Trailer Treasure: Counter Culture
120 E. North Loop Blvd. www.countercultureaustin.com . Hours: Noon to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.
North Loop Boulevard is a land of adventure, where you can carom from the Middle Eastern belly-dance vibe of Phara's to punk-rock pizza at the Parlor to the coffee-shop laissez-faire of Epoch.
For you, maybe adventure means ordering vegan food from a little blue trailer in the parking lot of a convenience store. Welcome to Counter Culture.
The skeptical look on your face? I understand that. In my fast-food days, one of the most awful things we made was a club sandwich on wheat with leaf lettuce and sprouts. Tasted exactly like a hayfield harvest.
Counter Culture has a sandwich like that, a sub called a 'Garbanzo Tuna.' For $6, it's a loose, creamy salad with chunks of garbanzo and celery with a little whiff of the sea that surely my brain conjured up in response to the name. It tastes too righteous for my own good, self-consciously healthy, something for which I couldn't suspend my omnivoral sense of disbelief. For my vegan guest, it's her favorite thing, and she wishes it were called simply 'garbanzo spread,' without the allusion to fin-bearing protein. For her, the sandwich stands on its own merits.
For me, every other part of the menu blasted right past my misgivings with big flavors and robust personality. Lentil soup ($4) packed tomato, celery, spinach and onion into a tangy broth. A salad of the celebrated South American wonder food quinoa and red cabbage ($2 side, $5 full) came alive with a yellow sesame dressing. And a basket of quesadilla triangles ($5) introduced me to buttery cashew 'cheese,' augmented by sun-dried tomatoes and tortillas cooked just enough to crackle.
I also bought completely into the flavors of a strawberry 'cheesecake' ($5), with a beguiling dairy lusciousness at its frozen core and a ground-nut crust that brought home the classic cheesecake cream-and-crunch.
The most illuminating Counter Culture moment came from something called a 'Jackfruit BBQ' sandwich ($6). Jackfruit, about the size of a coconut, is cultivated and used for both sweet and savory dishes in food cultures as far-flung as India, the Philippines and Surinam, where my Surinamese neighbor remembers it in ice cream.
At Counter Culture, the jackfruit is shredded and takes on the consistency of cooked artichoke hearts. The shreds are gathered in generous heaps on a crusty roll, slathered in a dusky red sauce with a sweet tang and stealthy heat. No, it's not barbecued pork. But so what? Good is good.
Good is even better when you can sit at the picnic tables next to the blue fence behind the trailer with something to drink from the North Loop Food Store a few steps away, where Sidral Mundet apple soda and candy-colored bottles of Jarritos are just another part of the North Loop adventure.