Cauliflower is the unlikely vegetable rock star, moving from trendy dish to restaurant menu staple. In season year-round, pale and brainy, it's been embraced by restaurants that wouldn't give another vegetable a second look. And they're not just steaming the cauliflower and slapping it on the plate as a side. They're putting it on the center of the plate and making the most of its firm texture to do all sorts of magical things, from mimicking rice in a risotto dish to grilling it like a steak.
Q. What's the nicest thing you can say about a vegetable? A. It's meaty.
Here are 10 restaurants doing creative things with cauliflower:
Black Walnut Cafe
Small Houston-based chain is on the forefront of a trend of shredding cauliflower into small grain-like bits and treating it as if it were rice. Among its dishes introduced in the spring is a surprisingly creamy "risotto" made with cauliflower and topped with blackened salmon. Cauliflower rice is also on the menu at Snappy Salads and at Pok the Raw Bar in West Village. You can buy it pre-shredded in a bag at Trader Joe's.
18th & Vine
Upscale barbecue joint in Uptown Dallas is, surprisingly, not the first upscale barbecue restaurant to grill a mighty slab of cauliflower as if it were a steak. That credit goes to Woodshed Smokehouse, Tim Love's restaurant off the Trinity Trails in Fort Worth. Both cut a wide cross-section to mimic the size of a thick steak. They marinate it, then smoke it, so you get all the same flavors you'd get from a slab of meat. The cooked center is as juicy as a steak done rare.
Harwood District restaurant has a patio for miles and won CultureMap's Tastemaker award for best bar. Its menu of elevated bar snacks includes standards like wings, spinach-artichoke dip, a charcuterie board, and fried calamari. Its Kung Pao cauliflower takes the flavors of the classic Chinese kung pao chicken — peanuts and chili — and applies them to cauliflower clusters enrobed in a thick crunchy batter. You can get a single serving for $10 or a larger one for the group to share for $35.
House of Blues/Foundation Room
Foundation Room is the formerly private now-sultry nightclub tucked inside the House of Blues, where you can have a better-than-bar-food dinner Wednesday through Sunday nights. Its tempura cauliflower alone is reason enough to go. The tempura crust is super crunchy, while the cauliflower inside is just on the brink of tender and firm. The presentation in a balsa-wood circular box, lined with paper, is pretty, and it comes with two sauces: aioli and ponzu sauce.
Chic restaurant-bar on Garland Road brings a much-needed place for ultra hipsters who live east of White Rock Lake and have nothing else. The cocktails are stunning, and the menu is definitely not your typical bar food. They do a cauliflower hash, served in one of those mini ironstone pans, with chunks of cauliflower spiced up with bits of tasso ham and chicken confit, and a fried egg plopped on top. Served with cornbread and arugula salad, it's a full meal.
Moxie's Grill & Bar
Canadian restaurant chain owned by Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi opened a branch at The Crescent, the first in the United States. Along with lots of TVs and a nice atmosphere, it has a Korean-style fried cauliflower with spicy gochujang pepper sauce and jalapeño-lime dip that is far from run of the mill. Cauliflower is fried in a tempura batter, then tossed in the Korean pepper sauce until it is evenly coated — spicy, crunchy, hot.
Public School 214
California gastropub chain with a school-room theme has two branches in DFW, one in Uptown, the other in Addison, and both are on board with the cauliflower thing. Their Buffalo cauliflower takes all of the flavors of Buffalo-style chicken wings — the spicy hot sauce, the cooling blue cheese — but substitutes cauliflower for the chicken. The cauliflower comes in florets, which are breaded in rice flour and fried, for a light, crisp coating. They come with ramekins of hot sauce and blue cheese dip, hot and cold.
Gourmet taqueria in Lake Highlands has all kinds of tacos on the menu, but the one for which it has become known is its epic cauliflower, inspired by a recipe that owner Andrew Savoie learned from New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Florets are thickly sliced, seared on the flat-top until caramelized, then steamed until soft. They're folded into a flour tortilla along with pumpkin seeds, crispy kale, and lemon-epazote aioli. The popularity has inspired others, such as Crush Taco ,to offer their own versions.
Cauliflower and Brie are a pretty classic combination, partnered the world over for luscious gratins, creamy bisques, and decadent dips. Dallas-based soufflé chain Rise, which is opening a branch in Fort Worth in 2017, pairs them in a savory soufflé that highlights the delicacy of their flavors. Usually flavors are fighting each other to emerge victorious, but cauliflower and Brie together are like a battle of restraint: Who is the subtlest flavor of all?
Grandiose pizzeria in Plano from the owners of Mexican Sugar and Whiskey Cake has many talking points, including good thin-crust pizzas and an expansive wine program. But its take on cauliflower has carved out a niche. They take an entire head of cauliflower, blanch until tender, then dredge with pesto, Parmesan, and lemon dill. They plop it on a wood board and you dive right in. Like much of what they do here, there is nothing subtle about this dish. It screams cauliflower.