One of the many interesting aspects of living in an “up-and-coming” Houston neighborhood is watching new, notable eating and entertainment spaces open. Since relocating to EaDo roughly three years ago, my husband and I have had the pleasure of seeing restaurants like Nancy’s Hustle and East End Hardware open and flourish.
Now, one more can be added to that list: Soul Food Vegan, which proffers soul food classics devoid of any meat, dairy, or soy. It has vegans, vegetarians, and even curious die-hard carnivores flocking to the Third Ward to see if jackfruit “ribs” can actually taste just like pork.
No fewer than five people whose food opinions I respect recommended I try Soul Food Vegan’s signature platter, which includes a choice of fried cauliflower steak, oyster mushrooms, or jackfruit ribs (when in season) served with mac 'n' cheese, collard greens, and dirty rice.
Having enjoyed some jackfruit ribs a while back courtesy of a talented home cook, I was game to order the platter if only to see if Soul Food Vegan could also approximate the taste and texture of pig flesh with some assistance via heavy seasoning and sauce. Unfortunately, they were unavailable during my visit, so I changed course entirely, ditching my platter plans and instead focusing on evaluating SFV’s barbecue fried mushrooms and Cajun Beyond Burger.
I was very satisfied with my generous portion of juicy oyster shrooms, heavily cloaked in a thick peppery cornmeal batter and doused in sweet barbecue sauce with just a hint of vinegar. Because the mushrooms weren’t intended to masquerade as meat, this dish is perhaps not the best testament of SFV’s ability to create vegan versions of traditional soul animal proteins. But I do know that battered mushrooms that have decent flavor and don't separate from their fried casing (forcing you to eat both separately) can be hard to find, so in that regard, kudos to Soul Food Vegan.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the Cajun Beyond Burger, Chef Taliek and his team have a ways to go if they're trying to mimic a cow patty with Beyond Meat beef. My cajun-style burger tasted funky, had the texture of a tennis shoe's damp sole, and was no way improved by the addition of bland melted cashew cheese and SFV’s ubiquitous barbecue sauce. Other purveyors of great vegan food such as Local Foods have shown me that with the proper treatment, both Beyond Meat beef and cashew cheese can be delicious.
I ardently support Soul Food Vegan’s mission to “end food deserts, combat nutritional deficiencies, and provide plant-based, alkaline goodness with a soulful twist.” But if they are to thrive in the long term, tweaking is required of some of the fundamentals.