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: Veritas Gateway to Food and Wine (1722 Clarkson Road, Chesterfield; 636-530-9505)
Overview: Not only is it a restaurant, Veritas is also a wine bar and culinary boutique. Ultimately, though, you'll want to pay these folks a visit because they're turning out high-quality, local, seasonal grub, and they're doing it with flair. We dropped by looking for an heirloom tomato extravaganza and were delighted to find a free wine tasting being served up by none other than Veritas co-owner David Stitt. By riffing on veritas (Latin for "truth"), the Stitts understand well that it's important to serve honest food and to keep patrons properly buzzed.
The Grub: On special this evening was an heirloom tomato salad, which came beautifully composed of tomatoes of all sizes and colors. We were particularly pleased with the freshness of the produce, and it didn't hurt that one of the featured heirlooms was a favorite, green zebra. After the salad, we moved on to the Napoleon of the day, a gorgeous pyramid of interesting flavors, textures and nutrients. From sweet corn niblets to chard, Veritas delivered on its promise to bring nature's bounty to the table. No doubt, we've seen far less substantial (and far less impressive) vegetarian dishes with bigger price tags.
Seasonality/sourcing: It's easy to praise Veritas in this category, as it strives daily to create a truly local-centric menu. Each week, there's a new menu, which the kitchen designs around whatever produce is freshest and closest.
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, pre-made veggie burgers, etc.): Though the menu does change weekly, the veggie offerings are relatively ordinary. Cheese plates, mixed greens salads and flatbreads seem to be pretty standard. By far, the most noteworthy veg item is the "Veritas Vegetable Napoleon of the Day." It's impressive, too, that it makes its own pasta, ice cream and dressings.
Improvisations & accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): We'd prefer it if Veritas had a dedicated vegetarian fryer. Still, Veritas gets points for encouraging chef-patron interaction, which allows for more customized dining experiences.
Extra credit: Free wine tasting on Thursday nights.
Standout item: Vegetable Napoleon