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: Niche (1831 Sidney Street; 314-773-7755)
Soulard Benton Park
Overview: Gerard Craft is the real deal. He's been steadily accumulating awards for many years, and he's managed to make his flagship restaurant Niche one of the premiere dining destinations in the Midwest. We've been enjoying his food for a while, but on our most recent visit Chef de Cuisine Nate Hereford was at the helm, serving up the tastiest summer salads, beet soups and veggie lasagnas.
The Grub: Niche is the place you go when you want that wow factor. Here, you'll find eggs cooked properly, vegetables treated with respect and breads that'll make you drool. Currently, the menu features a beet soup the likes of which we've never seen or tasted. The trick with this soup is to dissolve the beet sorbet into the buttermilk broth, which not only accentuates the beauty of the dish but also releases the aromatics of this magical beet concoction. There's a summer vegetable salad and summer lasagna available now, too, each featuring no shortage of fresh, unique veggies and herbs. From leek béchamel to acorn squash to pumpernickel, your taste buds will be twerking.
Seasonality/sourcing: Because of Niche's commitment to fresh, local produce, the menu changes often. You pay extra for quality ingredients like these, but you can taste the difference.
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, pre-made veggie burgers, etc.): Though some of the menu items may sound cliché, the preparation and presentation never fails to impress. And with things like beet sorbets dissolving into a stunningly beautiful soup, Craft and his crew leave no doubt about their penchant for inventiveness and flair.
Improvisations & accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): For a fine dining restaurant, Niche resists meat-centric conventions, providing plenty of options for vegetarians. Even vegans can find plenty to eat, and the kitchen will always do its best to accommodate dietary restrictions.
Extra credit: Impeccable service.
Standout item: The beet soup is unlike any soup we've ever had.