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 Royale (3132 South Kingshighway Boulevard; 314-772-3600)
Neighborhood: Tower Grove
Overview: The Tower Grove neighborhood seems like a likely haunt for the Veggielante. From Local Harvest to Mokabe's to Café Natasha's Kabob International, there's a veritable bounty of vegetarian-friendly food to scarf down. There's also the Tower Grove Farmers' Market, of course, and we're always looking for a new restaurant to visit after we've filled our totes with local sorrel and hydroponic arugula. Our recent discovery was the Royale, a bar most St. Louisans recognize as the voice of all things progressive, all things cool. Turns out the Royale whips up some tasty veg fare, too -- evidenced by their veggie burger and their hummus platter.
The Grub: The Royale kitchen is powered by a collaborative effort, but it's Sean Turner who handles most of the vegetarian chow. There's clearly been some attention given to the veg offerings, too, as nothing feels like an afterthought. Because of their interest in local products, it comes as no surprise that the veggie burger is made with Match meat. We ordered our burger with pepper jack, but the burger was tasty enough on its own (we'll save those calories next time). We wolfed down the burger in no time and then turned our attention to the vegetarian-friendly sweet-potato chips.
The hummus was quite good, too, and showed off the inventiveness of the Royale's kitchen. The hummus asserts itself as a real contender for best in show in the "pub" category. The tapenade is a lovely complement as well, delivering just the right amount of olive and salt to balance the sweetness from the roasted red peppers. We understand that most folks would appreciate the inclusion of feta, but we're of the opinion that the hummus and tapenade simply don't need any help.
Ability/willingness to improvise: Turner and the gang have created a menu that offers plenty of evidence of creativity -- from tons of veggie sides to housemade pico de gallo -- and they assured us that they can whip up pretty much anything with Match meat as a substitution for the real thing.
Seasonality/sourcing: Admittedly, we were stunned by the Royale's commitment to seasonal, locally sourced produce. They get some produce from local farmers, and they sometimes get their mint from an employee's garden; they also source from local companies including Billy Goat chips, Companion and Match. The menu even has a dedicated section for the "seasonal" items. Coolest moment: Toward the end of the meal, a farmer brought in some freshly picked blueberries for the kitchen and, without asking for them, our server plopped down a bowlful for us. How awesome is that?
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, premade veggie burgers, etc.): The Royale is a bar, after all, so we're not gonna come down too hard on them for offering so much conventional fare. They do deserve credit for serving things like veggie burritos and veggie burgers with really interesting toppings, such as horseradish, tapenade and artichoke hearts.
Other dietary accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): Though we ordered it with cheese, the veggie burger is regularly served vegan, which is definitely noteworthy. (Of course, most everything else comes standard with cheese.)
Extra credit: A dedicated fryer for vegetarian items (you gotta try those sweet-potato chips) and a kickass staff!
Standout item: The veggie burger.