Taste Community Restaurant, 1200 S Main St, FW. 817-759-9045. 11am-2pm Tue-Sun. All credit cards accepted.
Good things are worth the wait, and we’ve been waiting a hot minute for Taste Community Restaurant to get off the ground. The original launch date was November 2016, but even traditional restaurant projects rarely open on time. And there isn’t anything traditional about Taste, the pay-what-you-can nonprofit eatery that — no kidding — is on a mission from God.
You can read about the mission of Taste Project elsewhere if you want to know more about what motivates these fine people to open their doors to feed their community. Or better yet, ask one of the volunteer servers. All you really need to know going in is that the place is a legit 501(c)3 dedicated to feeding one and all with dignity and respect and raising awareness about food insecurity in the process.
Of course, high ideals can’t feed the multitudes if the food on the plate isn’t up to the task. My guest and I journeyed over to the Near Southside location on a recent weekday lunch, resolved to be as dispassionate in our assessment as we’d be with any for-profit joint.
Taste’s home, a renovated space on South Main Street (and apparently the source of some of the delays), is as clean and contemporary as any of the swanky remodels on West Magnolia Avenue. With handsome exposed wooden rafters and concrete floors, the décor is simple and elegant. A wall of potted herbs bathed in sunshine makes a simple statement (if you’re of a philosophical bent) about what food is and where it comes from.
We were taken aback just a bit when we were told the wait for a table for two would be about 20 minutes. The dining room was about half full, but our hostess explained that the staff is about 80 percent volunteers, and they will seat only what they can handle on any given day. Good things are still worth the wait, but keep this in mind if you’re on a tight schedule.
The volunteers seemed friendly, sincere, and passionate about the mission — however they saw it. The Taste Project doesn’t have a direct institutional affiliation, so volunteers are of all stripes — they’re not typically food service professionals, so save the finger-snapping attitude for someplace that deserves it.
The menu is simple, seasonal, and of the contemporary-Americana school of bistro fare: a traditional hamburger, pimiento cheese bruschetta, farro salad, and butternut squash risotto. With less than a dozen items, there is still something on offer for (nearly) everyone. The only thing the menu doesn’t have is prices.
My guest and I shared an order of arancini, three golf ball-sized orbs of fried risotto with a gob of melty mozzarella cheese in the middle of each. It would be hard not to love something so decadent, particularly when dredged through a tangy bath of chunky apple and mustard sauce.
A brilliant splash of curried carrot soup was perfect for a crisp December day, with just enough heat to curl our hair. Creamed with coconut milk and spiked with lots of fresh ginger, the bisque tasted like good health from the first silky spoonful.
An apple-bacon sandwich was a great idea that would have been even better with more of the kitchen’s pickled green apples to cut through the somewhat heavy cheddar cheese on grilled sourdough. I’d probably order mine without the mayonnaise, too. Alongside were perfectly fried potatoes (the place is really good at frying things) that were even better in the dregs of apple-mustard left over from our arancini.
I hit the jackpot with the Southern shrimp and grits: plump prawns stewed in a sofrito of sweet peppers and bacon, served over stone-ground cheese grits. There was a nice kick to the dish — not too much, but enough to take the chill out of the air. And the portion size of five large shrimp was just right for a lunch.
And yet, strangely, the star of the show was the side of grilled vegetables ordered on a lark. An electric jolt of the greenest green — green cauliflower, snow peas, and broccolini — was so vibrant, so perfectly cooked, so delicately seasoned, it was able to balance perfectly a meal that, while delicious, had drifted a bit toward the congestive.
And then came the moment of judgment. We were presented with the “bill” — an itemized list of items ordered, with nary a price in sight. We hemmed. We hawed. We didn’t want to look like a couple of assholes. And the only help from the staff was that their business plan asks customers to do one of three things: pay what you can afford, pay what you would typically pay for this meal at a comparable restaurant, or pay what you would typically pay plus a little extra.
So we did. And I’m not going to tell you how much we paid, either. Go see what it’s worth to you — you can’t lose.
Taste Community Restaurant
Cream of carrot soup $11
Apple-bacon sandwich $11
Roasted vegetables $13.50