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: Sacred Grounds (233 North Main Street, Edwardsville, Illinois; 618-692-4150)
Overview: For Part III of our Edwardsville trilogy, we paid a visit to Sacred Grounds Café for some 100 percent vegetarian grub. It's tough enough to find a decent cup o' Joe in a small mid-American town, but it's a rare thing indeed to find a dedicated veg restaurant. By serving up St. Louis' Mississippi Mud coffee and surprisingly refined veggie sandwiches and salads, Sacred Grounds provides a welcome respite for java fiends and vegheads alike.
The Grub: The menu at Sacred Grounds is by no means extensive, and it's true that many of the sandwiches resemble each other, but we've always been impressed by the complexity of flavors and textures. No one will mistake the food here for Niche, but the tiny Sacred Grounds kitchen manages to treat tricky ingredients such as eggplant with care and thoughtfulness, and they only charge about $4 per sandwich. On the Cyprus sandwich, you'll find spinach, tomato, a cheese blend, avocado and eggplant. The Athena sandwich beautifully blends spinach, red onion, tomatoes, mozzarella and artichoke pesto on sourdough, but it is considerably smaller than the Cyprus. No matter which sandwich you choose, you have the choice of either sourdough or whole wheat, the latter being the preferred choice for both flavor and size.
Seasonality/sourcing: Owner Jennifer Courtney has established numerous connections with local farmers, and Sacred Grounds tries its best to source produce close to home. The core menu stays the same pretty much year round, but they do offer daily specials and rotating soups. This commitment to local, from-scratch food comes with a price, though: You're never quite sure if they're going to have what you crave.
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, pre-made veggie burgers, etc.): Again, this is a small menu, and it's not designed to reinvent vegetarian cuisine. It has made an effort, though, to turn relatively unconventional ingredients into something delicious.
Improvisations & accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): Vegans will have no trouble filling up, but the gluten-free folks might not have nearly as much fun.
Extra credit: Sacred Grounds supports local artists by providing a gallery space. And they make a mean latte.
Standout item: The Cyprus sandwich