Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vegetarian Variety: Mother's Cafe and Garden

Before I moved to Austin, I heard that it boasted more vegetarian restaurants per capita than any other city in the South. That said, in the last year, I've only been to one place with a full vegetarian menu, and that was Veggie Heaven, the hole in the wall across from campus with plenty of cheap veggie-rice-sort-of-curry combos.

Venturing off The Drag and towards Hyde Park, I had the experience of eating at Mother's, which offers a full menu of vegetarian treats and dishes, and guess what? It's not Asian!

It's not that I don't love Asian food. It's just hard to find good vegetarian food that doesn't center around tofu and noodles. (And Veggie Heaven boasts a menu with more than 50 items, but it serves pretty much five dishes with slight variations.) So Mother's is the first vegetarian restaurant in Austin to impress me. That's not to say it's the best vegetarian food I've had, but it's a viable alternative to yet another plate of pad thai.

First of all, Mother's is a beautiful restaurant. Recently renovated, it's very open with huge windows, allowing for plenty of natural light. Colorful local art splashes the walls, and all the furniture is a dark wood. Everything is clean and simple while still pleasing and elegant. Fittingly, it is a good place to take your mother.

It's known for its Spinach Lasagna, but for my first visit, I tried the Mamma's Quiche. On Sundays and Saturdays, Mother's offers a substantial brunch menu, with plenty of omelets and pancakes, but the quiche is on the regular menu all week. It was hearty portion, with a combo of spinach, mushrooms, black olives and green onions, topped with a thick slice of mozzarella and served on a whole wheat crust.

However, as tasty as the quiche was, it was served lukewarm. My guess is that the quiche is made in the morning. Seeing as quiche is served in slices, it makes sense to make it ahead of time, but it should have been heated up sooner to being served.

I tried some of a garden salad with Mother's famous Cashew Tamari dressing (which you can find at Whole Foods and the Wheatsville Coop). Unlike a sweet peanut sauce, this (very) salty dressing has a strong nutty flavor. It's the kind of dressing that adds great flavor, but only small doses. I would recommend it but with the caveat of ordering it on the side.

My other complaint is that many of the portions were almost too small, and some of the dishes probably should come with sides. One friend ordered the Avocado Sandwich, and it was served with two carrot sticks. For such a beautiful place, there just seemed to be something lacking, both in presentation and quality of the food. I'll say, for now, bigger portion sizes would help.

I will add that for American bistro style food, the prices are good. Most of the menu is under $10, and it offers a lot of locally grown vegetables and vegan options. Salads are a good way to supplement the small portions. One large Garden Patch Salad for $5.95 can feed at least four people.

Next time, I'm going to try the Spinach Lasagna, but for now, I say Mother's has a beautiful atmosphere with only somewhat decent food. That said, in comparison with Veggie Heaven, I'm impressed.

The Basics:
Location: 4215 Duvall Avenue, across from Hyde Park Bar and Grill
Hours: Mondays - Fridays 11:15 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Rating: 3 stars
Price: Under $10, more with drinks
Accepts: All major credit cards
Bottom line: Fares well for the frustrated vegetarian looking for variety.

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