Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out in June: Featuring The Cove

One-stop convenience at The Cove...wash your car, do your laundry,
and eat some fabulous food!
This month’s featured restaurant in The Weekend Gourmet Dines Out series is The Cove, a fantastic casual eatery that’s been featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives and Texas Monthly magazine. What started out as a small snack bar in a combo car wash and laundromat has evolved to become one of San Antonio’s best local, organic, sustainable (LOS) restaurants. The food is casual -- burgers, sandwiches, and creative sides -- all made with pristine ingredients by a dedicated staff! Michael and I were the guests of owner Lisa Asvestas for a tasting of some of the restaurant’s signature items this past weekend. We were both very impressed with the food AND the relaxed vibe of the place! One thing hasn’t changed at The Cove over the years: you can still wash your car or your clothes while you nosh on some of the tastiest food in San Antonio.

The casual outdoor area at The Cove, including a covered
play area to keep the kiddos occupied!
The Cove opened in 2001 as a car wash and laundromat. Lisa told me that she started out with a hotplate, serving simple sandwiches. Over the years, it has morphed into a full-scale kitchen, outdoor beer garden, and larg play area for kids. As Lisa became involved with Ayurveda, a holistic form of medicine in India, she began to focus more on food as a source of health and healing...which is reflected in the restaurant's menu. The food is locally sourced, perfectly executed, and very well regarded. Guy Fieri proclaimed their lamb burger the best ever, and their Texas Burger was named the #1 burger in San Antonio by Texas Monthly a couple of years ago.

The Cove is popular with both locals and tourists...Lisa told me that the ratio varies according to the time of year, but she estimates the mix of locals and out-of-town visitors is somewhere around 50/50. The day we were there, a wide range of people were eating: families, college-age groups, and couples. It was a warm, humid Texas afternoon, so we opted to sit inside. Lisa greeted us with a warm smile and chatted with Michael and I about the restaurant and her approach to food and cooking. Ingredients are procured from local ranchers and farmers...most of it organic. Sodas are can sweetened as well. After chatting with Lisa for a bit, it was time to EAT!

We sampled a variety of signature items from the menu. As usual, we let Lisa select her favorite menu items for us, and she didn't disappoint. We sampled the Warm Beet Salad, Fish Tacos, Blue Bison Burger, Vegan Bacon Cheeseburger, and the Jalapeno Carrot Cake. Each dish was paired with a different side dish from the menu: organic baby spinach salad with honey mustard dressing, sweet potato fries with sriracha mayo, and Moroccan sweet potato salad. The first order of business was to take pictures of each dish...then we dug in! First up were the very popular fish tacos: grilled tilapia served inside a locally made corn tortilla, with spicy poblano sauce and cabbage-cilantro slaw. I can see why these are one of the most popular items on the menu...moist fish, spicy sauce, and a perfect tortilla. So good...spicy, but not overly so. A real winner!

One of The Cove's  most popular items: grilled fish tacos, served with organic spinach salad and honey mustard dressing. The mild fish, crunchy slaw, and spicy poblano sauce is a fantastic combo of flavors!!

Next, we tried the Warm Beet Salad with goat cheese, toasted walnuts, and red wine vinaigrette. I admit that I was caught off-guard by the beets. I had tasted canned beets as a kid and hated them. But? The best part about the tastings in this series is that I invariably try foods that I wouldn’t normally order. The verdict? I’m officially a roasted beet convert...I LOVED THEM!!! This salad was so good...the creamy, mild goat cheese and nuts worked so well with the earthy roasted beets. Michael agreed that the taste and consistency was nice...and the flavor was not overpowering. Now I'm on a quest to try roasting my own beets at home!

Roasted beets, creamy mild goat cheese, and toasted walnuts = heaven on a fork...I'm officially a beet convert!!

Then, it was time to dig into the Blue Bison burger. OMG...this was FABULOUS!! This was definitely our favorite item of the day. The locally sourced bison was so juicy, and we loved the flavor of the blue cheese and chipotle mayo. No one flavor overpowered...they worked together in perfect harmony for one of the best burgers that we’ve had in ages. This burger was served with hand-cut sweet potato fries and a spicy sriracha-mayo dipping sauce. I knew that the burger was a winner when Michael asked when we could come back again and have another!!

Lean bison, organic greens, blue cheese, and chipotle mayo combine for one AMAZING burger!
The inside view of a Blue Bison Burger: perfectly cooked lean bison, bacon, organic veggies, blue cheese, and a generous helping of spicy chipotle mayo. This burger packs a TON of flavor!!

We were very curious when we saw a Vegan Bacon Cheeseburger on the menu...that sounded a bit like a contradiction in terms, but Lisa explained. The cheddar cheese is made from cashews, the bacon is made from tofu, and the patty is made from brown rice and mushrooms. These items are made in house and served with delicious Moroccan sweet potato salad that's flavored with lemon, herbs, and ginger. We're the furthest thing from vegans, but we enjoyed the flavors of this burger. It's very popular with SA vegans for good reason!

Vegan Bacon Cheeseburger -- the tofu bacon tasted JUST like very crispy bacon! The Moroccan sweet potato salad was full of vibrant flavors!!

The Cove really keeps your tastebuds on their toes with interesting flavor combinations...including their fantastic Jalapeno Carrot Cake.  You can see lots of jalapeno in the cake, but it’s a very mild heat that worked so well! The cake was moist and dense, but not the least bit heavy...the texture reminded me of a quick bread or muffin. The cake was sweet, but not overly so...as was the lime-infused cream cheese icing.

Jalapeno Carrot Cake...see the green flecks of jalapeno? I promise that the heat was very mild and not the least bit overpowering! The lime-cream cheese icing was fluffy and not overly sweet.

The cake was the perfect ending to a really wonderful meal! But we weren’t quite done. One of the staff members who had been serving us and telling us about the dishes had the bartender make us one of their signature house-made fruit sodas. We tried the blackberry-lime soda, which is made with organic fruit and naturally sweetened with agave. It was refreshing -- tart and not too sweet. Perfect for  sipping on a warm San Antonio afternoon!

How to beat the Texas heat: organic blackberries, lime, and a little fizz -- sweetened naturally with agave!

We left The Cove with full bellies...and in complete agreement that their recognition is NOT hype! A return trip for another bison burger and shrimp tacos is a must when we return from vacation in Portland. I love the idea of a casual restaurant that serves tasty food that’s made with fantastic local organic ingredients. Like I told Lisa, The Cove serves fast food that I can truly feel good about eating!! For my local readers, The Cove is located on West Cypress...very close to SAC’s main campus. If you’re planning a visit to the San Antonio area this summer, the restaurant is a quick 5-10 minute drive from Downtown hotels.

The Cove on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: I received a complimentary menu tasting from The Cove to facilitate this review. As always, my opinions are my own. Pictures for this post were taken by Michael Garcia, the other half of Casa Garcia.

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