n eggs” is made with seitan, and tofu is what comes scrambled.
Almost half of the offerings throughout the day are not just vegetarian but vegan, made without eggs, dairy, or any other animal product. The entire menu seems designed to appeal to omnivores, since cooking only for vegetarians in this carnivorous town seems a recipe for bankruptcy.
On my first visit to Green, the staff was still a bit ... green, and I had to wait while an employee at the counter was taught to process a credit card. But after the transaction was finally completed, the chef conveyed our food promptly to the table.
Because gnocchi usually contain eggs and sometimes cheese, I have not touched a single gnoccho for many years. However, at Green, I feasted on sweet-potato gnocchi without any regrets, except that the dumplings were not quite as remarkable as the tangy sauce that bathes and overpowers them.
An order of chopped barbecue arrived as an oozy sandwich, a zesty version of sloppy Joe. The principal ingredient was tvp, smothered in a thick, spicy sauce with slices of sweet onion and pickle. The ordinary hamburger bun on which the whole schmeer was served might better have been whole-grain.
Though it was long after breakfast, management supplied a companion on a restricted diet with an omelet loaded with tomatoes and green peppers.
During a second visit to Green, I sampled the appetizer-sampler plate: a crispy pile of buffalo tofu fingers, sweet onion rings, and wheat-meat steak fingers accompanied by miso dipping sauce. Then I tried the portabella steak — a large, savory mushroom with caramelized onions. Like every other entrée, it came with a choice of two side dishes, and I chose herbed mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli, starring that day as vegetable du jour.
Green is devoid not only of beef, pork, mutton, chicken, turkey, and fish, but also wheat germ, sprouts, and brewer’s yeast — staples of stereotypical “health food.” In fact, most of the fried items, though cooked in soy milk, are not especially healthful, except to the critters whose lives have been spared.
Though opening a vegetarian restaurant in these parts is an act of chutzpah, the place itself is as soothing as Edward VII, who exclaimed: “It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you don’t frighten the horses.” There is nothing about Green to frighten either horses or people who eat them (elsewhere). But safety is not the only virtue desirable in a restaurant. After earning public trust, Green, which is as wholesome as the apple pie it offers for dessert, might seek to challenge palates while continuing to salve consciences.