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Autumn 2016 - Act•ionLine

Chefs Revamp Texas Culinary Scene One Vegan BBQ Sandwich at a Time

 


By Dustin Rhodes

When one thinks of Texas, a few things immediately come to mind: The Alamo, cowboys, barbecue, those ubiquitous “Don’t mess with Texas” bumper-stickers that are simultaneously threatening and hilarious. It’s doubtful that “scrumptious vegetarian cuisine” is the first thing that pops into anyone’s head. But that is quickly changing, especially in San Antonio, where brothers Mike and Chris Behrend, along with business partner Paul Evans, are changing the Texas culinary landscape—one vegan barbecue sandwich at a time.

Green Vegetarian Cuisine was originally conceived by Mike Behrend, who owned and operated Lulu’s Bakery and Café, along with his mother Luanne Singleton, for 15 years. Mike became a vegetarian in 2005, then sold the café the following year and began construction on what was to become the original location of Green Vegetarian Cuisine—even though friends thought he was crazy to open up a vegetarian restaurant in San Antonio, a city that routinely has the dubious distinction of being named one of America’s most unhealthy cities.

Green was an instant success because of the brilliant decision to keep the menu recognizable and, at its heart, Texan. There are vegan breakfast bowls, vegan migas and mouth-watering sweet potato pancakes with fresh blueberries; for lunch, you can eat a deliciously healthy protein salad with mouth-watering chicken-fried tofu and marinated greens or a taco plate; and dinners offer something for everyone: the ever popular orange tofu bowl, fish-less fish tacos, and so, so much more. There are vegan cupcakes in every flavor you can imagine (seriously!), along with fat slices of moist Southern-style cake, sticky buns and chewy cookies. Mike Behrend, the executive chef says, “Our mission fails if the food isn’t good; and it can’t just be good, it’s got to be better. This is food that tastes like Texas.”

Green was not formed with the singular mission to create superb plant-based cuisine. The restaurant is Kosher and “green” has a double meaning; the restaurant tries to keep its environmental footprint as low as possible by reducing and reusing as much as possible, using compostable take-out containers and recycling everything they can. The simple fact of not serving flesh is a boon to the environment, as is emphasizing fresh vegetables and fruits. The original Green location even had its own garden, where the produce ended up on customers’ plates. Even though they outgrew the original space, and moved into San Antonio’s resurrected Pearl neighborhood, the commitment to being a low-impact, environmentally aware restaurant remains intact. The restaurant is also committed to paying a living wage to its super friendly and competent staff—some of whom have been with Chef Mike since before Green even existed. This is a staff known to greet you by name and have a cup of coffee on the table before you’ve barely had a chance to sit down.

In the last decade, Green has expanded, too. There are two Green locations in San Antonio, in addition to one in Houston—which serves a hybrid menu of vegetarian fast food and Green’s emphasis on Texas-style cuisine. There’s also the wildly popular Earth Burger in San Antonio—which is what all fast food should be: completely meat-free, healthy, filling, affordable and delicious. And their coconut soft serve might be one of the most delicious, luscious and velvety frozen desserts you will ever taste, period.

Most recently, in May 2016, Green opened Bok Choy Pan-Asian—“plant powered Asian cuisine.” It’s about a mile up the street from Green’s Pearl location, and it is fabulous. There are Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean and Japanese-inspired dishes—including hard-to-find dishes in the vegetarian world like BBQ beef bun (yes! the “fish” sauce is vegan), Kung Pao Eggplant and Pho, among others. It should also be noted that all of Green’s restaurants share a commitment to being affordable. There are breakfast items—large portions, I might add—for only $5. Taking the whole family to any of these restaurants won’t break the bank.

We’d be remiss not to mention that Green graciously hosts our annual fundraiser for Primarily Primates at its Pearl location. Fiesta in the Jungle utilizes Green’s vibrantly colored, spacious restaurant and covered patio—treating 150 supporters to a memorable and delicious evening of music, celebration and outrageously good food. The proceeds benefit the 350 animals who reside at our sanctuary, and it’s a not-to-be-missed event that the staff at Green never fail to enhance with their gracious hospitality.

If you’re wondering what’s next, Evans offers a not-so-subtle hint: he “looks forward to the day when there is a Green Vegetarian Cuisine in every major city in Texas.” And we hope—hint, hint!—that someday this plant-based empire expands beyond the lone-star state and comes to a city near you.

Green Downtown at Pearl Brewery

Full Goods Building

200 E. Grayson St.

Suite 120

San Antonio, TX 78215

Phone: (210) 320-5865

Sunday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Monday-Thursday: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday: Closed

Green at Alon

10003 NW Military, Suite 2115

San Antonio, TX 78230

Phone: (210) 233-1249

Sunday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday: Closed

Green Houston

6720 Chimney Rock, Suite Y

Houston, TX 77081

Phone: (832) 649-4184

Sunday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday: Closed

Earth Burger

818 NW Loop 410

San Antonio, TX 78216

Phone: (210) 524-1086

Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Saturday: Closed

Bok Choy

5130 Broadway

San Antonio, TX 78209

Phone: (210) 437-2200

Sunday-Thursday: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Friday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Act•ionLine Autumn 2016

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