When Katie and Sid Sowder met six years ago, finding date-night restaurants in Kansas City wasn’t always easy.
Katie, 34, is a vegetarian who tweets about animal product-free dining at @vegankc. Sid, 42, is a vegan, meaning he abstains from all animal products such as meat, cheese, eggs, milk and honey.
The midtown Kansas City couple found plenty of options at Eden Alley, a vegetarian cafe on the Plaza that opened in 1994, and Jerusalem Cafe, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Westport. But they craved more.
Lucky for them, in the last couple of years, vegan and vegetarian options have increased by leaps and bounds.
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Katie, a librarian and archivist, and Sid, chief technical officer for a management consulting firm, are frequent customers at several Kansas City vegetarian- and vegan-friendly restaurants that have opened in the past five years. Among them: Füd, and Cafe Gratitude. And the Sowders say they’ve noticed a growing number of omnivorous restaurants that serve vegetarian and vegan dishes and clearly mark them on the menu.
For example, Spin, Minksy’s and Waldo Pizza offer meat- and cheese-free pizzas. Joe’s Kansas City serves a vegetarian version of its Z-Man sandwich that swaps barbecue brisket for smoked portobello mushrooms. Even Chipotle has sofritas, a taco and burrito filling made with shredded chipotle-braised tofu.
With suggestions from the Sowders, I’ve been seeking out more vegan food lately. Here are a few of my favorite animal product-free meals.
Cafe Gratitude, 333 Southwest Blvd., serves a satisfying breakfast bowl called I Am Sustained ($9). It’s a softball-sized mug filled with steamed red quinoa, hunks of apple and banana and antioxidant-rich goji berries. (The dried berries look like red raisins and have a sweet-and-sour taste).
The hearty mix is sweetened with real maple syrup, dusted with cinnamon and served with a pour of coconut milk. Because it’s made with lots of protein-rich quinoa, the breakfast bowl is more sustaining than cereal or oatmeal.
If you’re at Cafe Gratitude for lunch, try the I Am Dazzling salad ($6.50 for a hefty half size), a vegan take on a classic Caesar made with romaine lettuce, avocado, capers and “Parmesan” made from Brazil nuts.
Waldo Pizza, with locations at 7433 Broadway St. in Waldo and 1543 Douglas St. in Lee’s Summit, has a separate menu for vegans with everything from breadsticks to sandwiches, pizza and “ice cream” made from cashews.
The pizzeria’s vegan toppings include three types of dairy-free cheese, lots of veggies, and meat-free pepperoni. I tried the St. Louis-style thin crust Waldo Veggie pizza ($11.75 for a 10-inch pie) with Daiya Italian blend cheese — manager Zach Callahan says it melts most easily — and vegan Italian sausage ($1.20 extra).
The pizza was as good as any I’ve had: The abundance of toppings — mushrooms, onions, green and red peppers, black olives, artichokes — provided plenty of flavor, and the crumbles of vegan Italian sausage added a spicy kick. Bonus: The Daiya Italian blend cheese wasn’t as heavy or greasy as the traditional stuff.
Mud Pie Vegan Bakery and Coffeehouse, 1615 W. 39th St., is a great place to indulge your coffee habit or sweet tooth. I’m a newly converted fan of the coconut curry latte ($4.75 for a 16-ounce), a drink that’s not on the regular menu but is a favorite among regular customers. Barista Andrew Sherrill says he also can make the subtly spicy drink with almond, soy, coconut, cashew, rice or hemp milk.
Mud Pie also makes a mean cupcake called the Down N Dirty ($3). The chocolate cupcake is made with vegan substitutes for eggs and butter. The moist, almost black, cake is studded with bits of Newman-O’s, a vegan alternative to the Oreo cookie. On top is a frosting that tastes like the creamy center of an Oreo.
Not into chocolate? Try the coconut-lemon Bundt cake ($2.75), a personal-size confection flecked with lemon zest and coconut flakes and drizzled with icing that forms a sweet pool in the cake’s center.
In October, Lulu’s Asian Bistro opened at 2701 W. 47th St. in Westwood. Just like sister restaurant Lulu’s Thai Noodles in the Crossroads Arts District, the bistro has plenty of meat-free rice and noodle dishes and the kitchen regularly makes substitutions to accommodate special diets.
The special bistro menu, which is available every day except for Monday, offers two vegan options: mushroom soup ($8) and a brown rice pot ($12).
The soup begins with homemade mushroom stock infused with garlic, ginger and kaffir lime. The stock is pureed with tofu, which adds thickness and silky texture, and topped with sauteéd mushrooms, crispy shallots and bits of marinated, fried tofu.
The brown rice, which comes to the table in a small lidded pot, is a mound of soft, sticky brown rice coated in golden curry. A medley of vegetables — bean sprouts, roasted peppers, baby bok choy, Chinese broccoli, cilantro and sliced radishes — add flavor and crunch.
The pot also contains hunks of tofu marinated in tamari, fresh garlic and ginger. I wouldn’t have traded the flavor-packed tofu for chicken, pork or steak.