Austin is a foodie’s mecca and a vegetarian’s delight – but how do you make the best culinary choices from the staggering variety at your disposal if you had but one weekend to enjoy it and the constraint of a Sunday afternoon flight to catch? Do you flood your brain with the sensual pleasures of Baked Brie with Apple Chutney from East Side Café and spark a frenzy on your tongue with the spicy Chilango Margarita from El Chile Cantina Y Café? Do you hit the trailers on S. Congress to munch on The Mighty Cone’s Fried Avocado Cone and round it out with Nomad Dosa’s close-to-authentic Masala Dosas (Indian crepes), or do you while away your Sunday brunch in the innards of Mexico slow-dancing with Fonda San Miguel’s breath-taking variety of brunch buffet options? Oh what a pleasant sort of dilemma to be in. Here is just one of many ways to while away your foodie weekend in Austin, without needing to actually step into an all-vegetarian restaurant:
Friday Evening Pleasures at Uchiko
Uchiko is chef Tyson Cole’s second culinary gift to Austin (with Uchi being the first). Uchiko sits in a strip of North Lamar across from Central Market. It serves “Japanese farmhouse dining,” and originally was meant to serve up a menu that overlapped significantly with Uchi’s. But Top Chef winner Paul Qui’s deft artistry and Tyson Cole’s vision and guidance have given Austin a different gift that has equally long wait times and is equally as popular as Uchi. For a vegetarian, it definitely has fewer options than Uchi itself, but happily for us, Uchiko is glad to accommodate vegetarians, recommend dishes and modify certain other menu offerings as well! Start your culinary journey then, with the Shishito Yaki (grilled shishito peppers with a spicy sauce) and the Brussel Sprouts fried to perfection and served with a tiny hint of a sweet glaze and lemon chili. Allow your taste buds to be just a little confused with this attack of sweet and hot. Follow it up with the delectable Avo Fry roll and maybe a selection from the menu of the day. Dessert at Uchiko can be hit or miss with the Fried Milk dessert and Sarsaparilla Custard being debatable choices for the most part. The Tobacco Cream is a safer bet for most!
Saturday Brunch @ Chez Zee
Saturday offers a whole new culinary adventure. Brunch at Chez Zee, the cute restaurant off 2222 and Mopac is always an attractive option. The ambience is lovely, with a well-decorated homely French bistro feel to it. The Portabellino Benedict (with sautéed artichoke hearts, asparagus, bell peppers and mushrooms, two poached eggs and charred lemon hollandaise sauce) is a good way to kick off brunch at the well-lit Crescent room of Chez Zee, or maybe even at an outside table. The Goat-Cheese and Tomato Omelette (ask them to hold the bacon and sausage) is another decent option worth trying. The Crème Brulee French toast (served with a side of Meyer’s rum sauce or with a platter for potatoes, eggs, fruits, etc) may be the touted king of brunch there, but the Bed in Breakfast option is the less-publicized, but probably even better option! This one is a challah bread French Toast (dipped in cream, egg, vanilla and cinnamon butter), with the two slices sandwiching a mix of sliced strawberries and other fruits, dusted with a smattering of sugar. It’s overall not too sweet and the perfect note with which brunch should be ended!
Saturday Dinner @ Elizabeth Street Café, Dessert at Gordough’s trailer
Elizabeth Street Café elicits mixed reactions from most people but is still pretty popular. It can be perceived as overpriced Vietnamese fare because the menu really offers the same old Banh Mis, Phos, etc. However, I will give them extra points for the ambience (location does matter in this case) and for the quality of the food itself. Wait times can be long but they are gracious enough to let you order appetizers along with your drinks when you are waiting outside. Vegetarians could completely be torn between the delicious Roasted Tofu and Grilled Mushroom Bun (rice vermicelli bowl with lettuce, herbs, cucumber, carrot, roasted peanuts, etc) and the equally tasty Grilled Lemongrass Tofu and Mushroom Banh-Mi. That still leaves a few more choices on the menu for vegetarians to come back and try another time. Follow-it up with all kinds of fried donuts with a variety of toppings, from Gordough’s trailer next door.
Lazy Sunday Brunch @ Olivia
Olivia started off with high expectations, received withering reviews on many forums and sites, then seems to have corrected itself to align with expectations. It is no longer the high-end continental restaurant that people expected of it (there have been tales of over-salted risottos and blah pastas from back in 2008 and 2009), but is now known to provide fresh bistro fare in a warm setting. Set in a modern glass-walled structure on S. Lamar, Olivia boasts it’s own vegetable garden and poultry coup (fashioned from a truck) in the back. It’s not easy to compete with a brunch at Chez Zee (and some other good places in Austin), but Olivia puts up a solid fight to get into the best brunch spots list. The Spinach Omelette is tasty, although asking for an egg-whites only option drastically reduces it’s size. The Eggs Florentine (minus the pork belly) is another delicious item on the menu for vegetarians. The French Toast at Chez Zee is a tough act to follow, so if you are in the mood for taking it easy, even the glass of fresh orange juice could round out your brunch at Olivia with a sweet note!
If it is time to catch a flight, then one of Austin’s many coffee shops (Mozart’s is my favorite for the view) can provide a slight reprieve from a food-filled weekend before you hop on that plane with a satisfied belly!