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Fat City

Vegetarian soul food? Naturally Yours serves up "buffalo things" and smothered steaklet

My lentil soup comes to the table piping hot. It has a vaguely Indian aroma; there's cumin in it for sure, and maybe a little curry powder? The beans are cooked very soft, and the flavor is lovely. Hot soup on a cold winter night really hits the spot, which is no doubt why January has been designated National Soup Month.

For my entrée, I order the vegetarian smothered steak with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The fake meat is something called a steaklet, and it tastes just like meat loaf. No fooling! There's some kind of fake gravy too, made with a vegetable stock, I guess. The mashed potatoes and sautéed squash, carrots and onions are real. Eaten together, the fake ground meat and mashed potatoes manage to register on the palate as comfort food. I'd put this right up there with my top vegetarian restaurant dinner experiences.

The veggie burger, which is called a Garvey burger, is also pretty impressive. First, it's huge. Plus, Naturally Yours makes its own patties, so they taste fresher than the frozen ones. I once did a tasting of ten top-selling veggie patties, so I know how bad this stuff gets. The Garvey is one of the best. That doesn't mean you're going to swear you're actually eating a hamburger. It just means that the average meat lover could choke one down on a slow day. In my book, that's saying a lot.

If you have to eat a veggie burger, the Garvey -- with its fresh-made patty -- is one of the best.
Deron Neblett
If you have to eat a veggie burger, the Garvey -- with its fresh-made patty -- is one of the best.

Details

713-520-0924. Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 6 p.m.

Lentil soup: $4.95
Buffalo things: $6.95
Garvey burger: $6.50
Vegetarian smothered steak: $8.95
Hormone-free sirloin: $11.95

4830-A Almeda

I was delighted to see that Naturally Yours also sold real meat. Oddly, my friend's hormone-free sirloin is by far the worst thing we sample. He ordered it medium-rare, but it comes to the table about five minutes past well done. That doesn't matter much anyway, because the steak is a mess of gristle and chewy fat drenched in a dark brown steak sauce. It's completely inedible.

"Your fake meat tastes more like meat than my steak," he observes.

"What kind of steak sauce is that, A1 or HP?" we ask a waitress.

She says she doesn't know. She doesn't eat meat.

"That figures," grumbles the steak eater.

"That'll teach you to order meat in a restaurant run by vegetarians," the fake-burger eater opines.

Some vegetarians like meat-substitute cuisine; others find it lame. If you're a meat substitute-loving vegetarian (or a meat eater cutting down on cholesterol), I highly recommend Naturally Yours. As unlikely as vegetarian soul food might sound, it's one of the best approaches to vegetarian cooking I've tasted. Covered in barbecue sauce or spicy chicken wing dip, or gravy and mashed potatoes, the texturized vegetable protein patties recede into a larger whole of familiar flavors where they can be more easily mistaken for actual meat.

I order another beer in honor of the upcoming Healthy Weight Week (sponsored by the Healthy Weight Journal, www.healthyweight.net). Its organizers argue that dieting is a waste of time and that we should focus on healthy lifestyle habits instead. I'll drink to that! They're also the sponsors of the January 22 Rid the World of Fad Diets and Gimmicks Day, dedicated to exposing quackery in the weight loss field.

Speaking of quackery, I got a shock the morning after my dinner at Naturally Yours. Sitting at my kitchen table reading the paper and eating my oatmeal (yes, January is National Oatmeal Month, www.quakeroatmeal.com), I read that the "fattest city" designation is not based solely on obesity. The magazine also factors in the number of fast-food joints per capita, TV viewing habits, climate, air quality, average commute time, parklands and other quality-of-life indexes.

I threw down my spoon in disgust. (I never did like oatmeal anyway.) Forget about dieting -- and healthy lifestyles, too. The only way to get Houston off the top of this fat-city list is to jackhammer up the freeways, turn the oil refineries into parks, stop watching TV, oh, and change the climate.

Men's Fitness magazine, by the way, is headquartered in the San Fernando Valley, a Los Angeles suburb best known for gridlock, perma-smog and warring Latino street gangs.

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