Carnivore's Holiday: Counter Culture

A 10-part adventure on the other side of the food chain
Part 6: Counter Culture
2337 E. Cesar Chavez St. 512-524-1540,
Hours: Noon to 10 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Brunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 06.14.12
How badly did Austin want a vegan restaurant on East Cesar Chavez? Enough to pitch in more than $13,000 through Kickstarter to help Sue Davis transform her Counter Culture trailer business into a full brick-and-mortar operation in the former home of Inocente’s Cafe.
Davis opened in April, imprinting the red brick building with her signature design scheme of cool aqua and back-to-the-earth brown. It’s as full-immersion blue as an aquarium, at once peaceful and kind of unnatural, a tilting of the sensory axis that sets you up for the unexpected. Like this, from the website: “Vegan doesn't always mean healthy.” A refreshingly frank statement that makes you ready to embrace the however: “Counter Culture emphasizes nutritious, unprocessed foods.”
What you’re eating: A jackfruit barbecue sandwich ($8 with a side), because “jackfruit” sounds like a drill instructor’s epithet. Also because it’s a damn good sandwich on a sturdy submarine roll, dressed with pickles and shaved onions over resilient shreds that could be chicken or pork but are in fact the milky flesh of a knobby tropical fruit as big as a bowling ball. The sauce brings home the barbecue part, with a smoky balance of sweetness and smoky twang.
Ridgy elbows of rice pasta anchor a dish of macaroni and cheese ($12 with two sides). Cashew sauce provides the texture and calming creaminess of cheese, finished with a toasted crumb topping. It’s as steamy-hot as a Midwestern casserole, with broccoli dodging in and out for show. If you want more than show, the sides can step in with a sprouted quinoa salad mixed with sunflower seeds and raisins or something simple like the sauteed green-of-the-day, a choice that proved unrelentingly bitter and glossy with oil, like the alchemy of cooking hadn’t yet worked its magic.

To squeeze the full life from a vegan experience, embrace the quirky side. Coconut jerky ($6) is like Aunt Patchouli’s health-food substitute for fruit roll-ups. Too thick to be stretchy, too chalky-tannic to be a stand-in for candy. It’s tan and leathery, coconut’s dessicated cousin from Marlboro country. Counter Culture’s real candied delight is a raw “doughnut hole” ($1) rolled from dates, almonds, coconut and pineapple, nothing like a doughnut and as sweet as a tropical truffle. Words can’t describe durian chocolate cheesecake ($6) with a date-nut crust. Yes they can: Take a spring onion and wrap it in wet swimtrunks. Leave it in the car all summer. Now whirl it with chocolate and cashews, pour it into a springform pan and cool it down. Enjoy.
What you’re drinking: The day’s juice blend of kale, pineapple and ginger ($4.50). If you’ve been drinking those super-juices from the grocer’s case, get ready for a freshly-mown jolt of what the real thing tastes like. I might man up for kombucha ($4), but only with a Hops & Grain beer chaser to wash away that dumpster-juice bouquet.
Other options: Counter Culture’s menu is an easy stroll of dips and pates for starters ($5-$7), moving through salads like Garbanzo Tuna and full plates with vegan versions of quiche and pad thai and ravioli ($11-$13). Philly Seitan sounds like a goth wrestler, but it’s a wheat-loaf  sandwich ($8 with a side).
(TOP PHOTO, clockwise from top left: Mac and cheese with quinoa salad and sauteed chard; Counter Culture resides in the former Tex-Mex home of Inocente's Cafe; jackfruit barbecue sandwich with a side of roasted sweet potatoes; the interior draws on the shop's color scheme of aqua and brown. INSET PHOTO: Coconut jerky; durian chocolate cheesecake; doughnut holes. Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)