I've watched friends over the years navigate the vegetarian life in Baton Rouge and I'm always fascinated by how they manage it. Things have improved considerably with the convergence of a successful 15-year-old farmers market, a handful of local health food stores, a mammoth Whole Foods and serious growth in the restaurant sector. Still, if you've sworn off meat and fish, going veg' requires planning, thought—and sometimes patience. Most vegetarians have a story in which they've earned the stink-eye from an impatient server for asking too many questions about the composition of a particular dish.
I eat meat—there's little I won't eat—but I'm a student of vegetarian cooking in the same way I like to play around with any other food genre. I also like to order veg-centric dishes in restaurants because I find them a great match for hot weather. Zone into local menus and it's clear the landscape continues to improve. Reginelli's, which recently opened a new location on Jefferson Highway in MidCity, has a light and crunchy pressed pita sandwich with cucumber, alfalfa sprouts, hummus, asparagus, artichoke hearts, and feta with pesto oil and red wine vinegar. Mellow Mushroom will now tailor their pizzas for vegans with Daiya Vegan Cheese. The newish Bread Box on Essen Lane features a rich, luscious grilled portobello mushroom panini with roasted red peppers, red onion, baby spinach, pesto, provolone and mozzarella. MJ's Café, which opened last year, features an exclusively vegan-vegetarian-seafood menu including vegan green chili with black beans and tomatillos. Truly Free Bakery and Café's menu is all about options for vegetarians and vegans, including tempeh or tofu rice bowls with fresh vegetables. The inexpensive campus sushi buffet Kaminari includes a speedy stir-fry station that has udon noodles and lots of fresh vegetables. Covington-based Nur's Kitchen, which sells Mediterranean fare at the Red Stick Farmers Market and at Whole Foods, features a savory, edgy red lentil ball that is a winning meat substitute. Veteran health food store Our Daily Bread serves a veggie po'boy with soy cheese and a chef's salad made over with baked tofu, free-range boiled eggs and pumpkin seeds. And as the city's commitment to seasonal and local ingredients expands, options for vegetarians will continue to grow. The much-anticipated Magpie Café in the Perkins Road Overpass District has garnered coverage in local magazines and a sizeable Facebook following without even having opened. And the national gourmet grocery store (there's a contingent in town hoping for Trader Joe's) that will soon be the Magpie's neighbor at Perkins and Acadian Thruway also promises to make life easier for the green set.
Maggie Heyn Richardson is a freelance journalist and a regular 225 contributor whose work has appeared in Eating Well and on the national public radio program, On Point. She has appeared on the Cooking Channel and is currently working on a book about Louisiana foodways. Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @mhrwriter.
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