The Kansas City metro area has come a long way in the past several years in terms of satisfying vegetarian tastes. Many people these days prefer to eat healthy, which has spurred chefs to make vegetables a main consideration rather than an afterthought. No longer do we have to suffer through steamed vegetable plates.
Here are some of my favorite veggie dishes around town:
1. Mushroom ramen at Columbus Park Ramen Shop in Columbus Park. The mushroom-charred leek broth with miso, black garlic oil, roasted and marinated mushrooms, seasonal veggie, nori, and scallion has an intensity that is incredibly rich and satisfying.
2. The kale and shaved Brussels sprouts salad at Westside Local is one big bowl of crunch. Tossed with slivered almonds, fried shallots, Parmesan and an addictive maple-tahini dressing, the salad is typically gilded with crisp brown sugar bacon, but you can easily ask your server to leave it off.
3. Another lovely vegetarian option at Westside Local is the quinoa bowl. The vegetables are changed up seasonally; my favorite highlights spring veggies. Non-vegetarians can add salmon or chicken for a heartier meal.
4. At barbecue restaurants, vegetables other than coleslaw or potato salad, don’t typically grace the menu, but at the Char Bar the Roots & Fruits salad will have you reconsidering that pulled pork sandwich. Beets, Brussels sprouts, roasted parsnips, goat cheese are finished with goat cheese and blackberry wine vinaigrette. Pass it around the table or keep it for yourself, but do give it a try.
5. Pizza may not be considered healthy vegetarian food, but it certainly can be vegetarian. If you want to expand your repertoire beyond a Margarita with just tomato sauce, moaazarella and basil, check out the Potato pizza at Pizza Bella. Thin coins of roasted potato and melted Gorgonzola are smothered with thin strands of radicchio for a lively taste treat. The mushroom pizza with rich taleggio cheese is another great option.
6. Chef Craig Howard of Howard’s Cafe spent weeks/months developing a veggie burger that would rival any beef burger, even going so far as to make his own cheese for it. The burger is made with French green lentils, red beans, rehydrated porcini, brown rice, quinoa, carrots, garlic, nutritional yeast and vegan Worcestershire sauce. After much trial and error, the final product doesn’t fall apart and is a exemplary entry in the veggie burger sweepstakes, along with Room 39’s, Westport Local’s and the Beer Kitchen.
7. Plate, the new modern-Italian eatery in Brookside, serves up a Brussels sprouts crostini that had me questioning why I had never come up with the idea…it’s such an obvious and idyllic combination. Crispy Brussels sprouts leaves sit atop grilled bread and are complemented beautifully by creamy ricotta, honey and preserved lemon.
8. I am a long time fan of Princess Garden. Sam and his family treat their guests like family, and brother Robert serves up my favorite Chinese food in the metro. My go-to vegetarian dish there is the Harvest Vegetables. It’s an off-menu item, but it’s the non-meat version of Harvest Pork, with the same fragrant and flavorful garlic-ginger, and black bean sauce coating broccoli, snow peas, and peppers.
9. The Magic Mushroom sandwich at Classic Cup is as much of a mainstay on the menu as the Thai Chicken pizza. While I don’t think the pizza is nearly as good as it was 20 years ago, the sandwich has stood the test of time. It’s stacked with portobello mushroom, pepper, lettuce and tomato and slathered with goat cheese aioli. Order extra aioli on the side so there’s enough for each bite.
10. I haven’t sampled the grilled pimento cheese sandwiches at Urban Table or the Char Bar, but it’s a trendy riff on the traditional grilled cheese, and worth a try. Same with Mac & Cheese. The renditions at Q39, Char Bar, Extra Virgin and Westside Local have a loyal following, though I’ve only tried the Poblano Mac & Cheese at Extra Virgin, and I’m a fan.
11. The Potatoes Bravas at Extra Virgin are perhaps more bar food than what would typically be considered a vegetarian dish, but they don’t have meat and I can make a meal out of them! Thin and crisp slices of potato are smothered with romesco sauce and served in a cast iron skillet, presumably to be shared at the table. They are addictive and I have trouble not inhaling them and ordering another batch.