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: Frazer's Restaurant and Lounge (1811 Pestalozzi Street; 314-773-8646)
Neighborhood: Benton Park
Overview: Having spent much of the past two decades serving up house-made treats made from local ingredients, Frazer Cameron is no stranger to the St. Louis food scene. Cameron still spends a great deal of time in the kitchen, making sure things run smoothly and that he's staying sharp. He also has a gifted pastry chef, Kim Bond, who's in charge of whipping up crackers, breads and all manner of crusts from scratch. What's most impressive about Frazer's is its commitment to creative, seasonal food. You never know what you'll find on the specials board, and your friendly neighborhood Veggielante loves a good surprise. On our most recent visit, we found a goat-cheese salad and sweet-potato enchiladas.
The Grub: We've tried many salads at Frazer's, some more successful than others, but the goat-cheese salad is probably our favorite, in large part owing to the huge bed of fresh arugula it sports. More often than not, when you find a goat-cheese salad in St. Louis, it's perched on spinach; arugula is a nice change of pace. We'd like it even more if the goat-cheese weren't fried -- chèvre is tasty enough on its own, and fried cheese can weigh heavily on a summer salad, not to mention the person who ingests it.
The Veggielante is always pleased to encounter an enchilada filled with something other than beans and peppers. Frazer's sweet potato-centric rendition is served with perfectly seasoned black beans on the side, so you still get your protein, and the enchilada's precious interior real estate is reserved for a more generous assortment of vegetables. Our only quibble: the dish lacked zip -- not bland by any means, but not as tasty as we'd hoped or expected.
Ability/willingness to improvise: Cameron doesn't shy away from bold, inventive food. The kitchen will gladly sub in chilled goat cheese in lieu of the fried croquette.
Seasonality/sourcing: Much of the produce used at Frazer's comes straight from the Soulard market and directly from local farmers. The menu is composed of relatively permanent staples and a long list of daily specials that reflect the freshest available seasonal produce (right now zucchini is in heavy rotation).
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, pre-made veggie burgers, etc.):: You're sure to find many St. Louis vegetarian standards here -- from hummus to cheese plates to stir-fry -- but Cameron also incorporates options for the more adventurous palate.
Other dietary accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): If given a two-day notice, Frazer's will gladly accommodate special diets, from vegan to gluten-free. If you can't provide notice, there's always at least one vegan menu item, and multiple vegetarian choices.
Extra credit: The wide variety of globally inspired vegetarian dishes
Overall score: Yes, some dishes aren't ideally seasoned, but Frazer's willingness to make vegetarians happy more than compensates.
Standout item: Pumpkinseed flatbread