Michael Pollan’s maxim on eating is easy enough to follow.
Eat food. We’re on board. Not too much. Not a problem. Mostly plants. Well yeah, but, wait—mostly?
We give it an honest try, planning a week of lunch salads and shopping for brunch at the farmers’ market. Then Friday night rolls around, we go out to a restaurant, and all bets are off. Tartare and terrines, rillettes and roulades, wagyu and carnitas—I guess we’ll have to try that whole “plant” thing again next week.
Animal proteins are often how we frame our restaurant decisions—should we do oysters at Meritage or lamb at Saffron? Potted meat at Tilia or everything at Corner Table? Though it is certainly possible, it’s hard to imagine mustering the courage to go meatless at any of those places.
But getting your greens doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. Chefs routinely put as much thought into a plate of asparagus as they would a duck breast. During a recent dinner at Heirloom we ordered their “Interesting Vegetables” plate (pictured above) and became, indeed, interested. The delicate arrangement of vegetables with butter and whey was both an exciting visual and a satisfying centerpiece to our meal.
Now that we’re intrigued, we want to know, straight from chefs and food professionals: Where are the most interesting meatless meals in town?
Tracy Singleton – Birchwood Cafe
I am not a vegetarian, but I love the vegetarian sweet potato tacos from Chef Shack. I crave them and, lucky for me, they are in my neighborhood just a few blocks away. The beans are always cooked just right and perfectly seasoned, and the sweet potato is creamy and delicious. The kimchee sour cream and pickled cabbage add a lovely tang.
I always order the tacos with a Caesar salad. It’s a nice take on the classic—the greens are always super fresh, a mix of romaine and other seasonal greens, and they toss in cooked quinoa and top it with kale chips. And the best part? I trust their sourcing. They buy from many of the same farmers that we do [at the Birchwood] and they make everything from scratch.
And my two final words? Mini-donuts!
Jenny Breen – Urban Oasis MN
I am someone who can live without meat. So I am underwhelmed when I eat a “side” that seems like an afterthought; like the chef said, “Oh, I better make something for the vegetarians.” A good vegetable dish, in my humble opinion, is often tougher than anything to prepare well. It takes just the right finesse—a light hand with seasonings, oils, and texture, but enough to elevate it.
Here are some interesting sides from my part of town: the cauliflower at Hola Arepa is lightly breaded with cornmeal and garnished with pickled tomatillo and onion, herbs, and greens. Decadent, but balanced and fresh. The caramelized brussels sprouts at World Street Kitchen (note, contains fish sauce) with toasted rice powder and herbs. Intense, but not oily or overdone. And the broccoli at Muddy Waters made with gochujang (a fermented Korean condiment), sunflower seeds, and preserved lemon—salty, sour, and nutty, handled beautifully and cooked perfectly.
Bob Roepke – Flat Earth Brewing
For breakfast, I head to Hard Times Cafe for biscuits and gravy. The dish is heavy and savory. It is the perfect hangover cure, and no matter what time it is, they’re probably open.
Just down the street from the brewery, I love ordering the Bi Bim Bop from Cook Saint Paul. The fried rice ball mixed with the cool and crunchy romaine and the soft poached egg is so satisfying. I gob their housemade hot sauce on everything.
For dinner, I head down the street from home to Northbound Smokehouse and Brewpub for their wild rice burger. It tastes like Thanksgiving stuffing and I absolutely love it. The staff is always awesome and the bar has a “Cheers” vibe.
Kim Bartmann – Red Stag, Barbette, Pat’s Tap
Tammy Wong’s cooking at Rainbow Chinese. Tammy cooks awesome food and you wouldn’t necessarily think of Rainbow for veggies right away.
My favorite dish is Jai Mai Fun. It’s a rice noodle dish with broccoli, sprouts, carrots—you can add black mushrooms. I’ll admit I get it for take out quite a lot, and have it with a Glutenberg Pale Ale.
Stephanie Meyer – freshtart.com
At first glance, this isn’t a vegetarian dish, but with the removal of one item—a slab of bacon—it easily can be and oh man, it’s a worthy nod no matter how you order it.
The seasonal salad at Wise Acre Eatery—winter, spring, summer or fall is how the salad is named, and the components reflect the seasons. There are always an abundance of perfect greens, grown year-round (in greenhouses) at Tangletown Gardens Farm, as well as root vegetables, a pickled egg, kicky vinaigrette, and a rotating selection of (often whole grain) accompaniments. It’s the best, most nutritious, and delicious entree salad in the Twin Cities.
Laura vanZandt – Herbivorous Butcher
Reverie Cafe has lots of local beers and ciders as well as a great happy hour every day.
My favorite is the Cubano—it’s mock pulled pork with some good spice to it, and a nice vegan mayo cuts the kick. The flavors blend really nicely. Also the TLT—tempeh, lettuce, and tomato. The tempeh has a great marinade, and it’s cooked perfectly and sliced thin. It’s not missing the bacon flavor at all.
Sameh Wadi – Saffron, World Street Kitchen
Papaya salad from On’s Kitchen (note, contains fish sauce).
The dish is so simple, yet very complex. Shredded green papaya is mixed with bitter eggplant, carrots, garlic, lots of chilies (I like it spicy!), sugar, fish sauce, tamarind paste, lime, and just the right amount of MSG. Funky, sweet, spicy, fresh, bitter…delicious.
Beth Dooley – Author, “In Winter’s Garden”
The Birchwood Cafe’s classic vegetable hand pie changes with the seasons yet is always spot on.
Right now, the rich, flaky pastry wraps a medley of turnips, parsnips, celery root, kale, and feta, and is drizzled with tangy blood-orange gastrique.
Next month, who knows vibrant filling awaits that first bite? That’s the fun of Birchwood’s hyper-local, easy, elegant hand-pie.
- Spicy grilled eggplant at Black Sheep Pizza Eat Street
- All of the grilled vegetables at The Third Bird
- Eggs, black beans, and plantains at Victor’s 1959 Cafe
- Palak Paneer at Everest on Grand
- Carrots with honey at 112 Eatery
- Roasted broccolini with turmeric sauce at Burch
- Mondays at Haute Dish
- Everyday at Spoonriver