With inventive combinations and fresh produce, vegetable-focused dishes have become the stars of the dinner show in Austin.
A pivot toward small plates and more relaxed dining atmospheres has dismantled the traditional “starter, entrée, dessert” concept. An exciting result of this evolution is the increased presence of vegetable-focused dishes. Both a move toward more responsible meat consumption and a bellwether of our booming urban and regional farms, there’s never been a better time to eat your veggies.
At downtown hot spot Swift’s Attic (315 Congress Ave., 512-482- 8842), the decision to serve more vegetable entrées evolved organically. “With local farms giving us consistently great produce, it’s easy to let vegetables anchor the plate,” Executive Chef Zack Northcutt says. With its roasted squash and mushroom dish and barley and couscous risotto hitting top-seller status, Swift’s offers four vegetable plates in seasonal variations.
Chef Sonya Coté’s culinary ode to local farmers at Eden East (755 Springdale Road, 512-428- 6500) is true event dining: Guests arrive at Springdale Farm for upscale locavore fare grown within steps of their seats and served alfresco. “It is a freeing experience to grab the freshest vegetables,” says chef de cuisine Claire Helbig. “We are able to jump on the first crops of the season. The farm setting brings the experience full circle.” Eden East serves simple dishes, like gazpacho, and complex creations, such as the roasted-pear-and-potato vichyssoise. Its twist on the usual potato-and-leek classic contrasts fresh accents of cucumber and green bell peppers with the richness of coconut cream. The BYOB restaurant is open on Friday and Saturday, and advance reservations are required.
Meat takes a backseat at Gardner (1914 E. Sixth St., 512-354-1480), where Andrew Wiseheart and Ben Edgerton, playing against type after their carnivorous work at Contigo, focus on seasonal vegetables for the whole meal. “I enjoy reintroducing root vegetables and brassicas [broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts] for fall dishes,” says Wiseheart. You’ll notice brainy restraint in the beverages as well: Ask your server about Gardner’s food-friendly wines from Oregon’s Teutonic Wine Company and California’s Scholium Project.
Rene Ortiz and Laura Sawicki’s latest hit, Launderette (2115 Holly St., 512-382-1599), showcases more personal cooking, and the large veggie section is no accident. “We approach vegetables in the way we do proteins and use similar cooking techniques,” says Ortiz. Launderette is serious about vegetable variety, offering no fewer than 10 options (11 if you count the frites). While Ortiz’s bold use of flavor was lauded during his tenure at La Condesa and Sway, you’ll find him working more subtly here. Caramelized endive mixes bitterness with salty blue cheese and fragrant thyme, while sticky Brussels sprouts employ an apple-bacon marmalade and pecorino cheese. Only large parties can make reservations, so either arrive early or decompress over a cocktail while waiting to be seated.