Everything’s coming up vegetables—meatless Mondays, new government RDAs and awareness of industrial farming practices have persuaded scads of people to go vegetarian—or at least to eat more vegetable-based meals. Our food culture guru Michael Pollan dictates: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Thanks to innovations in farming, refrigeration and transportation, we can do just that. We’ve noticed that many restaurants’ vegetarian forays are the most interesting dishes on the menu, perhaps due to the wealth of raw materials. So, check out our local rainbow of tasty vegetable dishes.
Maple-glazed Beet Salad
Salad can be a disappointing meal for vegetarians because it’s often the default fallback when there are no other veggie dishes on the menu. Luckily, some kitchens are watching out for us veg-heads: the maple-glazed beet salad ($9) at Café Cravings is no consolation prize but a hearty, vibrant meal. It’s a riot of sprightly baby greens, roasted beets, toasted walnuts and crumbled bleu cheese sealed with a kiss of sweet-tart raspberry vinaigrette. The beets are blood-red and satisfyingly dense, while the walnuts and cheese deliver the protein you need. 1600 County Road E, Gem Lake; 651.482.7742.
Vegetarian Tasting Menu
This lovely old house on the lake serves Italian-inflected food that hits all the buzzwords: fresh, local and contemporary. The menu is dazzling to the point of decision paralysis; one solution is to order a tasting menu. Start with one of the fantastic salads such as the Anguria: cubes of watermelon tossed with chopped fresh mint, salty feta cheese and spinach, laced with an elegant olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. For a main course, the Parmesan risotto is a cornucopia of some of our favorites: caramelized brussels sprouts, roasted sweet grape tomatoes and asparagus. Generous amounts of Sicilian onion and garlic add intensity; the creamy rice is finished with the nutty, sweetly pungent Grana Padano cheese. And the butterscotch budino (pudding), drizzled with caramel, is an old-fashioned dish both nostalgic and exciting. $40. 4453 Lake Ave. S., White Bear Lake; 651.407.7317.
Bucket of Fries
“Vegetarian” and “healthy” are not always synonymous. Take Ingredients Café’s made-to-order bucket of fries ($6.95). It’s a real bucketful (albeit a small one) that’s meant to be shared. The spuds are hand-cut, flecks of skin in evidence, seasoned with Parmesan cheese and chives. They’re served piping-hot with an unusual but spot-on buttermilk ranch dressing. You may find yourself tussling with your dining mates over the last few fries. 4725 Highway 61, White Bear Lake; 651.426.6611.
The sunny Mediterranean climate is known for growing luscious tomatoes, olives and cucumbers, among other things. Manitou Station’s Mediterranean sampler is a dynamic assortment of meatless goodies. The hummus, a protein-rich chickpea and tahini dip, has a lush, almost creamy texture; feta cheese and garlic crostini hits a salty note; and fresh tomato and cucumber slices liven up the scene. Big purplish-brown Greek olives punctuate the array, which is even better with a glass of wine. $12. 2171 Fourth St., White Bear Lake; 651.426.2300.
Giardiniera ("The Garden") Pizza
Roma Restaurant, Bar and Market
Roma’s wood-fired oven turns out thin-crust Neapolitan style pies within minutes, with vegetarian options galore. The giardiniera pizza’s beautifully blistered crust sports a slick of marinara (tomato) sauce, generous layers of onions, mushrooms, peppers, olives, Roma tomatoes, Calabro mozzarella and the house spicy giardiniera, a tart and zesty mélange of pickled cauliflower, carrots, pepperoncini and red peppers. It’s a symphony of contrasting textures and flavors; the fresh mozzarella cheese tempers the wild mélange with a sweet, milky resonance. $13 small, $24 large. 460 Stillwater Road, Willernie; 651.653.4733.
Grilled Portabella Sandwich
The mighty portabella mushroom is about as beefy as a vegetable can get. Rudy’s soft pretzel bun holds the succulent ’shroom without disintegrating, catching the flow of good juices. This beauty comes with lettuce, tomato and onion on the side; we like it with melted Provolone cheese. $9. 4940 Highway 61, White Bear Lake; 651.653.6718.
Vegetarian Black Bean Mole Enchiladas
In countries where meat is scarce, vegetables often fill in as tongue-tingling cuisine. Case in point: the Mexican-inspired black bean molé enchiladas ($8.95) at Washington Square. Three flour tortillas are filled with tender black beans, bathed in an authentic molé sauce, and blanketed with melted cheese. It comes with Spanish rice, sour cream and delectable sides: black beans, fiery salsa, chunky pico de gallo and silky, buttery guacamole. 4736 Washington Square, White Bear Lake; 651.407.7162.