The Spiral Diner — Dallas and Fort Worth, TX — Review

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The Spiral Diner, Dallas & Fort Worth

1314 W. Magnolia
Fort Worth, TX

1101 N Beckley
Dallas, TX

817.3.EatVeg

~$15 USD/person with drinks (dinner)

Restaurant Type : Fine Dining | Casual
Diamonds : ♦♦♦♦♦

Texas isn’t the first place that springs to your mind when you think of vegetarianism.

I mean, after driving past miles of ranch, and walking past the stockyards in Fort Worth, my partner and I are in righteous vegan mode. We’re hot blooded and pissed off as we stumble out of the car for lunch. Our doors slam, and dust billows up off the road in a red mist that perfectly suits my mood.

A few minutes later, after I sit down and order, and my sandwich calls me a JERK, but I love him anyway.

Spiral Diner Jerk Tofu Sandwich

Sliding into a booth in the Spiral Diner is sliding into an alternate Texas, where the battle of the Alamo was won, and the state became an independent vegetarian republic. All of the best stereotypes of the South, good manners, hospitality, and pecan pie, are served up in droves—but there’s no bovine martyrdom in sight.

In fact, in case I give the wrong impression, all across Texas we would stumble across vegan versions of classic American food—burgers with enough mayo to cause a heart-attack, burritos with enough salsa to lift your head off your shoulders, and too many kinds of deep fried to enumerate. But I think The Spiral Diner was our favourite.

And I have to say it came as a surprise—I mean, I love old chrome and juke-boxes as much as the next person, but I’ve always wondered why people go on about diner food?

But it turns out there’s an answer to that: Anthropologically speaking, everything on the diner menu has a reason to be there: a biological craving for grease, salt, and sugar; that’s coupled with social conditioning that equates food like burgers and soda-pop with comfort and normalcy. I guess in the past either my innate snobbery, or my abnormal upbringing inoculated me from the diner’s charms. But at the Spiral Diner, that love and love handles recipe comes with conscience, honesty, and heapings of delicious. I’m more than smitten.

Visiting was wish fulfilment—for those of old enough to remember “Cheers,” that place where everyone knows your name; or whoever’s watched Elaine order a “Big Salad” on Seinfeld—it’s that kind of place. It’s the kind of place where you can sit and hang with your buds and not worry about the noise you’re making. Where you can drink too much soda, or coffee, and then go ahead and order a beer or a milkshake. Where they scowl at you if you hoard a table when it’s busy, but let it slide if your a regular, and welcome you when it isn’t.

I’ve eaten at other places that strive for the diner aesthetic—mostly punk greasy spoons, all around the world. I love their politics, and sometimes the food—but I can’t say I enjoy the grubby washrooms, lackadaisical service—and well I love punk music, I have to confess sometimes it’s a little heavy for breakfast.

And I’ve eaten at a few other ‘upscale’ vegan diners—I’d like to think that they’re somebodies favourite place—but the last time I was at the Chicago Diner—I decided that for all the praise others lavish on it—I’ll never eat there again. My own food was expensive and tasteless, fried within an inch of it’s life and had lumpy ‘gravy’ that tasted of rancid fat smeared all across the top.

In sum: a diner has to be more friendly than trendy, that is, it has to be straightforward and honestly delicious food. And the Spiral seems to deliver on this at both of it’s two locations, in Dallas, and in Fort Worth. Both rooms are cleverly decorated with period details, but the Fort Worth branch is my favourite. It’s in a historic nook of the city, tucked away from the main tourist hang-out (the stockyards). On a street lined with genteel brick buildings, more convincingly Main St. USA than anything you’ll find at Disneyland, the Spiral Diner is takes up the first floor of an historic building with pressed tin ceilings and a great arts-and-crafts door handle.

The space opens up into Formica tables and comfortable booths. When we sit down and order at one, our server is a huge bear of a man with a full beard and tattooed knuckles. When he smiles, he bares a mouth full of teeth, but when he says “What would y’all like this morning?” His warmth is friendly and genuine. He helps us pick out a jerk-tofu sandwich and a chipotle quesadilla, which we hope will leave us room for dessert. They come with a side of fruit or salad, and each cost around $9. At almost $10, they’re some of the more expensive items on the menu—burgers a steal at $7.25, heaped with toppings—prices aren’t fast-food level, but are remarkably inexpensive given the fact that nearly all organic ingredients are used.

And while sometimes I find the page in the menu that extols the virtues of a restaurant a little cloying, I appreciate the Spiral’s glossary, which does a good job of informing on quinoa without coming off cutesy or condescending. It’s the type of thing that might induce your skeptical mom to eat it for the first time: “pronounced “keen-wah”. it is a tiny seed that can be used interchangeably with rice, although it is technically not a grain. quinoa is called the “perfect protein” because it contains all of the essential amino acids humans need. it is a good source of fiber, iron, and protein, and it is gluten-free.” Better yet is their huge beer list—full of local vegan-friendly brews, for less than $4 a pint.

Spiral Diner Quesadilla

The quesadilla lands on our table first, and it delivers everything you’d expect. Tart creamy cheeze is set off by the smoky heat of the chipotle, while the vegetable and tofu fillings are just grace notes to the main event. It comes with a host of sides—sour cream and gaucamole—for me, it’s creaminess overload, but my partner just sighs happily, and meows down. Which is good, because it means she’s too full to eat more than a nibble of my sandwich.

Which really, is a thing of beauty. On weird (but tasty) multi-grain bread that is nutty and rough against my tongue, it’s a simple affair of grilled tofu, jerk sauce, mayo and pineapple. There are pickles and lettuce on the side, but I take my first bite without them, and decide there is enough going on. Sweet and rich nutmeg and allspice work to tame the white heat of habernos, while the tomato based sauce and the pineapple give the whole thing tang. There’s something almost Juicy Fruit about it—that sort of WTF flavour that leaves your taste-buds guessing—but the drama stops short of artificiality. It makes me taste the Caribbean, and remember meals eaten gratefully after long days spent diving. I appreciate it’s scale as well, it’s not gigantic. I don’t have to crush it in my hands to fit it into my mouth. And even if I’m sad when I’m through, I know another bite would have left me with no room for dessert.

And what a desert—a warm chocolate chip cookie at the bottom of a hot fudge sunday—it takes me back to childhood. It’s too sweet. It’s so rich. It’s melty and incredible all the way down. It leaves me happy and lethargic, all anxiety about the state of the world forgotten. When the server drops off the cheque, I’m a million miles away, staring out the window with a stupid grin on my face.

“I’m glad y’all enjoyed it.” He claps me on the shoulder.

Cookie Sunday

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§ 3 Responses to The Spiral Diner — Dallas and Fort Worth, TX — Review"

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