Endless apologies, O loyal readers, for the extended hiatus that this column took. But now we're back with a new Veggielante, a new format and a new list of restaurants to sate your vegetarian appetites.
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: The Vine Mediterranean Cafe & Market (3171 South Grand Boulevard; 314-776-0991)
Neighborhood: Tower Grove South
Cuisine: Mediterranean, especially Lebanese
Overview: The Vine specializes in Mediterranean cuisine made from fresh, healthy ingredients. Manager Ali Mohsen buys fresh produce from a local market to start each day, so nothing here is ever frozen or prepackaged, and everything is prepared by hand. The menu clearly labels which options are vegetarian and vegan, and there are plenty of each category to choose from.
In addition to the restaurant, the Vine also has a market and bakery. So when you taste an intriguing spice in your entrée, you can pick up a bottle on your way out. (You likely won't find most of this stuff in your traditional grocery store.)
The hummus at The Vine might not break new ground in the chickpea arts, but it's still a nice start to a satisfying meal. For $3.99, chickpeas are blended smooth with olive oil, garlic, tahini sauce and lemon juice and then served with warm, fluffy pita bread that's baked fresh from scratch several times a day. Both the hummus and the pita are vegan.
Fries are usually nothing to write home about, but those at The Vine are a different story. These are hand-cut Idaho potatoes fried to a perfect crisp in vegan-friendly vegetable oil. The "Mediterranean spices" that the menu advertises are salt, sumac and zaatar (all of which you can pick up in the market). The seasoning alone makes for a unique and memorable experience. A heaping mound o' fries, with ketchup, is $2.49.
Falafel (ground chickpeas fried in vegan-friendly vegetable oil) comes stuffed in a pita with garlic and tahini sauce, onions, tomatoes, pickles, pickled turnip and parsley. Though fried, the falafel does not feel the least bit heavy, but delightfully crunchy, warm and filling for just $3.99.
Where the falafel is crunchy, the lebnah sandwich offers the perfect counterbalance of smooth, creamy and cool. Lebnah is yogurt drained with a cloth until it reaches a thicker consistency. The tangy lebnah pairs nicely with cucumber, tomato and mint for a uniquely refreshing meal. At $4.49, the lebnah sandwich is a steal.