Jun 012014

Local Foods Vegan Chili

My first visit to the new location of Houston’s Local Foods (conveniently located mere blocks from me, much appreciated) was a bit of a menu-browse that included the truffled egg salad sandwich (rich but tasty — it and its pretzel bun grew on me), the Spring Harvest salad (a big jumble of healthy raw veg with just a bit of goat cheese and a grapefruit vinaigrette that I didn’t quite love), a cup of the vegan chili topped with pumpkin seeds and pickled red onion, and an order of the house-made chips (dusted with Old Bay and totally addictive). Oh, and a Mom’s chocolate cupcake.

But it was the vegan chili that got me.

And as with any new obsession, details like the rapidly escalating summer heat (a big bowl of chili on a humid, hot day anyone?), the ever-present and slow-moving line to place an order (bunch of newbies with too many questions and sidebar conversations about whether they should share a dessert), and even the swarm of kids that I encounter at the restaurant on the weekends — these are mere technicalities in my single-minded quest to score another hit of the chili. If I have to order it to-go, bring it home, heat it up, and crank up the A/C, that’s what I’ll do. (Like today, for example.)

Now. Let’s be clear. No self-respecting local would even consider calling this Texas Chili, which is a little funny, given the name of the restaurant. (Though I will give them total credit for not including beans in the vegan chili, which was surely tempting.) It strikes me as vaguely Santa Fe-ish, actually. The chile powder is there, but it’s not strong. There’s a nice amount of tomato — a supporting player, not the lead. And instead of ground beef, there’s some kind of soy crumble that gives great texture and adds plenty of filling heft. But it’s the pumpkin seed and pickled red onion garnishes that make the dish. Crunch and zing perfection.

As an aside, the first time I ordered the vegan chili, I received generous amounts of both garnishes. There have been a couple of times since that one or both garnishes were on the skimpy side. See picture above for an example. Did I mention the place is crawling with kids on Sundays? I was just trying to get out of there with my prized chili, and neglected to ask for more garnishes to go. Which they would have happily provided, I’m sure. Next time. Which should be sooner than later…

I’m told that Local Foods’ posole is also delish. (Thanks for the tip, Curtis!) As soon as my vegan chili obsession abates, I’ll give that posole a go!

Pairing: Shiraz

Spicy foods like chili often mean beer, I realize. But sometimes I’m just in the mood for wine and/or have a bunch of wines that I need to taste through. Either way, I like Shiraz with spicy foods — chili, Tex Mex, barbecue. I’m not talking about the super high alcohol, so jammy you could stand a spoon in them Shiraz. Those wines I don’t much like at all. But a well-made Shiraz, with its concentrated currant fruit and typical black/white pepper kick. Yes, please. Particularly — almost exclusively — when the Shiraz is at a proper cellar temperature of around 55F.

Here are a few I’ve enjoyed lately, including several of my go-to favorites, and one — the Terlato/Chapoutier — that is brand new to me. Enjoy!

d’Arenberg 2009 Shiraz McLaren Vale The Dead Arm ($65). Nothing shy going on here, with full-on, concentrated black currant and black cherry fruit that stays intense through the long finish, with layers of savory/meaty notes like roasted herbs, licorice and smoky minerals. Definite tannins and vibrant acidity will make this one age for a while — at least another 8-10 years. Find it!

Brokenwood 2010 Shiraz Hunter Valley ($36). Liked this a lot — absolutely delicious and intense. Supple and perfectly balanced between lush, deep berry fruit, savory accents (spiced tea, anise, bacon), and a bright, refreshing note on the finish. Wonderful now and should age well for another 5-10 years. Find it!

d’Arenberg 2010 Shiraz McLaren Vale The Vociferate Dipsomaniac ($85). I think they’ve jumped the shark on wine names with this one (thought I’m sure there’s a charming story behind it), but I cannot deny that it’s a fantastic wine! Concentrated, lifted red fruit — cherry, currant, wild strawberry — with delicate white pepper, toast, fresh herbal/floral notes. Elegant and distinctive. Find it!

Langmeil 2010 Shiraz Barossa Valley Floor ($29). Intense Barossa character here — unmistakeably so — with concentrated black cherry and berry layered with licorice, grilled meat, a touch of eucalyptus, and a spicy, peppery kick through the finish. Find it!

Jim Barry 2010 Shiraz Clare Valley The Lodge Hill ($20). Exceptional value here — beautifully made, offering ripe currant and cassis notes, with dashes of cracked pepper and a lush, lingering finish. Ripe and pretty — not jammy or over-the-top. Should age nicely for another few years. Find it!

Penley 2010 Shiraz Coonawarra Hyland ($20). Focused and food-friendly, with appealing acidity and mineral notes accenting bright red berry flavors. Smooth finish picks up a touch of creamy vanilla. Find it!

Yalumba 2009 Shiraz-Viognier Eden Valley ($19). Gorgeous! Smooth and silky from start to finish, with intense, lifted red cherry and currant fruit layered with an array of savory/spicy notes that linger on the bright, evolving finish. Find it!

Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier 2012 Shiraz Viognier Victoria ($18). This wine is a collaborative effort between two renowned wine families: Chapoutier from the Rhône Valley in France, and Terlato of Napa Valley in California. And it’s a knockout (and at a great price!), offering a balanced, vibrant array of concentrated flavors — red cherry, rhubarb, warm spice, sweet smoke. Picks up light mineral notes on the focused finish. Very nice. Find it!

Yalumba 2011 Shiraz South Australia Y Series ($12). A solid everyday red — and totally workable with summer grilling. With bright red cherry/currant flavors laced with warm spices and a light floral note. Even at this price, it has the brightness to age quite nicely, so stock up! Find it!

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