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: Fozzie's Sandwich Emporium (1170 South Big Bend Boulevard; 314-932-5414)
Neighborhood: Richmond Heights
Overview: Here's the thing: Structurally, the patty is the perfect design, providing plenty of surface area for all kinds of yummy toppings. Just try balancing a tomato slice on a meatball. So, when we hear about folks putting together homemade veggie burgers like the ones at Fozzie's, we couldn't wait to try them, or to see what they piled onto those conveniently-shaped condiment canvases.
The Grub: Fozzie's offers two kinds of vegetarian patties: the veggie burger and the black bean burger. In terms of toppings, there are subtle but crucial differences between the two sandwiches -- both come with vibrant lettuce and caramelized onions, but the black bean burger gets roasted red peppers and garlic mayo, which give it an interesting finish. The veggie bacon we opted to add was crisp and smoky. However, both patties lean toward the bland side. Still, the toppings deliver enough color, flavor and texture to merit plenty of return trips.
Ability/willingness to improvise: Because of Fozzie's quick pace and small space, this isn't a menu that encourages a whole lot of experimentation, but it does get a lot of credit for allowing vegetarians to substitute a veggie dog for any of the "Fozzie's Dog" creations.
Seasonality/sourcing: Visiting both farmers' markets and nearby farmers, chef and owner Mark Lucas buys local produce as often as he can. The restaurant even sources some ingredients from its own garden. Lucas also rotates different soups and salads based on seasonal availability.
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, pre-made veggie burgers, etc.): Fozzie's might appear to be "just a sandwich shop," but it exceeds expectations. From htipiti to mango salads to veggie dogs, Fozzie's menu is full of creativity. No pre-made veggie burgers here, and quite a few concoctions offer unique ingredient combinations; it even tops a sandwich with baba gannoujh. Fozzie's also makes all sauces in-house.
Other dietary accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): Fozzie's menu is noteworthy for the obvious attention to vegetarian needs, but it also has a separate menu for vegan options. You'll often find a daily soup that's vegan. But beware: The fryers are not 100 percent vegetarian.
Extra credit: The complete list of vegan options
Standout item: The black bean burger