Nothing makes me happier than seeing ambitious entrepreneurs/business owners busting their behinds, making things happen. Though an all-you-can-eat vegan and gluten-free buffet does come darn close, and know that I am willing to give up those business values if the grub makes me happily frolic.
Luckily, in this story, I get to have both.
I love when good vegan food surprises people and eradicates its bland, tasteless stereotype. Who needs pork fat? Emeril is so last decade.
At the first of what will be many vegan brunch buffets at Radical Eats' brand new cafe, a steady clientele filled the quaint little Mexican restaurant — which feels more like you are in restaurateur Staci Davis dining room than a casual eatery — and grazed on an appetizing spread of edibles which included cheese grits, rice pudding, stuffed chayote squash, Chiles rellenos with picadillo, refried beans, tofu scramble, coleslaw and spaghetti squash pudding, on the first trip.
The options increased over time. The vegan goddess passed out fried Jambalaya okra — a jumbo-sized vegetable fresh from Hanka Farms she found at Urban Harvest Farmers Market — lightly fried in gluten-free breading. Dipping sauce was available, but none was needed for this perfectly indulgent treat. Davis loves nothing more than trading with farmers and cooking with as many fresh, local ingredients as possible — no shopping list required.
"Opening a restaurant is like having a baby," Davis said. "You think you are done when you give birth, but then the baby starts crying and you can't get enough sleep. Then it begins to walk and talk and do better."
That was followed by an endless supply of spinach and corn tamales, which have become a staple for Davis' fans.
This Sunday, vegan pancakes are supposed to make a fashionable appearance.
Thirsty? From the selection of aguas frescas — watermelon, cantaloupe, peach and Jamaica (hibiscus) — I chose the strawberry horchata. Light, creamy (courtesy of the touch of rice milk) and not too sweet, the refreshing fruity concoction smoothed the flavorful fare.
If you don't make it to the Sunday buffet, I suggest beginning with the jalapeno poppers (filled with vegan cream cheese) and indulging in the fried avocado tacos. The spinach or mushrooms enchiladas are ridiculous — and gluten free — and served with a mole or creamy almond sauce.
I first met Davis at Urban Harvest a few years back when I began my quest to find cruelty-free local food vendors — this is also where I met Brittany Carnes of Sinfull Bakery (remember the cinnamon rolls?) and Pat Greer and her raw vegan kitchen (candy lady turned raw veg). Davis talked about owning her own place and even showed me blueprints of what would become the Heights Ashbury Coffeehouse. She planned on serving her creations there beginning with tacos and tamales, which she did for a couple of weeks when the hangout first opened.
With larger visions, it was the kitchen size and limited access to the facilities that drove Davis' to look for a place exclusively dedicated to Radical Eats. She found the locale in her own neighborhood at 3903 Fulton just north of Downtown Houston. It used to be the home of Kiko's Mexican Cafe and Martinez Cafe, reopening as Radical Eats Cafe on July 3 focusing on comida vegetariana — vegetarian (vegan) Mexican food.
"Opening a restaurant is like having a baby," she said. "You think you are done when you give birth, but then the baby starts crying and you can't get enough sleep. Then it begins to walk and talk and do better. You are all in from the start."
The venue is modestly filled with mismatched tables, comfy seating and sacks of burlap acting as window coverings. Think of it as a melange of a stereotypical Austin down-to-earth scene and an unpretentious workmanlike feel.
Not all of Davis' customers follow a vegan diet or lifestyle, they just like good eats and food is a great catalyst to begin that conversation.
Opening was tough, and at times, Davis questioned whether she should change her hours to accommodate her scarce clientele. It wasn't too long before the word spread about her whereabouts. Her business volume doubled — cleaning out her supplies completely on some days — forcing Davis to close for three-days to re-strategize, reorganize and get ready for the increased traffic.
"This venture has been really expensive," she explained. "I also feel pressure that the people that I am hiring also do well. They have to make a living, too."
Future plans include securing a beer/wine license, sprucing up the exteriors by painting the mural and logo wall, replacing the roof, beginning a coffee program, offering raspas, more desserts, pastries and keeping Radical Eats Cafe open until midnight. Tortas (Mexican sandwiches) will be making a comeback on the menu with bread provided by Slow Dough Bread Company.
Using Kickstarter crowd sourcing funding platform, Davis hopes to gather $8,000 (sponsorship packages range from $5 to $1,000) to transform the patio into a vegetable, beer and wine garden using recycled materials, acquire a water filtration system and invest in air conditioning improvements. She imagines an outdoor area sparkling with Italian lights under a canopy and a whole bunch of veggies growing from which she can create impromptu seasonal dishes.
As with all Kickstarter campaigns, no monies are awarded if the goal isn't reached by the target date of Sept. 11.