Vegetable Vampires are Searching for Their Next Meal
Just when carnivores thought the night belonged to them, the vegetable vampires have arrived on the scene, eager to sink their teeth into something substantial and tasty. In case you haven’t heard, vegetarians and vegans are demanding their just desserts — and entrees, too. Indeed, there has been a surge of new restaurants catering to diners with these dietary preferences in the last several years.
Chances are good that on any given day, at any daypart, there will be vegetarians and/or vegans in the customer mix at most dining establishments. If they are dining with carnivorous companions, they might find themselves in a steakhouse or other meat and fish emporium. Savvy culinary entrepreneurs treat vegetarians and vegans with respect and deference.
Many renowned steakhouses are taking this movement seriously by offering meatless meals that would satisfy even inveterate meat lovers. Pasta and noodle dishes are a good bet because of their universal appeal. Egg and cheese based dishes offer a lot of variety (quiches, soufflés, frittatas, omelets), and are perfect carriers for vegetables, herbs and cheeses. Rice is another global staple that can be transformed with vegetables and savory embellishments. Ancient grains are new again, and vegetarians and vegans welcome dishes containing quinoa, flax, amaranth, barley, kasha, bulgur, millet, couscous and many others. Vegetable stir-fries and main dish salads are other valid options.
Here’s what’s on the menu for herbivores at several leading restaurants:
At David Burke’s Steak House on Rush Street in Chicago, several pasta dishes cater to vegetarians. Pappardelle Pasta is enhanced with squash, walnuts and Pecorino cheese. The Mac N’ Cheese is made with an ultra-creamy blend of Camembert and Cheddar, and topped with breadcrumbs.
Iron Chef Michael Symon is an avowed meat lover. Yet, the first entrée listed on the menu at his flagship Cleveland bistro, Lola, is Roasted Heirloom Vegetables with smoked mushrooms, potato and artichokes.
Ruth’s Chris, one of the most highly reputed upscale steakhouse chains in the land, features a Vegetarian Plate on every menu. The options change at the discretion of the chef at each location. Servers are armed with all of the details.
Rated by D Magazine as the best steakhouse in Dallas, Knife features hand-rolled Penne Pasta with Black Truffle Essence and Teresa’s Watercress, Endive and Walnut Salad with Goat Cheese.
When strategizing on adding vegetarian items to your menu, it makes sense to investigate what’s selling well at vegetarian restaurants that base their entire business model on satisfying these consumers.
Café Sunflower in Atlanta has a baked Stuffed Acorn Squash loaded with goodies, including carrots, mushrooms, cranberries, red cabbage, spinach, wild rice, navy beans, corn, walnuts, bean sprouts and collard greens.
Clover in Boston operates food trucks and restaurants all over the area. Falafel (chickpea fritters) is the star of the show here. Another fave is the Shiitake Mushroom sandwich, which pairs buttermilk-coated, deep-fried shiitakes, Cheddar cheese and a salad of red cabbage, daikon radish and carrots, with a buttermilk dressing laced with garlic, miso, sour cream, mayo, turmeric and chopped basil leaves.
One of the best-sellers at Loving Heart in Chicago is the Hearty Bean Wrap, which features sweet potato, black beans, avocado, cilantro, red onion, tomato and spinach, enrobed in either a whole wheat or brown rice wrapper. 80 percent of the ingredients here are certified organic, an important consideration for vegetarians and vegans.
At Brenda Langton’s Spoonriver in Minneapolis, the Mill City Crepe is stuffed with farmers market vegetables, Wisconsin Chevre and Ricotta cheeses, fresh herbs, arugula salad and a poached egg. (Langton’s former star turn was at Cafe Brenda, a trailblazing vegetarian restaurant that closed after nearly 25 years.)