by Bryan Peters
The Veggielante has had it up to here with people bitching that St. Louis restaurants are vegetarian unfriendly. Sure, we'd like to see more restaurants offering more meatless dishes, but there are excellent choices out there if you take the trouble to look for them. We're not here to proselytize about greening up your diet. Our only motive is to spread the word about places where you can order good grub that ain't got no meat. To enhance your reading experience, we've settled on a handful of criteria we'll use to suss out a restaurant's vegetarian friendliness.
Destination: The Good Pie (3137 Olive St.; 314-289-9391)
Overview: Commencing just after the Good Pie opened its doors in 2008, the Veggielante has seen plenty of positive reviews about the Grand Center/Saint Louis University pizzeria's Neapolitan-style repertoire. We prefer to roll Chicago- or San Francisco-style, so the Good Pie slid to the back burner. Recently, in search of something totally different from our go-to pizza fix (Pi's "Western Addition"), we finally got around to putting the Pie through the paces. We opted for two classics: the Margherita and the spinach.
The Grub: Whenever we find ourselves in a Neapolitan-style pizzeria, we order a Margherita as a litmus test. No matter how vegetarian-unfriendly a pizzeria might be, a customer can count on finding a Margherita on the menu. Furthermore, it's hard to screw up: tomatoes, basil and mozzarella -- that's it. The Margherita is basically the mother of all pizzas and should be treated with respect and reverence.
Priced at $10, the Good Pie's version is competent if underwhelming. The tomatoes were fresh, the crust gloriously charred from its brief stint in the pizzeria's wood-fired oven. But the mozzarella didn't assert itself nearly enough, and the tomatoes were bland. Perhaps the complexity of a buffalo mozzarella (offered on the deluxe Margherita pizza, "The Good Pie," which costs $14) would perk things up, but it wouldn't compensate for lackluster tomatoes. We actually went so far as to request a side of marinara ($2 extra, but truly delicious) to bring this pie's flavor profile up to par.
The spinach pizza arrived at our table chock-full of vegetables. After the first few delicious bites, however, it became evident that most of the pie was soaked with an excess of oil. Two pieces were so soupy as to be inedible -- even more of a disappointment considering how beautiful the pizza looked. We ended up contenting ourself with the few unspoiled spinach leaves and the rim of the crust.
Undeniably, the Good Pie delivers a gorgeous pizza. Inconsistencies, though -- and a lack of cooperation on the part of the kitchen when it comes to tailoring pies to diners' tastes and dietary preferences -- detract from the big picture as seen through the Veggielante's eyes.
Ability/willingness to improvise: Aside from allowing folks to add buffalo mozz or egg, the kitchen does not allow additions or substitutions.
Seasonality/sourcing: Neither the pizzas nor the salads require all that much awareness of the changing seasons, but the Good Pie does a laudable job of locally sourcing many ingredients -- from YellowTree Farm and a purveyor on the Hill.
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, pre-made veggie burgers, etc.): Considering that the Good Pie serves Neapolitan-style pizza, we weren't surprised to find conventional offerings like the Margherita and the funghi. We were, however, surprised by the lack of inventiveness on the rest of the menu.
Other dietary accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): With no optional veggie meats, alternative proteins or cheese substitutes, it's clear the Good Pie is fully committed to old-school methods and presentation.
Extra credit: The charred crust is positively sublime.
Standout item: The vintage bicycles mounted on the walls.