Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, September 15, 2004
Owner Amy McNutt serves peanut butter pie to Ben Holland and Cathy McConnell.( photo by Jerry W. Hoefer)
Spiral Diner
Country Skillet Burrito $6.75
McNut Burger $6.75
Jamaican Jerk
BBQ San’ich $7.50
Spiral Masala $8.50
Sketti & Meatballs $7.75
Tight Spiral

Fort Worth’s only vegan establishment moves into new digs and expands its menu of meat-free delicacies.


Spiral Diner

1314 Magnolia Av, FW. 817-3-EAT-VEG (817-332-8834). Tue-Thu 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11am-midnight, Sun 10am-8pm, closed Mon. All major credit cards accepted.

At some point, not eating meat became categorized in social terms as a political or spiritual exercise. Those who do not eat meat sometimes think of themselves as closer to a vision of what humans truly ought to be, not harming animals and having a clean digestive system while recycling continuously. Those on the other side of the fence see these non-meaty folks as goofy un-American lefties who deride the beauty of the T-bone steak and chicken legs and lean toward socialist lunacy.

This can get kind of ridiculous. Any human who falls over from a heart attack — or from protein deficiency — will find his body, if left on the ground for a period of time, eaten by all sorts of animals, the same animals who ought not to be eaten, according to the goofy leftists. And the bugs and the birds don’t care whether your diet consisted mostly of bean sprouts or bacon.

But what is lost in this philosophical windmill of eating habits is whether non-meat cooking is any good. Not good for you, mind you, but whether it tastes good. Can a sandwich made with a soy burger-style patty taste as good or better than the one made from ground-up cow? Does a stir-fry need sautéed chicken or beef to complete the flavors? And God help me for pointing this one out, but can you make a decent Texas-style chili without any meat seared in suet?

Fort Worth’s only vegan restaurant, the Spiral Diner, has just moved from the downtown Fort Worth Rail Market to new digs at Sixth Street and Magnolia Avenue in the Hospital District. And while the clientele and the people who work there may have that lovable lefty goofiness surrounding them, the eatery is doing some things that many vegan food establishments fail to do: creating food that is good enough to put the political and spiritual debates in the background.

Spiral Diner is vegan, not vegetarian, meaning that meat is only the beginning of what they eschew. The place serves no animal products whatsoever — no cheese, nothing with gelatin, not even anything with honey (blessed be the bees). The problem with other vegan restaurants I’ve been in is that instead of coming up with original recipes, they start with traditional dishes and simply substitute tofu wherever meat or cheese is used. What comes out of those kitchens is usually rather boring dishes dominated by tofu or beans, with unoriginal seasoning.

Spiral Diner does a little of its own replicating, but the end results are dishes that taste original and have distinct flavor. Since moving to the new location, the restaurant has doubled its menu and added coffee and espresso drinks as well as beer and wine. The new atmosphere is homey, with an open kitchen visible from all the tables and some new artwork hanging on the silvery walls.

We started with hummus, the spread made from garbanzo beans and tahini. Spiral Diner’s version, with just the right blend of garlic and lemon juice, was smooth and puckered the mouth and was served with pieces of soft, doughy pita bread. We then tried the Spiral Masala, a stir-fry combination of Yukon gold potatoes, chickpeas, and broccoli, topped with carrots, red onions, and toasted almonds, and served over jasmine rice. A touch of Indian spices gave everything a spicy, smoky bite. Next was the Sketti & Meatballs, a pasta dish that used organic artichoke spaghetti, tomato sauce, and soy-based “meatballs.” The noodles had a nice al dente texture, while the meatballs were firm and juicy. The tomato sauce was a little bland, but pine nuts and a touch of chunky pesto sauce drizzled over the top helped make up for it.

The sandwiches and burrito wraps were also solid. Loaded with veggie sausage, tofu, and potatoes, the Country Skillet Burrito was as filling and decadent-tasting as a Big Mac. The McNut Burger was thicker than most veggie burgers and had a nice sunflower seed taste. The Jamaican Jerk BBQ San’ich was perfection — a marinated multi-grain slab of a spicy, grilled meat-looking thing topped with pineapple and served on organic wheat bread. Unlike traditional jerked dishes, the sandwich wasn’t especially spicy-hot, but the mixture of barbecue sauce and pineapple provided a great sweet-and-peppery flavor.

The only problem is the service, and not in the usual way. Spiral Diner has decided not to use servers, meaning that customers must order at the counter and then wait for the food to be brought to the tables. This works fine when there is no crowd. But when there are people waiting behind you, as you peruse a giant menu — with appetizers, burritos and sandwiches, salads, and dinner entrées, as well as drinks — the experience is uncomfortable. It would be nice to have drinks brought to you at your table while you read the menu.

The reason for the lack of servers, we were told, is that the restaurant doesn’t want its employees ordered around by other people, because all living things are equal blah, blah, blah. Gag me with a rutabaga. Socio-political stuff aside, Spiral Diner is still a great place. The food is original and very good and healthy. The prices are reasonable. The people who work there are friendly. That’s good enough reason to go vegan, at least once in awhile.

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