I’m that girl who brings hummus and veggies to just about every party. My vegetarianism is the reason various guys (or family members) have over-thought where to take me for dinner, and it’s also the reason I’ve been considered an interesting challenge to cook for. Cauliflower “meatballs” have been attempted (see above). But vegetarianism isn’t uncommon in the South anymore, even though it seems we’re supposed to be living out some destiny involving barbecue and seafood.
So I’ve been pleasantly surprised that even some meat-centric eateries around Charlotte have some exciting vegetarian options. Four worth trying:
Block & Grinder
I had never actually considered trying this place (which recently expanded to Mooresville) until last week. I assumed it was the kind of establishment you walk into and see hunks of meat in a case, plus tables for restaurant service. Which did turn out to be the situation, but the space has a modest elegance to it, not to mention some surprisingly delicious vegetarian options on the menu.
You can craft a vegetable plate with items like sauteed spinach, Carolina Gold Pecan Rice and Brussels sprouts (just be sure to ask that the sides are cooked vegetarian-style). There are also “Jar” items to snack on, like pimento cheese and pickled vegetables in a bright platter arrangement.
My pick: The Anti-Burger. The burger is a mushroom and black bean patty complete with B&G Chow Chow — and just the right amount of crispy. It arrived with a green salad. I couldn’t resist the Brussels sprouts, either.
Block & Grinder: 2935 Providence Road and 130 Landings Dr., Suite 103, Mooresville
The feature here: seafood. Charlotte Magazine named ROCKSALT “best raw bar” in the 2016 BOB Awards, calling it “one of the freshest in town.” But their vegetarian options on the list of small plates are also a catch.
When I visited in the spring, I indulged in a spring pea risotto that was small, but creamy and filling. Also, the menu shifts frequently so take a look.
Currently: I’m told there is a Whole Wheat Cavatelli with summer squash, chili and mint yogurt, as well as an NC Burrata with farro, charred corn, peanut romesco and pickled fresno for vegetarians to stick a fork into.
ROCKSALT: 512 Brandywine Road, Suite 500
Don’t let the steakhouse/seafood menu focus here stop you. I venture here for various holidays with my family and, while I miss the giant veggie kabobs that used to be on the menu, my latest go-to is the entree Mixed Greens Salad with tomatoes, spiced pecans, jicama and cilantro-lime vinaigrette with a portabella mushroom added on top. Fun fact: one cup of grilled portabella mushroom carries 5 grams of protein.
Bonus: A salt-encrusted loaded baked potato on the side, sans bacon. Or a cup of vegetarian black bean soup if you’re there for Friday specials.
Firebirds: 7716 Rea Road and other locations
Mac’s Speed Shop
Mac’s is known for its laid-back, biker-bar vibe and BBQ. In 2015, the establishment placed fifth in the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest’s whole hog category.
Vegetarians, beware of certain sides on the menu (like the collards, which are cooked with bacon) — but you could compile a vegetarian-friendly vegetable plate with the mac ‘n cheese, onion rings, french fries, sweet potato fries, potato salad, coleslaw, green bean casserole and creamed corn, a representative clarified for me. There’s also the Vespa Veggie Burger with your choice of fixings (like Chipotle Aioli and sauteed mushrooms).
My preference: The Baja Salad with mixed Greens, black beans, grape tomatoes, corn, pickled red onions, peppers, cucumbers, tortilla strips, black olives, sour cream and Southwestern Ranch dressing.
Mac’s Speed Shop: 2511 South Blvd. and other locations
Next on my list: I vow to try the recently opened Seoul Food Meat Co. in South End this weekend. Two words: Tofu wings.
Photos: Katie Toussaint