Sunday, September 25, 2011

best of st. louis: the veggie burger

we've been compiling notes for months on veggie burgers in the lou, in all their glory or unfortunate lack thereof. we've always been very thankful to be in a city that is so accommodating to vegetarians' needs, so we've been doing our best to take full advantage of it. it seems like almost everybody has a veggie burger, and some places have really surprised us. this may not be as harrowing or historical a survey as lewis and clark's, but we tried to document every discovery with just as much diligence. it's been hard work. grueling at times. but you know us: anything for science. 

the burgers are listed in alphabetical order, in three categories: the one you can't live in st. louis without having eaten, the ones we think are pretty damn good, and the ones we've enjoyed even though we might change a thing or two. our aim is briefly to mention anything noteworthy while keeping the reading to a minimum.

do not miss:
sweetart: the most interesting housemade patty in the city. reine bayoc has crafted a burger with the most delightful texture and flavor, striking a delicate balance between smooth and sturdy, sweet and savory. the blend of lentils and carrots with a hint of cinnamon and a kiss of their secret sauce is something you'll crave every day you don't get to have one. 

highly recommended:
bailey's range: the basic veggie burger here is essentially the same as the one at the now-defunct terrene, with the chief exception being that the match meat is replaced by pinto beans and hominy. deee-licious.
fozzie's sandwich emporium: both the veggie and the black bean burgers are delicious. while somewhat soft, the boldness and distinction between their flavors is pretty awesome. they even have a vegan menu you can ask to see.
grace manor: chef debra grace boasts two of the most creative burgers in the area and we still have yet to see anyone else make mention of them. the black eyed pea burger, with its bell peppers, jalapeno, carrot, cilantro lime dressing, and sriracha mayo is the banh mi's burger reincarnate--a perfect hybrid sandwich when you can't decide if you want comfort food or ethnic. there's also the ozark forest mushroom burger, made of organic shiitake, oyster, and cremini mushrooms, with some onion, garlic, and rosemary to round out the intense earthiness of the fungi. amazingly, the patty is really sturdy and the awesome flavor and unique texture will put to shame anything out there masquerading a portobello steak as a most other ones, too.
local harvest: their pinto bean patty is smooth and subtle, and the hummus, red onions, pickles, and garlic aioli complement it harmoniously. a lovely brioche bun brings it all together.
lucas park grille: a savory, earthy "match" patty accompanied by grilled tomato, rich parmesan aioli, and their delicious housemade mozz makes this healthful lunch only feel decadent.
mokabe's: we really love this throwback burger. a "match" patty is the only thing that makes this different from the burgers you ate as a kid. dressed old-school style with pickle, onion, ketchup, and mustard. the only thing missing is a plastic-wrapped promotional toy.
puravegan: probably the most unconventional burger on here, this one is totally raw and boasts a uniquely smooth, almost creamy texture. we recommend it with their cheddar sauce.
rooster: we recommend going vegan and ordering yours on their housemade focaccia. dressed simply with tomato, greens, and guac, the patty is really allowed to shine. 
the royale: since terrene closed, the royale's "match" patties are the best in town. with an interesting toppings list and seasonal, local ingredients to choose from, you just can't go wrong here.
sacred grounds: this unassuming coffee shop offers up a great housemade burger, served up panini-style. try some of their other sandwiches, too, and wash 'em down with an artful, lovingly crafted latte. 
schlafly bottleworks: these folks have been perfecting the black bean patty for a while. it's soft inside, crusty on the edges, and seasoned perfectly with chipotle. the toppings add well-balanced flavor, and finishing with the companion wheat bun leaves nothing to be desired. except more more more.
square one: we are huge fans of their build-a-burger menu tuesday nights. they grill up some "match" patties to add flavorful char, and there's a great variety of toppings and housemade aiolis to have fun dressing up your patty.
three kings: this is yet another match meat patty, and it's a very good offering. the burger is definitely a generous portion, and the chipotle mayo is quite nice (though we'd prefer a little more kick). 

atomic cowboy: saucy, maybe too saucy, but the patty is homemade. soft but not crumbly, and the brioche bun adds a nice sweetness. but we need more heat in the chipotle mayo!
barrister's: the "match" patty is a touch too dry. addition of sprouts and avocado is nice, though there needs to be more of the latter for it to really come through. the housemade hummus is a nice, needed flavor kick.
the bleeding deacon: a vegetarian boudin-style burger. very clever, but somehow slightly bland. we're rooting for improvements, as this is a well-loved place with a lot of veg options.
boogaloo: awesome texture and veg accompaniments, but lacking in spices and too reliant on a dormant "volcano sauce."
cyrano's: lettuce, onion, tomato, and remoulade make this a nice, uncomplicated burger. patty is also nice. but nice burgers don't really stand out, you know?
OR juice & smoothie: technically not a burger since they crumbled their "meatballs," this one is actually more reminiscent of a banh mi. it features daikon, carrot, cilantro, and mayo on baguette. it's a tad dry, but a little drizzle of bragg's can fix that.
schlafly taproom: the grilled veg and black bean patty is made in-house. topped with marinated jicama and sweet corn puree, it's a delightful blend of complementary flavors.
sub zero: you can choose either the falafel patty (but be sure to request a pan-fry to avoid a shared fryer) or the black bean. with a gourmet list of ingredients, you can design a burger uniquely to your taste. we love ours with avocado, fried egg, jalapeno, and pepper jack.
vegadeli: they've got two: the soy patty humburger, and the black bean patty. we've had the BBQ humburger and were disappointed by the lack of sauce and the bun straight from the bag. the bean burger is paired with a mango sauce that isn't for us, but overall, ain't bad.

let us know if your favorite patty's not on here, or tell us what you thought of ours!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

city review: northampton, ma

if you're lucky enough to have reason to be in the pioneer valley, or if you find yourself in boston with time for a daytrip, make a visit to northampton. it's the quintessential college town with five schools in the area; amherst and south hadley are worth seeing, too, but northampton's the best destination for hungry foodies and anyone in the mood to go thrifting, antiquing, and museuming. be sure to see smith college's art collection and the mortimer rare book room.

a favorite breakfast/lunch spot, the green bean serves up wholesome, local, organic eats. they even make their own tempeh, and it's totally unlike anyone else's... which is to say, effing delicious. the vblat--vegan blt--is a divine blend of avocado, vegenaise, their special marinated tempeh, and fresh greens on perfectly toasted local artisan bread. absolutely stunning in its simplicity.

The Green Bean on Urbanspoon

a family business and northampton mainstay, they've been dishing out inspired, all natural, health-conscious food for over three decades. the sea vegetable salad is excellent and, to our experience, unique. all the salads are hearty and incredibly diverse in flavor and texture. the broccoli seitan is outstanding and made a confirmed vegetarian out of lois after her first dinner with clark (which happened to be at p&e's). the standout item, however, is the veggie burger: served on housemade foccacia and accompanied by their always-perfect sweet potato fries, it is the best veggie burger on the east coast. once you've had it, you'll truly understand what "crave-worthy" means.

Paul & Elizabeth's on Urbanspoon

this cafe is the sistine chapel of indie coffeehouses. fresh smoothies and juice cocktails concocted on the spot; an all-vegetarian breakfast/lunch menu; fair trade, house-roasted coffee beans; a selection of baked decadences that cater even to vegan and gluten-free diets--this is a holy place for anyone needing a respite. may we suggest the grilled cheese, featuring gruyere, avocado, tomato, dijon, and basil mayo. wash it down with a captain crunch cocktail (pineapple, mint, banana, apple, spirulina). is your mouth watering? it's because your tastebuds are crying with happiness.

Haymarket Juice Bar and Café on Urbanspoon

award-winning iced cream by a trailblazer in the industry. they always have vegan options available: usually there are a couple sorbets and a non-dairy iced cream choice, too. with a flavor list of over 200, it's no wonder they keep a phone list to alert customers when their favorites are back. but even if yours isn't currently on, you'll find at least three new faves each time you go. you might even run into ben and jerry here while they stop by to pay homage to the man who inspired them.

Herrell's Ice Cream Corporation on Urbanspoon

a local chain, this fast food mexican joint offers seitan and tofu as protein alternatives. obviously, it's not fast food like your parents are used to, but once you introduce them, they'll be converted. it's cooked right in front of you, and the sauces and all the fix-ins are made fresh daily. good and healthy, just as advertised, though they forgot to mention how delicioso, tambien.

Bueno Y Sano on Urbanspoon

when we crave indian, this is the first place we think of. it's an intimately run family operation, and all of them are super-friendly, warm personalities. the menu features the most sumptuous and enticing vegetarian dishes we've seen, not to mention the most numerous! written with an almost poetic flair, you'll have a tough time choosing just a couple dishes. let us help: makai palak malai is a must. check out this description: "an affectionate pairing of sweet corn and tender spinach seduced in a creamy coconut milk and a slight aroma of cardamom." swoon.

India House on Urbanspoon

without exaggeration, this local, organic artisan bread is the best ever. everything we've had before and since pales in comparison. certainly nothing in st. louis even comes close. they were just nominated by the james beard foundation, if that gives you an idea of the quality this tiny operation produces. they're just now expanding, and we can't wait to see what they do in the future. if you're lucky enough to be in the area, go here first, as they tend to run out. our favorites are the rosemary loaf and the olive fougasse. we've had more than one "bread dinner" just to savor these without distraction.

Hungry Ghost Bread on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


even though it's our favorite mexican in town, we've somehow not yet written about chava's. they've got the freshest, most delicious homemade salsa, the guacamole can't be beat (those of you chanting "nachomama's" might as well be asking "what's guac?"), and how can you go wrong with a selection of fresh fruit margaritas? you can't. duh.


the rustic ceiling tiles, bright glass mosaic lamps, swiveling twin fans, and terracotta tiles really make this place feel authentic without trying too hard. you may think sombreros and faux greenery are borderline hokey, but they've really struck a comfortable balance here: it's just festive enough without being cheesy. the building itself is quite beautiful and inviting from the outside, and its proximity to other soulard attractions like the market really make it a prime location. sitting outside really makes you feel like part of the neighborhood, and they even welcome your canine amigos, too.
we've had some great servers here, and although a large staff can sometimes mean that tables get overlooked in the chaos, chava's staff are very friendly, observant, and efficient. it's not unusual to have three different people bring us our food. we've found that besides signifying a less personal experience, it just means that when we're out of chips and salsa, they're on it. we may not feel lavished by anyone's attention, but we're there for the food, after all. 

we have usuals when we come here. we almost always get an order of the guacamole to start, because the housemade chips (cooked in a veg-friendly fryer, hooray!) and salsa are delicious, but without their guac, it's a little like having apple pie without the a la mode.

then, we order a vegetarian quesadilla for clark and the vegetarian fajitas for lois. the quesadilla is unique in its vegetable quotient, including not-often- seen ingredients like squash, zucchini, baby carrots, and baby corn. we were skeptical the first time, but it only took a couple bites for it to change how we looked at everyone else's vegetarian quesadillas. we actually feel satisfied and relatively guiltless after eating here--no small thing, as we usually just see bell peppers and handfuls of cheese at other mexican joints. and don't get us wrong, you'll get handfuls of cheese here, too, but chava's just makes sure that there's some actual substance in these quesadillas for the cheese to melt over. who would have thought you could have all the gobs of cheese you crave and feel pretty healthy at the same time?

the serving size of the fajitas is pretty generous, so be prepared to take some home. the vegetables are seasoned lightly enough to be just that much more tasty without overpowering the natural flavors there, and we've never seen them overcooked. the tortillas served on the side are soft and warm, but lois usually finds that the veg medley, guac, and cheese on this happy platter don't require actually being made into fajitas to be satisfying. maybe that's just her impatience--who could wait two more minutes to assemble the food when it's just as good as it is? however you like your fajitas, your tastebuds and your belly will be completely satisfecho.

we do also recommend building your own burrito (the guajillo salsa is great with the veg medley). while these are pretty much the only vegetarian options here, we don't find ourselves missing anything else. with the historic soulard market just a half mile away, this is the perfect spot to fill up for lunch after you've whetted your appetite browsing produce and spices. 


vegetarian-friendly score:
b (because the rice and beans aren't always vegetarian--we've heard conflicting things from different staff, so we just avoid them)

Chava's on Urbanspoon