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: Barrister's (15 North Meramec Avenue, Clayton; 314-726-5007)
Overview: Always on the hunt for a good homemade veggie burger, the Veggielante was delighted to discover one on Barrister's extensive menu. There's a veritable bounty of vegetarian food scattered throughout the rest of the menu, too -- from multiple appetizer options (caveat herbivore: The fryer is not vegetarian-friendly) to made-from-scratch soups to countless veggie-burger creations. After much deliberation, we opted for the Smoked Tomato Chipotle Hummus, the Get Fit Salad and the Ultimate Veggie Burger.
The Grub: Chef and owner Jason Tilford doesn't stop with homemade soups; he prepares sauces and dressings in house, keeping a keen eye on freshness and quality control. Barrister's serves primarily comfort food -- a label that rarely translates well for vegetarians -- but Tilford hasn't lost sight of healthy, inventive fare.
A prime example of Tilford's attention to healthfulness and creativity is his "Get Fit" salad. Loaded with spinach and tomatoes, the salad packs some protein in the form of garbanzo beans and almonds, and it's dressed with a delicately complex pomegranate-citrus vinaigrette. The salad was overdressed a bit, but the diversity of flavor and texture was spot-on.
Yes, hummus is ubiquitous in the Lou, but the Veggielante is always excited to see what innovations a chef is capable of. Indebted in large part to the smoky chipotle, there's boldness in this hummus that you don't often find. Though the serving size was underwhelming, the addition of cheeky chipotle kept us from regretting our order.
The most impressive offering at Barrister's is the "Ultimate Veggie Burger." Supported by a patty made of Match, the Ultimate is topped with sprouts, avocado, cucumber, tomato and hummus. There's no need to add cheese or extra condiments, as the moisture from the creamy hummus and avocado prevent the burger from being bland or dry. And though we were bummed that we couldn't order fries (naughty fryer), we were more than appeased by the couscous side option, which was both hearty and flavorful.
Ability/willingness to improvise: Though the Veggielante didn't require any substitutions, the kitchen assured us they would accommodate any special requests.
Seasonality/sourcing: We're always happy to visit a restaurant that incorporates any of the brilliant Match products from St. Louis' own Allison Burgess. Still, we'd like to see Barrister's incorporate more local produce.
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, pre-made veggie burgers, etc.): There are quite a few conventional apps to be found, but you won't find a generic "wrap" here, and the fact that they use Match to make their veggie burger is a plus. And couscous as a side dish? Bravo, Chef Tilford!
Other dietary accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): This is not a menu designed for extreme dietary restrictions, but there are numerous dishes that can easily be made vegan or gluten-free.
Extra credit: Barrister's gets mad bonus points for letting diners substitute a veggie patty (just a buck more) on any of burger option.
Standout item: the "Ultimate Veggie Burger," made with Match