The Vegetarian Menu

The view from dinner

I spent part of my summer in the Florida Keys. When I say “part of my summer,” I mean, like, four days. I came home and practically had to change my last name to Hemingway because I was just such a local after four full days in a strange land. It was my first trip down to the Keys and one of my first trips while veganisming. According to spell check, veganisming is apparently a word I just invented. More importantly, trying to eat vegetables in one of the fish capitals of the world was difficult.

One evening, we went to a restaurant on the water because pretty much everything in the Keys is on the water. I mean, the Keys are islands, after all. Well, technically the keys are keys, but who really knows the difference, anyway? You’ve hit vegetarian gold if you can find a land-locked restaurant in the Keys because that restaurant probably serves vegetables. But on the water, fish is what’s for dinner.

Of course I did what every vegetarian does before visiting an unfamiliar restaurant. I searched that menu up and down on my iPhone like a vegetarian looking through the aisles for hummus at a Wal-Mart on a Friday night (Wal-Mart typically keeps the hummus by the meat/bakery section just so to ensure that we won’t ever find it. And then the employees are instructed to say “What the f*** is that?” when you ask them where the hummus is. Ah, I love America.). Within a few minutes on the restaurant’s website, I found an entire page of vegetarian options. AN ENTIRE PAGE! The page included vegetarian appetizers, salads, entrees, sides and desserts. It was the greatest discovery ever. I didn’t just have to choose between the veggie burger (no pickles, please) and the veggie wrap. I had an entire page and it even broke the items down further to explain which ones were vegan. Needless to say, I was very excited to arrive at the restaurant and proudly order the pasta primavera. Too good to be true, right?

Somewhat right. When I arrived, the menu I received listed a million different items all containing meat and then a small line at the bottom telling the weird dietary control freaks to ask their waiter for the vegetarian and gluten-free menus. Thankfully, I had done my research so I was already aware of what I wanted from the veggie menu (PASTA PRIMAVERA!!!). However, there were so many great dishes on the vegetarian menu that were nowhere to be found on the menu passed out at dinner. Literally every dish that was meat-free and cooked in their kitchen was only listed on their separate veggie menu. Couldn’t it be possible that a meat eater would also enjoy pasta primavera, tomato basil pasta or grilled mushroom kabobs? Of course they would. I was one of these people for years before becoming a true vegetarian. There are all of these delicious, health-conscious, and morally honest meals that no one at the table knows about but me. In my opinion, vegetarian meals should be promoted and offered to everyone regardless of whether that person was searching the menu for something meatless.

Before my experience in the keys, I never really cared how the veggie options were listed on the menu. I was just happy when I had more than one option (veggie curry, black bean burger AND a tabouli salad?! THREE options?! Have I found my new favorite restaurant?!). However, this restaurant made me think a little differently. I absolutely loved the dish I ordered (PASTA PRIMAVERA!!!) and was so thankful for the separate and detailed vegetarian menu. However, it does feel a little strange having to request a separate menu as if my choice to eat vegetables means I can’t order off the grown up menu (can I get crayons with my vegetarian menu?). And what about all the omnivores who enjoy a good mushroom kabob every now and then? Please tell me these people exist somewhere. Please?

What’s your thought on the best way to list vegetarian menu items on a menu? Should there be a separate menu only for us tree hugging, granola-eating foodie nerds or should there just be a little (V) marked next to the veggie items on the main menu? Or, no indication at all for those of you extreme menu-searchers? Whatever your preference, let’s hope you never get stuck going to one of those restaurants where you’re like, “F*** it, I’ll get the house salad, no dressing, and a side of steamed broccoli. Salivating already.”

7 thoughts on “The Vegetarian Menu

  1. Oh, yes. The dusty and forgotten stepchild of a menu that they have to root around for after eying you with fear and suspicion :-). I would prefer either veg options listed separately within the general menu, or symbols telling me what is vegan or can be made vegan. But you are right: certainly some meat eaters might want something veg now and again!

  2. I was recently at Applebee’s and was VERY disappointed to see how difficult it was to order a vegetarian meal–I think I ended up with a salad where I had to specify “no chicken.”. It is easier to go veggie at Longhorn Steakhouse!!! We need to get more vocal and let the restaurants know how much we would appreciate veggie and vegan options. Praise the restaurants that offer healthy/veggie/vegan choices and complain at places like Applebee’s! Taco Bell’s new veggie Cantina salads are amazing! How hard is it to throw a bean burger onto the menu, at the very least?

    • Sue, the funny thing is, Applebees had all kinds of vegetarian options in the past. Long ago, it was one of the first places to offer Gardenburgers. Then they had some great pasta selections. And now… it’s abysmal. I only go there when friends won’t go anywhere else, and end up creating my own dishes out of ingredients on their menu, with specific directions. They seem more responsive to the allergies than the vegetarianism. The preparation really varies according to the skill and willingness of the cooks.

      Yeah, isn’t that weird about steakhouses? I’ve had some really great, very accommodating people at Outback, and some people who didn’t care about the veggie stuff, but were scared of triggering the allergies. I was treated exceptionally well at a Ruth Chris, but you expect that from a higher-end place.

  3. I really like it when they just make a header for it, and include it on the menu. I especially like when they use inclusive phrasing, like “healthy options”. Then, you are at least presenting the option. And omg, yes to the house salad thing! How many times have we all been there?

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