Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, November 07, 2002
Spiral Diner
Jamaican jerk BBQ sandwich $6
Luv Us hummus andsweet potato wrap $6
Spicy peanut greens $6
Spiral no-cheesecake $3.25
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Tread Lightly

Spiral Diner makes a big impact on your taste buds without angst for animals.

By NANCY SCHAADT

Spiral Diner

Fort Worth Rail Market, 1401 Jones St, FW. 817-3EATVEG (332-8834). Mon-Sat 10am-7pm, Sun 11am-5pm. D, MC, V.

There was a tribe of indigenous people who traveled the coast of Baja California in pre-Cortesian times, perhaps thousands of years ago. The only evidence of their passage is paintings in rock shelters of animals and celestial images. Literature in the Casa de la Cultura in Todos Santos (near Los Cabos on the southern end of the peninsula) notes that these people “walked so gently on Mother Earth that nothing remains but the rock art.”

Veganism also treads gently. The food is plant-based, with no animal products whatsoever — so no grazing land was needed for beef cattle or dairy cows, pigs, or sheep. No laying hens were confined to a cage for the duration of their lives. Vegans need only fruits, vegetables, and grains.

The uninitiated might fear that a restaurant’s strict adherence to animal-free and minimally processed foods would produce dull or unpalatable cuisine. But Cowtown’s new vegan eatery, in the Fort Worth Rail Market, serves neither. With the exception of the Spiral burger, every item sampled was fresh, packed with flavor, and anything but ordinary. The wrap sandwiches were stuffed with innovative ingredients like pumpkin and hummus as well as steamed and raw vegetables; textured soy protein is also employed to great effect.

Spiral Diner’s cuisine is best when it is influenced by Eastern and Middle Eastern dishes, not when it imitates familiar foods. Take the tasteless, spongy Spiral Burger, for example.

A vegan burger does not taste like a burger nor does its consistency correctly mirror meat. The patty is a textured soy protein combined with wheat gluten, then flavored. The texture of the Spiral Burger was not unlike hard tofu studded with denser particles. The best part of the burger was the soft whole-wheat bun.

For a less-processed hot sandwich, the jerk barbecue sandwich was a winner — a tempeh patty infused with sweet barbecue sauce and served on wheat bread. Tempeh, made from soy protein and five grains, including wheat, barley, and rice, is like the color beige. It flatters whatever it’s placed or flavored with. The sandwich had a nutty, chewy, sweet and tender blend of flavors and textures.

The über-healthy wraps will lure me back to the rail market. The staff stuffs a maximum number of ingredients into a plate-sized spinach tortilla. The Luv us hummus even has a story. Co-owner Amy McNutt got the recipe from a friend who adheres to the ancient Chinese belief that one should eat 50 flavors a day. “The goal is a diverse diet,” McNutt said. Luv us includes baked sweet potato, hummus (ground chickpeas with sesame butter and spices), steamed vegetables (mine had carrot), cucumber, avocado, greens, and spicy walnuts. One wrap and a helping of potato salad with vegan (soy) mayo was as much food as this notoriously big eater needed.

The Mediterranean wrap was juicy and overflowing with hummus and black olives, avocado, cucumber, greens, carrot, and tomato. It’s another dish worth eating on culinary merits. That it’s good for your body and good for your psyche is icing on the cake.

Another dish I’d order again: the spicy peanut greens with collard greens, steamed broccoli, and carrot over buckwheat soba noodles. The peanut sauce was reminiscent of a good Thai dish.

As for desserts, Spiral cheesecake will do if you absolutely, positively, must have dessert immediately. If you can hold off, stick with the real thing because the Spiral version tasted like sweet tofu topped with sour fruit preserves. Neither horrid nor memorable.

The rail market, located next to the Fort Worth Intermodal Transportation Center (which means it has bike racks and bus service), should be a monument to smart urban development. With the goal of living gently for just a day, I forswore driving and wearing leather products (except my Birkenstock sandals). I rode my bike from a neighborhood near downtown Dallas to a Dallas Area Rapid Transit station, then took the TRE to the rail market, had lunch, did a little shopping, checked out the public art, and headed home. The experience was abundantly satisfying. The commuter train was clean and punctual, and the market, although humble, was worth the trip. If you haven’t been, the market has all manner of foodstuffs from Texas wines at one end to a produce market at the other with a coffee shop and Spiral Diner in the middle.

The plaza between the transportation center and the rail station has public art ranging from large clay bas-relief sculptures of African American history to Monopoly-like floor tiles with witty phrases. I particular liked the clay tile pointed out in this paper’s Best of-the-West-O-Plex issue: a triangle connecting three Texas food groups: TX MX (Tex Mex), BBQ, and CFS (chicken-fried steak).

Spiral Diner demonstrates the culinary depths possible within the confines of a vegan diet. But visit for foods that this place does right, like the Luv us hummus or peanut greens, not an unsatisfactory ersatz burger.


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