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Being a vegetarian is serious business. To some, it may seem like a cult group of food snobs going through a fad. Others might assume that the only people forgoing meat are hippies who cultivate a oneness with nature and reject the notion of harming animals.
The truth is, being a vegetarian has outgrown all types.
Oklahoma’s own country music superstar Carrie Underwood is a vegetarian. She pledged to go meat-free after she saw livestock being castrated.
It even gets more local that. Oklahoma City Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid is an herbivore, as is Romy Owens, local artist and a vegetarian for 25 years.
“The decision to become a vegetarian probably would have been a passing fad, except my parents mocked me and said it would never last,” Owens says. “[Now] I’m quite knowledgeable about the health, ethical and environmental issues surrounding vegetarianism. I’ve been vegetarian longer than I haven’t.”
For her, dining in OKC is a breeze.
She lists Cheever’s, Queen of Sheba and Coolgreens as some of her favorite spots to grab a veg-friendly meal.
“I have noticed that there are more vegetarian-friendly restaurants than there were 25 years ago, for certain. Even in the past five years, there are many more choices,” she says. “Oklahoma City is absolutely on par in the vegetarian-friendly-places-to-eat department.”
With the move toward a healthier existence, piggybacked by Mayor Mick Cornett’s campaign for a citywide weight-loss program, OKC slowly has edged toward a healthier, more conscious mindset.
Keeping up with consumer demand, Picasso Cafe, 3009 Paseo, offers a vegetarian and wine pairing dinner every third Tuesday of the month, each with a specific theme.
For the quaint Paseo restaurant, it’s a nice boost in sales, too. The dinner packs in about 110 people, at $18 per dinner, with the option to add wine to all courses for another $10. Kim Dansereau, co-owner of Picasso and The Other Room, says the dinners have been selling out in advance.
A recent Native American theme featured maize empanadas, squash- and corn-based courses and a quinoa-stuffed portobello mushroom with root vegetable hash.
“It’s a way to try new things,” says Kerry Myers, Picasso’s social media manager.
The meals are a chance to showcase the kind of items you might find in the vegetarian section of its regular menu.
“I want [vegetarians] to look and have their own menu,” Dansereau says. “There was a huge market no one was addressing.”
Myers and Dansereau emphasized that a vegetarian menu doesn’t mean salad only. Dansereau says Picasso offers “vegetarian comfort food” on its regular menu by way of “chicken-fried” portobello with vegetable gravy.
Couscous Cafe, 6165 N. May, offers an authentic taste of Morocco in its substantial vegetarian options. Traditionally, Moroccan cuisine is richly influenced by saffron, and meals are frequently structured around beef, lamb and chicken dishes.
However, because of the culture’s wide use of fruits and vegetables, there’s plenty to offer the vegetarians.
At Couscous, there’s a wide list of vegetarian combos, ranging from hummus to zaalook (fresh eggplant grilled and mashed with tomatoes, cilantro and Moroccan spices) to falafel balls (ground chickpeas cooked to perfection).
Although not all restaurants offer vegetarians their own menu section, some are making strides to accommodate.
Saii Asian Bistro, 6900 N. May, offers a new vegetarian roll. S&B’s Burger Joint, 20 N.W. Ninth, began offering veggie-patty substitutions (The Skinny) about two years ago, when customers started asking for healthier options.
“The local thing is happening; the vegetarian and vegan thing is happening. It just felt right to offer [veggie-patty substitutions] as well,” says Aly Branstetter, general manager at S&B’s Ninth Street location. “We want everyone to be able to enjoy all the flavors that we have, whether you like beef or not.”
It’s not just a simple, frozen patty, either.
“There’s a lot of ingredients. It’s a blend of black beans, navy beans. We do garbanzo beans, oatmeal,” Branstetter says. “We dash a little cayenne in that, too.”
Last November, S&B’s on Ninth sold more than 400 veggie patties, and of its popular sliders sold, 30% were vegetarian.
Branstetter says there’s been a steady increase of “skinny” patties sold, and on Sundays, they make up more of the total sales than beef patties do.
Each month, S&B’s offers a special, off-menu item; January’s was a mushroom and cashew burger.
“It’s got no beef. But it has mushrooms, cashews, lentils, leeks, garlic and celery. And that’s in a full size,” she says.