Destination: Vernon's BBQ (6707 Vernon Avenue, University City; 314-726-1227)
Neighborhood: University City
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Overview: Vernon's BBQ sits on the quiet corner of Vernon and Kingsland, giving off the air of a neighborhood hangout. The restaurant serves the traditional barbecue staples -- brisket, pork, beans -- but it also offers something that most 'cue joints don't: an extensive vegetarian menu. Owner Matt Stiffelman planned it this way. He wanted to open a barbecue restaurant with plenty of options for both herbivores and omnivores. He accomplished just that with smoked tofu on the menu and plenty of sides to boot.
Highlights: Though the smoked tofu is the only vegetarian entrée on Vernon's menu, it'll definitely satiate your appetite. Five smokey slices of tofu sit between your choice of white, wheat or sesame-bun bread. Top it off with one (or two, or three) of the restaurant's original homemade sauces (all of which are vegan, by the way), and you've made yourself a pretty delicious barbecue. A half order costs $5, a full order $8.
Vernon's also features numerous vegetarian-friendly sides -- in fact, only Aunt Jan's burnt-end beans contain meat. A single serving runs $1.29; a pint is $4, and a quart is $7.50. The restaurant's potato salad, with horseradish and celery (but no mayonnaise) has a nice kick. The smoked seasonal fruit is an uncommon option. On Gut Check's visit it was pears. Look for strawberries next month. The vegetarian baked beans possess a subtle sweetness to them that compliments the entire meal.
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.