AC Date Night: Casa de Luz and Imagine Tea Leaf

Who says brunch has to be unhealthy?

Casa de Luz (Photos by John Anderson)

Sunday brunch for me traditionally involves about six of my closest girlfriends, a Bloody Mary and a mimosa, and a healthy serving of eggs – more importantly, the hangover-helping amino acids therein. So when my latest brunch included exactly one boy, not one drop of alcohol, and zero animal products, I had to ask, "Who am I?"

Turns out I'm not unlike many Austinites at the onset of the new year: starting a diet, quitting booze, doing a cleanse. (And since you asked, yes, my Date Night went so well that it continued right on into the next morning.) That was day 31 of veganism, while my companion was wrapping up a monthlong stint in sobriety. After joking that we'd never agree on a place that would satisfy both of our dietary restrictions, we conceded that Austin is in fact incredibly accommodating to a variety of diets and lifestyles. I suggested we head to Casa de Luz – vegan, organic, and macrobiotic, meaning the meals are planned to harmonize yin and yang elements for overall health. If discussing the finer points of the digestive system incurs only minimal awkwardness, you just might have a keeper.

As a former vegetarian, Casa de Luz was one of the first restaurants recommended to me when I moved to Austin five years ago, and has remained a favorite regardless of my protein preferences. One gains enlightenment just by walking through the Zen-like garden to the community center's eatery tucked behind Barton Springs Road. The $12 all-inclusive menu changes daily and includes soup and salad, hot and cold teas, and a plate incorporating pre-soaked grains, a leafy green or sea vegetable, pre-soaked legumes, and a fermented vegetable. We filled mugs of alkalizing kukicha twig tea, then made our way outside – it was a 75-degree winter day. Once situated under dappled sunlight in a bamboo grove, we helped ourselves to a kettle of sweet potato ginger soup, and tonged up small mountains of red leaf lettuce dressed in a creamy walnut-pecan sauce. 

About halfway through our first course, two entrée platters arrived at the table. Soft tacos with veggies and guac sat alongside red beans and rice topped with an addictive basil-sesame sauce. Blanched superfoods kale and collards were given a zing with "suncheese," a tangy blend of sunflower seeds, garlic, lemon, and – the secret ingredient – umeboshi vinegar. Lastly, a serving of pickled daikon radish, carrots, and lemon ensured a probiotic made its way into our happy bellies.

Imagine Tea Leaf

Now this is the point where my gaggle of girls would head to Yellow Jacket to commingle the sexes and commence the more economical day-drinking. But again, this day was different. There would be no $2 Yellow Bellies. And my date and I would still enjoy each other's undivided attention. Luckily for us, Imagine Tea Leaf had recently taken a spot at the South First Food Court just up the street. Imagine is an all-vegan trailer that serves cups of farm-direct Chinese, Japanese, and Indian teas from local importers, as well as native yaupon holly tea harvested by local farmers. Temps had now risen to 80, so we decided to share two iced drinks that were unfamiliar to us: a matcha latte with almond milk and a yaupon "tea soda." I was skeptical about the matcha, a Japanese powdered green tea. A previous experience had literally left a bad taste in my mouth. But it came recommended – and I am obsessed with this version. The yaupon soda was like an Italian soda, sans cream. Yaupon tea mixed with agave syrup and Topo Chico, served over ice, was sweet and refreshing.

I could've lounged at those picnic tables all day, but the morning-after was beginning to stretch into afternoon; it was time for me and my pup to gracefully make our exit. Important side note: Both spots we visited were dog-friendly. Because if we're being honest, anybody who dates me also dates my dog. I know, I know – I'm so Austin. Well, so are food trucks serving sustainable, vegan tea, and cafeterias dishing up gourmet vegan meals. I guess we're a good fit.

Casa de Luz

1701 Toomey, 512/476-2535
Daily, 7am-8:30pm

Imagine Tea Leaf

603 W. Live Oak St., 512/222-8896
Wed.-Fri., 7am-2pm; Sat., 8am-6pm; Sun., 8am-2pm

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Casa de Luz, Imagine Tea Leaf, Austin vegetarian, Austin vegan

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