Updated 12 months ago
Today’s vegetarians and allied tribes have swarmed far from campus hummus shops and health food stores.
Mainstream malls and chic shopping streets from Palm Beach to Orlando across Florida support chains, caterers and grander restaurants with nouvelle-pretty plates and chefs with culinary chops.
You can pair them with fine wine and craft beer as well as mango smoothies and kombucha tea — and there are more juice bars and tea shops than ever, too.
Even in omnivorous restaurants, menus now bristle with abbreviations and asterisks promising vegetarian options.
Today’s stylish vegetarians have both more wit and more earnestness, strict in vegan principles and sensitive to the newest health trends, sometimes eschewing heat as well as meat and ditching milk along with wheat.
This hunger and passion is felt broadly and especially at the high end of the market, as demonstrated by celebrity vegetarians like Bill Clinton and upscale merchants like Whole Foods.
The modern vegan menu is brighter than brown rice and tofu, falafel and lentils. With lettuce wrap tacos and zucchini noodles, vegetarian chefs now utilize the traditions and formats of Mexico, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Jewish cuisines.
Vegetarians also cook with a bigger market basket thanks to the young local produce movement and new culinary fashions that make kale, beets and cauliflower sexy.
Meze 119, St. Petersburg
Natural goes beyond earth tones and Mideast favorites at the downtown bistro, with flat iron “stak,’’ New York wines and Bloody Mary brunches.
Escopazzo, South Beach
The uptown pioneer may be Escopazzo organic Italian started by Giancarla Bodoni in 1993. Beef ragu is available, but meatless meatballs, caramelized pear ravioli and butternut squash and a long raw food list are more tempting. Consider vegetable lasagnette with cashew ricotta or zucchini fettuccine with walnut pesto. Pick from 400 Italian wines.
Veg gives vegetarian dining a strong seafood addition and a global accent: Herring, latkes, pan-seared tofu and vegetarian shabu shabu. For dessert, have cashew cheesecake or fig and date pie with raisins, walnuts and coconut crust.
Christopher’s Kitchen, Palm Beach
At Christopher’s Kitchen, the tacos are handmade from vegetables, the mac ‘n’ cheese uses quinoa pasta with “cheeses” made from cashews and Brazil nuts. Pizzas run from avocado to Thai and even Hawaiian, with no ham but pineapple, macadamia ricotta and BBQ sauce. Besides fine wines, Christopher’s has a cleansing program where you consume only handsqueezed juices ($65 a day).
Darbster, West Palm Beach/Boca Raton
At Darbster, you can try a newfangled vegan Reuben of tempeh or garden sliders, complete with house pickles. More elegant are Spinach Louie with eggplant “bacon,” quinoa loaf with porcini gravy, crispy hearts of palm cakes and wellington with the phyllo wrapped around mushroom duxelles.
Sublime, Fort Lauderdale
Vegetarian gets its flashiest turn at Sublime, founded by animal rights activist Nanci Alexander. Flat bread goes upper crust with caviar and creme fraiche; risotto cakes of crimini and portobello are dolled with Alfredo sauce and fritto misto of cauliflower. Bartenders mix fresh fruits, organic tequila and vodkas.
The options can be confusing, conflicting and subject to passionate debate. Some like “local,” “natural” and “sustainable” are quite broad. Here’s a guide:
Vegetarian/Vegan (V): While some vegetarians eat poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy, stricter vegans avoid them. On menus it usually means no animal products.
Gluten free (GF): Made without gluten, a wheat protein found in four, bread and pasta
Raw (R): Ingredients are uncooked or heated minimally (less than 120 degrees).
Living (L): Foods with more active enzymes, such as sprouted beans
Organic (O): Grown without pesticides and fertilizers under various certifications
Biodynamic (B): Like organic but more holistic and spiritual
Macrobiotic (M): Foods that are whole and unrefined, particularly grains
Flexitarian: Cutting back on meat and poultry, often to two or three days a week
Multiple locations from group operations make vegan and vegetarian dining easier:
Loving Hut (Cape Coral, Miami, Naples, Orlando) has varied menus of salads, Asian rolls, portobello “steak” and Vietnamese dishes.
Vegan meets Chipotle at Florida locations of Amsterdam- born Maoz: Decide on salad, falafel or vegan shawarma, then pick toppings like avocado and hard-boiled egg, then choose sides.
Woodlands Restaurants (Orlando, Lauderhill) have long lists of popular South Indian Udipi dishes plus Jain options for those who avoid onions, garlic and potatoes.
Twenty-year-old Evos (Tampa Bay, south Florida, North Carolina, Georgia) will soon have eight locations in the state serving its twist on classic fast food, including veggie corn dogs.