Where: 3110 Windsor Road, Austin, Texas 78703
Crowd: Mix of local hipsters and young professionals
Vibe: Elegant Austin bistro meets cozy English pub
The Dish and Drink: El Jardinero tacos and the Carmina Prosecco
As I walk up to the front of the restaurant there are already people waiting outside – always a good sign, especially at a vegan restaurant. The Beer Plant only opened a couple of weeks ago so word must have traveled fast. Set inside a shabby shopping center, it's a pleasant surprise to find inside is anything but — a warm, dark, luxurious pub environment.
Beyond the reception area, a gorgeous custom bar wraps from the front of the building all the way to the entrance of the kitchen. Comprising cocktails, wines and a solid selection of craft beers, all drinks are also vegan friendly. The dining room features several timber-plank tables and chairs set over a polished-concrete floor, while overhead black tiles glisten across the ceiling, creating a more intimate, speakeasy vibe. The place is packed, conversation is abuzz and excited noise levels are just a few decibels below deafening.
I take a seat at the bar, order a glass of the Carmina Prosecco, and begin to browse the menu. The beer selection here consists of 31 impressive options, ranging from a Flyin’ Hawaiian Pineapple Double IPA for the adventurous, to a more traditional Live Oak Pilz. For those who like to 'drink local', the vast majority of beers are from breweries in Austin and surrounding areas, while others hail anywhere from Colorado to Belgium.
If beer isn’t your style, fear not. There's a very respectable wine list curated by local spirits expert and author, Francois Pointeau, and the cocktail bar will be serving a line of botanical cocktails come November.
My appetizer arrives – oven-roasted jewel yams with smoked paprika and pesto sauce, as recommended by my waitress. It's not exactly what I expected – the yams are great but the pesto 'sauce' is more of a pesto-esque paste that requires a knife to spread onto the yams. The portion is decent though, and definitely enough for two people to share. While munching on this morsel, I notice the staff are in as high spirits as patrons with cheeky grins and banter back and forth, adding to the overall joviality of the joint.
My entree arrives – the El Jardinero taco plate featuring quinoa chorizo with seared garbanzo bean tempeh, corn tortillas, shredded romaine, pico de gallo, sliced avocado, black bean puree, and queso. Now I see why this place is packed! This is the definition of vegan cuisine done right. The black bean puree is heavenly smooth and rich; the tacos are beautifully presented and, if I were blindfolded, I could've sworn there was shredded pork in them. If all vegan food tasted this good, I'd consider forgoing meat and cheese for good.
Owners Ray and Sarah McMackin have done a cracking job at filling a void in the Austin gastropub scene which, let's be honest, largely revolves around pork. Who knew great beer and delicious plant-based food would work so well together?
If you're driving (or laying off the booze), The Beer Plant also serves locally-brewed hyacinth kombucha and nitro cold-brewed coffee on tap.
Tempted by dessert, I'm told that under the supervision of Chef Lou Mustachio, there is only one menu item that is not made in-house but is seriously irresistible. The 512 Pecan Porter Coconut Ice Cream, created by locally-owned vegan ice cream company Sweet Ritual, which is served with a vegan chocolate brownie. It's legit to die for and I have zero dessert guilt.
After polishing off the remains of dessert and my second glass of prosecco, I make my exit with a newfound appreciation for vegan dining the the vast possibilities. The Beer Plant certainly proves itself as an idyllic hotspot in Austin's restaurant scene for date nights and special occassion dinners, and will become even more accessible when the restaurant's opening hours are extended next month, with the opening of a new outdoor patio. Original yet familiar, The Beer Plant promises to appeal, whatever your animal-eating preferences.