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: Wild Flower (4590 Laclede Avenue; 314-367-9888)
Neighborhood: Central West End
Overview: Much beloved for its corner perch on Laclede at Euclid, Wild Flower lures in shopped-out pedestrians with promises of tasty food, refreshing drinks and great scenery. But what about vegetarian foot traffic? Wild Flower had the Veggielante hooked when we saw "tapenade trio," but we figured we'd take the opportunity to dig in to a couple of seasonal salads: the golden chèvre and the roasted beet.
The Grub: The golden chèvre salad is a total standout. The fresh berries and julienned apples added bright, crisp flavors to the rich goat cheese croquette. Extra points for the use of panko to encrust the chèvre. We love us some panko!
As for the tapenade trio, it's really just a trio of spreads. There is a tapenade among the three, but the other two are hummus and an eggplant purée. Those ain't tapenades. In any case, they all taste good, and the Veggielante was delighted to learn that the kitchen makes its tapenade without anchovies. Not 100 percent classic Provençal, perhaps, but definitely vegetarian.
The salad of goat cheese and herb-roasted beets was especially intriguing because it came with a horseradish vinaigrette. The dressing lacked punch, though, and the beets suffered for that lack of a bold flavor. The combination of goat cheese and pistachios, however, went a long way toward rescuing the dish.
Ability/willingness to improvise: The kitchen had run out of a few items, including Brussels sprouts and soup, and all we were offered in the way of sides was a choice of a salad or fries.
Seasonality/sourcing: The restaurant touts the fact that part of its menu rotates seasonally, but only a few items on the current menu seem tied to spring and summer. Nice to know, though, that Wild Flower purchases some of its produce from locally based distributor Sunfarm.
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, pre-made veggie burgers, etc.): Vegetarian options on the current menu are few in number and fairly conventional in nature: some spreads, salads, pasta. The honey pear salad gets points for inventiveness, but the presence of honey makes it vegan-unfriendly. The mushroom-stuffed pastry seemed promising, but the kitchen had run out.
Other dietary accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): Vegans would have a relatively rough go of it at Wild Flower, what with all the cheese and cream lurking about.
Extra credit: Wild Flower's deep fryer is vegetarian every day of the week except Sundays. It's great to see that the kitchen is conscious of what goes into its boiling oil, but it'd be even greater if one fryer was off limits to meat and fish every day.
Standout item: The location kicks ass for people-watching.