Vegan felafel, pita bread, veggie chili and dolmas aren't traditional fish fry fare, but then, little about the menu at the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis (5007 Waterman Boulevard, 314-361-0595) UnFish Fry could be described as traditional. This annual vegetarian dinner not only takes meat off the menu, but also fried food in general. The decidedly healthier, Mediterranean-inspired eats include the above mentioned entrées, as well as mac 'n' cheese, dolmas, green beans, cole slaw, salad and applesauce, and the usual buffet of baked goods for dessert.
Gut Check was intrigued by this meat-free take on a Lenten tradition, and dined at the UnFish Fry last Friday, March 2. The menu might be nontraditional, but the atmosphere and crowd at the UnFish Fry felt familiar. Held in the First Unitarian Church's cafeteria, the crowd ran the gamut of ages, and we felt very welcome in the positive, friendly environment. We chose felafel with pita bread, vegan chili, dolmas and mac 'n' cheese for dinner. Highlights were definitely the vegan chili and dolmas -- the chili was spicy, flavorful and hearty, so much so that we didn't miss the ground beef, and the dolmas were fresh, sweet yet slightly tart, with nice texture.
We were sort of disappointed in the felafel and pita bread, as neither were served with hummus or tzatziki sauce -- though we noticed later that the latter was available on a condiment table -- and as a result the felafel and pita tasted dry and chewy. We were anticipating dense, fluffy pita bread, but instead it was thin and brittle. The mac 'n' cheese tasted like standard blue box Kraft, which isn't to say it was bad, or that Kraft macaroni and cheese isn't a standard fish fry side dish. Perhaps we simply expected a bit more from the vegetarian UnFish Fry, were sides such as mac 'n' cheese are elevated to entrées.
One guest was overheard remarking, "So there's no fake fish at the UnFish Fry?" We assume the rationale behind not serving faux fish was an ethical -- if not cost-prohibitive -- decision, as if you don't support eating fish in general, it might be hard to stomach a breaded, seitan- or tofu-based analogue substitution. Honestly, we appreciated the healthy options at the UnFish Fry and found it a refreshing, tasty alternative to the old standard.