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: PuraVegan (307 Belt Avenue; 314-282-5834)
Neighborhood: Central West End/Forest Park
Overview: It's rare to encounter a new restaurant that departs so profoundly from convention, but St. Louisans A.J. and Leah Mensey have given us one: an all-raw, all-gluten-free restaurant. (The Menseys previously owned VegaDeli in Chesterfield.)
The Grub: PuraVegan's menu changes often, which means you're likely to find new dishes each time you visit. On the Veggielante's most recent visit, we ate our way through a veritable raw-food smorgasbord, including tacos, barbecue pizza, a veggie burger and pad Thai. It's not hard to find tempting dishes; the more difficult task is to narrow down one's choices to a reasonable number. Additionally, many menu items carry hefty price tags. It helps to bear in mind that what you're paying for is the labor-intensive process of growing, harvesting and preparing raw food with high-quality ingredients.
Everything we ate was both interesting and flavorful, but the barbecue pizza and the tacos stole the show. The pizza is topped with an assortment of familiar vegetables, but you'll also find sprouted quinoa and hemp seeds. The tacos lure you in with shredded cabbage and carrots, chopped tomatoes and onions, but it's the scoops of nut-chipotle-coconut amino blend that'll have you planning a return visit. The concoction is rich and hearty, with more than enough flavor to keep you from missing meat or cheese.
Ability/willingness to improvise: What's on the menu is pretty much what you get. Still, the offerings are so diverse, you probably won't care.
Seasonality/sourcing: Much of PuraVegan's produce comes from the restaurant's hydroponic garden, the rest from Whole Foods and other local markets.
Resistance to clichés (vegetable medleys, pre-made veggie burgers, etc.): PuraVegan's menu is chock-full of surprises, from homemade kale chips to raw pizza to raw ice cream. With the exception of Chicago, you're not likely to find a menu like this anywhere in the Midwest.
Other dietary accommodations (vegan, gluten-free, etc.): All vegan, all gluten-free, all the time.
Extra credit: PuraVegan offers raw cooking classes -- online!
Standout item: Raw tacos
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