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: Big Sky Cafe (47 South Old Orchard Avenue, Wesbter Groves; 314-962-5757)
Neighborhood: Webster Groves
Cuisine: "Revitalized American comforts"
Overview: Big Sky Cafe takes a lot of pride in its locally sourced and sustainably grown ingredients. During the winter, when local produce is harder to find, head chef Colleen Clawson estimates about 80 percent of the restaurant's ingredients (including meat) are sourced within 100 miles of St. Louis, with a higher percentage in the warmer months. Clawson has been vegetarian since she was twelve years old, so Big Sky Cafe always has plenty of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
This time around, we tried out Big Sky Cafe's lunch menu, which is served Tuesday through Friday. (The dinner menu is more extensive.) Clawson updates the menu constantly. Half of it is seasonal dishes, while the other half changes every week.
Highlights: The coconut curry butternut squash soup (pictured above) is so smooth and creamy that you would never guess it's vegan, but its creaminess comes from coconut milk rather than heavier dairy creams. The initial sweetness of the soup is balanced nicely with the subtle heat from the curry, making it hard to stop after the first spoonful. Big Sky Cafe's soups are offered in two sizes, a cup for $3.50 (pictured) and a bowl for a dollar more.
Nothing says comfort food like meatloaf, and Big Sky Cafe has figured out how to make a convincing vegetarian alternative. The loaf consists of local tempeh, oats and a whole bunch of vegetables (carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms and more), and it's baked in a water bath for peak tenderness. The smoked tomato sauce served on top gives the loaf a sweet, almost barbecue-sauce flavor and baked kale chips add a salty crunch to the dish. And it doesn't end there. For $10.50, the vegetarian meatloaf comes with smooth, garlicky and completely comforting mashed potatoes.
After a light but filling lunch at Big Sky Cafe, we bet you'll feel cozy enough to give your mom a call before taking a nice, long afternoon nap.