The venerable A Moveable Feast, granddaddy of Houston's health food scene, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The establishment's metamorphosis over that time from a natural foods store with a juice bar into a full-fledged, semi-serve restaurant with an equal following of button-downed corporate types and Birkenstock-sporting health fiends can be seen as an allegory of how mainstream it's become -- even in this steak- and fajita-loving town -- to eschew meat and/or man-made chemicals in one's meals. It's also an allegory of how the flesh eaters have made certain inroads of their own. Suzanne Fain, who owns the restaurant with her husband John, says that with each decision they've made to add menu items that are higher up the food chain -- especially with the addition of the small quantities of fish and chicken they now serve -- they've caught flack from some regulars who are strictly vegetarian. But the Fains remain committed to the belief that they can reach more people with a menu that might be called "left-of-transitional" than if they tried to force a particular dining pattern down people's throats.
Certain standards do apply, though: no meat ever shares the same cooking surface as a vegan dish, and the Fains make sure that their purist customers always have a selection from which to choose. Thus, every day, they offer items that run the gamut from the vegan (absolutely no animal products, including no honey) to the vegetarian (no flesh allowed, but dairy and eggs okay) to the macrobiotic (lots of whole grains, maybe a tiny bit of fish and a pickled vegetable such as seaweed) to the low fat (poultry and fish permitted in small amounts).
Not too long ago, seduced by the bountiful plate served up as the South of the Border special, I eagerly helped a friend dig into a whole wheat tortilla encasing hearty potatoes, couscous and monterey jack cheese. I sampled a salsa -- this version had chunks of tofu in it -- that I will grant the honor of naming the second best in town from a non- Mexican food source (first place is held by Whole Foods Market's house brand, black label). I even met a sprout I like: sunflower. But I left my friend to finish the refried beans herself; wisely, she barely started. They looked like certain stretches of the San Bernard River's bed: dried, cracked and brown.
A more curious selection was the Barbecued Wheat Roast platter. I'm told the wheat roast is made from whole wheat flour, soy meal and peanut butter and cooked in sheets. For this dish, it's merged with a meatless sauce that's tangy in a tomatoey, oniony kind of way. Interesting, but barbecue it ain't.
Oh, well. Here's a toast wishing the good folks at A Moveable Feast another quarter-century of trying to introduce us carnivores to a healthier diet, even if it does involve mixing tomatoes with peanut butter and calling it barbecue.
-- Kelley Blewster
A Moveable Feast, 2202 West Alabama, 528-3585.
A Moveable Feast: South of the Border Special, $7.95 (price varies daily).
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