“If you’re looking for a healthy diet, eating our food won’t help with that.” And just like that, Zonk Burger co-owner Zach Stacy’s proclamation removed any preconceived notions regarding vegetable-based food and smashed them into a thousand tiny tofu pieces.
A red and white diamond-patterned boat of freshly cut French fries smothered in potato-based, dairy-free queso, onion rings, and vegan donuts served Sunday mornings — in addition to all of the other carbs that typically go along with a burger joint minus the meat — mark his words as true.
While Stacy operates the front of the house, co-owner Erin Hahn presides over the kitchen. Although they both worked for Heritage Auctions in Dallas, they yearned for more community involvement. Hahn developed her skills at Food Heads in Austin before taking a job at the Spiral Diner in Oak Cliff for about a year as Stacy started winding down his antiquing career. Their path led them to Fort Worth in 2018.
They started out as a food truck in April 2019 until the lockdown as a proof of concept. Once they had built a customer base, they felt about as comfortable as they could navigating the murky waters of a global pandemic to begin work on their brick and mortar. Landing in a small shopping strip neighboring The Post and La Onda on Race Street, Hahn and Stacy forged ahead.
“The Race Street and Riverside District area really reminds us of East Austin before its growth,” Stacy said.
A smidgen under 800 square feet, the interior of Zonk Burger is a blend of classic American diner and New Wave ethos with bright and bold colors against white walls with black and white checkered flooring laid by the owners themselves. The beer and wine selection is decent for a restaurant of this size that doesn’t have a bar, and drinks can be enjoyed on the spacious patio behind the restaurant.
Although companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have recently been criticized by environmental watchdogs for a lack of transparency with greenhouse gas emissions, supply chain practices, and waste management, Zonk Burger’s owners are fully committed to running a healthy, clean, green operation. This means no lab-based meat.
“We wanted to raise the standard of vegan and vegetarian food with ‘real’ food,” Hahn said. “Everything is made fresh in-house using responsibly grown produce and sustainable food practices.”
Since the menu relies solely on vegetables, it will vary depending upon growing seasons along with rotating specials. The fried oyster mushroom with Stacy’s quick pickles and tartar sauce is a current special and perhaps should earn a permanent spot on the blackboard menu. The yin and yang of the crunchy, beer-battered outer layer of the morel and soft meat inside with zingy pickles and tartar sauce between buns that hold their own provided a bevy of savory, surprising bites.
The original Zonk Burger made of chickpea and the ancient Asian grain millet are formed into a patty and dressed as you’d expect a burger to be, with crispy lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles, plus a nut-based special sauce that mirrors McDonald’s. The sandwich was a delight.
Another standout was the fried tofu burger, dressed as a traditional burger as well.
For sides, might as well go with the seitan wings with habanero buffalo sauce or, the surprise of the visit, seared green beans crowned with smoky mushrooms, frizzled onions, and pepper, giving this dish a spunky pop.
If you see chunky chocolate chip or snickerdoodle cookies at the register, these are a reflection of Hahn’s love of baking. And if you’re not full yet, grabbing one to go will certainly guarantee a zonked-out nap later.