The Fast Foodie

1017 N. Flores
Several months ago, as remodeling began on a building on North Flores just a few short blocks from I-35, I noticed a banner announcing it as the future home of Green, San Antonio’s first vegetarian restaurant. In a city proud of its barbacoa and beef fajitas, I was curious to see what the reaction would be to this shot across the bow. From the crowd I observed the first week, business looks promising.

I went for lunch on Friday and noticed cars taking turns pulling into the undersized parking lot only to get stuck and then have to force their way out past more cars trying to get in. The parking issue is annoying but can be circumvented by parking in the empty field next door.

The design and restoration of the building is modern, much like a loft, with brick walls, large glass windows, and pastel colors. The restaurant’s pace is brisk. Upon entering the front door you immediately step in line to order. Booths line the left wall, creating a cool diner atmosphere. The kitchen is on the right in plain view behind the register, where the chef does his legerdemain, converting many familiar meat-based dishes into healthier vegetarian versions. Examples include the chicken-fried wheat-meat, buffalo tofu fingers, a sliced wheat-meat Reuben sandwich, vegan biscuits and gravy, and a textured vegetable protein BBQ sandwich. This casual, comfort-food approach to vegetarianism may not go down well with serious food snobs — in part because the building’s design is so fantastic it raises the expectation for a more formal dining experience and, perhaps, a menu that isn’t held prisoner to performing a bait-and-switch with traditional meat dishes. Having said that, in my opinion this issue should be inconsequential assuming people know what to expect.

After we ordered at the register we found a booth in the back and waited for our food to arrive. We drank our lattes (the foam was just right) and took a moment to observe the diverse clientele, which ranged from a few vegan punks wearing hoodies and drinking coffee while enjoying the free Wi-Fi on their laptops to rich architect types driving Range Rovers.

Before the food arrived I went back to the counter and was able to chat briefly  with chef and owner Mike Behrend. Two years ago he converted to vegetarianism, lost more than 90 pounds, and now runs marathons. He believes strongly in a vegetarian diet and this passion is a driving force behind the creation of Green.

Back at the booth the food arrived very quickly. I had the Portobello steak plate and chose brown rice and green beans for my two sides. The Portobello had an enticing balsamic glaze with caramelized onions. The portions were not large, but appropriate. The grilled provolone and cheddar sandwich with tomato and basil was also well received, and the carrot cake may be the best thing on the menu.

A few issues, such as the booths being too short and food-delivery confusion, are minor and should be easily fixed once the place is open for a few weeks. There are several items on the menu I look forward to trying next time for breakfast, such as the sweet-potato pancakes and the “steak-n-eggs.”