When I went to college in St. Louis, there was exactly one vegetarian restaurant. It was, of course, my favorite place in college and grad school. In fact, I chose my grad school apartment partly because of it’s proximity to my fave – well, only, restaurant.
My how things have changed.
James Beard Finalist: Vicia
I like to follow vetted lists. I used to read all the Man Booker Prize finalists and see most of the movies on the New York Times’ critics top 10 lists. So it’s only natural that I want to eat at all theJames Beard Award finalists.
Vicia, ‘vegetable forward’ restaurant, keeps winning awards. It’s in a neighborhood that didn’t even exist when I was in college. It’s in the The Cortex Innovation Community , near the Central West End. And just a few blocks from that grad school apartment. But oh, what a difference.
Vicia uses an outdoor fire to roast vegetables, reduce sauces and warm up the enclosed patio for winter dining. I guess a few animal proteins are cooked here, too. But we ordered the Farmer’s Feast, an all veggie option that let us taste a broad swath of the menu.
A highlight: gossamer rounds of kohlrabi, which served as the shell for make your own tacos. We had black beans, yogurt, marinated kale, pickled red onions, roasted mushrooms, salsa verde and hot sauce. Chicken fried carrots with a honey mustard sauce (no fowl harmed in the making) were also delish. Excellent bread came with a hauntingly yummy roasted garlic puree, marmalade and incredibly fresh butter.
Sweet tooth near Botanical Garden: SweetArt
Somehow, in 5 years in St. Louis, I never went to the Missouri Botanical Garden, one of the top botanical gardens in the world. The gardens are a gem, and have a very nice restaurant. But in the same Shaw neighborhood, SweetArt beckons. This casual spot has an all vegan menu, and cupcakes and cookies in vegan and non-vegan versions. When we went, the line was out the door. SweetArt is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and only open past 6pm on Fridays. Plan your trip around stopping here.
We shared the vegan buffalo cauliflower tacos, with just the right amount of spice. And the homemade vegan burger, on a homemade whole wheat bun. We had the ‘make it funky’ version with bbq sauce, vegan bacon, caramelized onions, greens, tomato, and vegan cheese. Messy and delish.
We didn’t forget the dessert. The vegan Maine event had huge chocolate chunks and was irresistible. The vegan chocolate raspberry, a revelation.
From Gas Station to Vegan Paradise
Utah Station, on Utah Street (again, had never of this street, or the Benton Park neighborhood) is a mostly plant based hipster haven. There are vegan pizzas, though if you opt for the gluten free cauliflower crust, there is dairy. All the appetizers, (buffalo cauliflower, poutine, toasted ravioli) soups and sides are vegan. We had a Reuben sandwich with homemade corned ‘veef’ and homemade sauerkraut. The vegan pizza has lots of veggie options, plus vegan sausage and veggie-roni, which we had had. Yum.
Near Washington University: Frida’s
The suburban Frida’s announces that it is vegetarian on the menu. Yet, people all around us were confused.What was this burger? Vegan.And this tuna salad? Plant based. Didn’t seem all that perplexing. Yes, the ‘tuna’ is made with chickpeas, and the burger with veggies and ingenuity. There are also Impossible and Beyond burgers on the menu.
We tried a special, Moroccan chickpea soup, with chunks of pea protein. It was hearty and delicious. Then we shared the chopped salad, chock full of veggies and some goat cheese (there is a vegan option). No greens, but artichokes, beets, potatoes, avocado, Brussels sprouts and crispy mushrooms. We also had yet another Reuben. This one, a mushroom Reuben, had cremini mushrooms, Swiss cheese, avocado, sauerkraut and house-made thousand island, on grilled local rye bread. It was phenomenal.
Frida’s also has fresh juices. We had ginger lemon shots to boost immunity. Vegan desserts include chocolate mousse with avocado.
Had Frida’s existed when I went to Washington University, it surely would have been my local haunt.
Drinks and Vegetarian Food: Small Batch
St. Louis is known for its barbecue, and barbecue restaurants often have great bourbon drinks. But if you don’t want to eat or drink near people wolfing down huge platters of pulled pork, head to Small Batch. This lovely vegetarian restaurant, in an old Model T automobile showroom (I never knew about St. Louis’ auto row neighborhood, near downtown) has over 140 whiskeys on offer. Plus great plant based food.
We went for brunch, and had vegan breakfast tacos – tofu ‘eggs’ (a tofu scramble) with red pepper, smoke mushrooms and mushroom bacon. We also shared a quesadilla with vegan sausage, peppers, cashew cheese and cashew sour cream.
Of course, we had to try the drinks. The Golden Hour, with turmeric infused gin and aperol, was a lovely brunch cocktail. And Just My Imagination took aperol in another direction, with basil infused bourbon and cranberry.
Luckily for my bottom line, theSt. Louis Union Station Hotel, where I stayed, had a well stocked gym where I could burn some of the thousands of calories consumed. The gym had a Peloton bike, lots of cardio machines and free weights, and plenty of mats with room to stretch. I would have preferred a water fountain to the water bottles supplied, though.
The hotel also has an excellent run, to the Gateway Arch and along the water to Laclede’s Landing. The free nightly light show (pictured above) is open to all. Grab a train-themed drink from the bar in the Grand Hall. I had to try the “Grandhattan” – a riff on a Manhattan with a welcome touch of absinthe.
Note: I was a guest of Explore St. Louis, which covered some of my travel expenses. Opinions, of course, are my own.