Monday, December 6, 2010
oh, sweetart, how we love thee. there are few things in my life more comforting than walking into a strictly vegetarian restaurant, and when the food is top notch, well, fuggitaboutit. from the moment we set foot in this shaw neighborhood cafe, we knew we'd found a new friend. (we only wish we'd discovered it sooner!) since our visit a year ago, sweetart has been building a bit of a following in the st. louis foodie scene. in fact, their vegan brownies are featured on the cover of this month's sauce magazine. all the attention they've received is justified, no doubt, but most of the attention seems to be aimed at their desserts (they're delicious, by the way, if a bit on the sweet side). for this review, we'll be focusing exclusively on the savory fare.
tucked away in the underrated shaw neighborhood, this lovely little cafe is decorated with cbabi bayoc's fluid, vibrant, jazz-improv paintings, and the seating is eclectic mix of vintage chairs and tables. the muted palette of the furniture balances nicely with the brilliant colors of cbabi's art, but most of all the place just feels "lived in"--unpretentious, comfortable, and inviting. to be sure, the place is a bit cramped during lunch rush, but when the food is this good, it's a minor inconvenience. plus, for the most part (except for that one dickhead sitting next to us this summer), the patrons are friendly and interested in being descent human beings. once you visit sweetart, you'll understand that this is not a place where jerks hang out.
without fail, the service at sweetart is on point. even though there's minimal interaction with the staff (one orders at the front counter, after all, and one does bus his or her own dishes), we're always greeted with a smile. we frequently see cbabi helping out in the front, and if you're not too shy, he's very approachable. again, it just wouldn't make any sense for the owners to be jerks. still, cbabi and reine are both wildly talented people, so it's nice to know that they're grounded. you get the feeling that they're the type of people you'd want to spend a lot of time with.
we've tried many things at sweetart over the last year, but there's always one constant: the sweet burger. it's a beautiful melange of onions, lentils, carrots, and textured vegetable protein (we think?). it's topped with tomatoes, organic greens, house vegan spread (to die for!), and, in their own words, "magic." you can also opt for avocado for a little extra dough, and though it's a lovely addition, the burger is so good that you're fine foregoing the extra expense.
for this visit, we wanted the "tower grove," a delectable un-chicken salad sandwich, but since it's out of season, we went with the "39th." the best vegetarian blt in the country (the world?) is in northampton, ma, at green bean cafe, but sweetart's version is a more than competent substitute. what sets the two apart is that green bean's blt comes with homemade tempeh for the "bacon"; at sweetart, they use smart bacon, which is a tasty soybacon for sure, but it just can't quite shake the processed feeling/texture. to be clear, this is still a very good sandwich, even if it feels a bit too savory. again, though, this sandwich is topped with the house vegan spread, and if you missed it before, we'll remind you that this stuff is to die for.
a quick aside: you'll notice that there are tortilla chips on one of the plates. ordinarily, sandwiches come with either fruit or locally-made billy goat chips, but after many disappointing experiences with the billy goat chips, we now make a point to get tortilla chips. to be fair to the billy goat chip company, the only time we've ever had bad experiences with their product is at sweetart. we have no explanation for this. more than anything, we'd just like to know if other visitors to sweetart have had the same experience. nevertheless, we love the sandwiches so much, we'd return again and again even if sweetart only offered a lump of dirt for a side dish.