Carnivore's Holiday: Veggie Heaven

A 10-part adventure on the other side of the food chain
Part 7: Veggie Heaven
1914 Guadalupe St., Suite A. 512-457-1013, no working website.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Monday-Friday. Noon to 8:45 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Update: The Statesman reports that Veggie Heaven will close Dec. 22.
By Mike Sutter | Fed Man Walking | 06.11.12
On a block of MLK at Guadalupe that includes the exotic temptations of three Vietnamese cafes and two Taiwanese restaurants, Veggie Heaven is the multicultural storefront conversion shop for veggie-curious UT freshmen, an unthreateningly shabby sit-down place with wood-paneled walls, low prices and ironi-cute $5 T-shirts.
What you’re eating: The easiest thing to do here is order the Protein 2000 ($6.95). Like driving a 12-year-old Honda Civic, it’s reliable, even if it’s not the flashiest, most efficient thing on the road. It’s a soy version of beef broccoli, more or less, with fried nuggets of tofu in a sweetish brown sauce with onions. But I’d rather drive something with more garden power like the Lucky Seven ($6.95), loaded with cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, broccoli, baby bokchoy and onions. They’re stir-fried al dente in a close cousin to sweet red chile sauce. Dodging in and out of the syrupy traffic are mahogany ping-pong balls with the look and taste of soft-fried falafel. They’re described as “tofu balls made of celery, carrots, chestnut, vegetable protein and breadcrumbs.” Like falafel in every salty sense except actual falafel-ocity. A thoroughly filling but sloshy ride with a bowl of brown rice standard.
Because somebody had to do it, I tried “veggie shrimp.” My vegetarian rule is simple: Vegetables are like dogs. They’re easy to love just like they are. You don’t have to dress them up like people. Maybe that’s my rule for dogs. But still, the point is that vegetarian dishes shouldn’t have to masquerade as meat, and for the love of Aquaman, certainly not as shrimp. Veggie Heaven’s “veggie shrimp” quesadillas ($3.50) mimic their seafaring cousins in every respect: tiny crescents of milky white flesh with coral-pink tiger stripes, firm and clean to the bite, packed between toasted tortillas with sauteed green and red bell peppers, caulked together with melted cheese. And like most shrimp quesadillas, they could do with about twice as much of whatever it is.
What you’re drinking: A milky, mango flavored bubble tea drink with dark berry-flavored tapioca pearls like gummi bears left on the dashboard ($2.50). Fruits include strawberry, blackberry, peach, passion fruit and green apple, with or without black or green tea or milk.
Other options: There are more than 50 main-course dishes, mixing and matching spicy or sweet brown and red sauces with noodles, tofu and the rainbow of stir-fry vegetables in Chinese, Thai, Southwestern, Italian and curry-style sauces. For something under $5, the Open Sesame noodles for $4.50 give you a meal’s worth of vegetables and starch in a format friendly enough for the next class of training-wheel vegetarians.
(Photos by Mike Sutter © Fed Man Walking)