Why Don't More Craft Beer Bars Cater to Vegetarians?

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Photo by VJ Beauchamp
Portland has two all-vegan craft beer bars like Bye & Bye (seen here). GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME, HOUSTON.
"Another new crafty beer type place just opened, Cottonwood. And if this is not the 15th of these types of craft beer-meet-upscale food, but with a casual vibe, places to open up in Houston that serves nothing vegetarian," a colleague here at the Houston Press recently complained. "The food of these places is all very high-end, despite their want of a laid-back patronage, but with nothing vegetarian-friendly," she continued. "It's so odd, and a trend in a weird direction."

Even as an omnivore who considers herself pretty sensitive to the needs of my vegetarian friends, this isn't an issue that had honestly ever occurred to me. I'm firmly of the opinion that people who choose a restrictive diet are also choosing to have their options narrowed when dining (or drinking) out, so complaints I field about such-and-such restaurant not offering, say, vegan quinoa usually fall on deaf ears.

The statistics bear out what seems to be a small -- if very vocal -- minority: Only 5 percent of Americans identify themselves as vegetarians, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. That number is down slightly from the 6 percent who identified as vegetarians in 2001 and 1999. An even smaller number identify as vegan: only 2 percent.

Despite this, the two minorities -- craft beer fans and vegetarians -- often find themselves overlapping, as both groups tend to be more mindful and supportive of small, local or "artisanal" food and beverage producers. But craft beer bars aren't necessarily the best place for a vegetarian to eat, drink and be merry all at the same time.

"I think the trend in menus at beer bars is to offer food that is basically 'bad' for you and manly," says Mike Sammons, owner of Mongoose versus Cobra as well as its wine bar counterpart, 13 Celsius. And -- as most vegetarians are well aware -- vegetable-based diets are rarely considered "manly." What's a man without his meat and potatoes?

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Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
The chalkboard menu at Petrol Station features several vegetarian items.
"Decadent melted cheese and summer sausage is great, but occasionally even I like to eat vegetables," says Sammons, who has plans to make Mongoose's menu more green-friendly -- something that can be tough to find in other craft beer bars around town.

Unless you're a pescatarian or you really love salads, your options are limited at Cottonwood. The menu offers three basic salads and sides like french fries, coleslaw and kale. Not really enough to make a meal on. (Note: Thanks to one of our eagle-eyed readers for pointing out that Cottonwood does carry a caprese panini.)

The Hay Merchant fares somewhat better with its menu, although it's still quite meat-heavy. You can get a pretzel to snack on or some Parisian gnocchi for dinner (hey, it's enough for an entrée), and the desserts are divine -- but even the salads here have bacon in them.

Vaguely hippie-ish craft beer mecca Petrol Station is better still: Among its many burger offerings (beef, lamb, etc.) there is one with a veggie patty -- appropriately called The Hippie. You can get hummus with vegetables to snack on over beer or a creamy, delicious spinach-artichoke dip that's made in-house.

And although the bar snacks at Mongoose versus Cobra are less substantial than a burger or a plate of gnocchi, they're more diverse and very interesting. In fact, some of my favorite dishes here are vegetarian: eggs pickled in-house with beets and spices, the warm pretzel that's the size of Lichtenstein, and a plate of cheeses from around the world served with fresh-baked black bread. There are also smaller portions of roasted hazelnuts and spicy roasted pepitas to enjoy, but -- again -- these aren't enough to make a meal.

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Photo by Troy Fields
Down House has great taps and great vegetarian food to boot.
On the other hand, Down House has inspired vegetarian options at breakfast as well as lunch and dinner. Check out the pickled local vegetable plate, the kale salad with pickled onions and Grafton Cheddar, the mushrooms on toast with chevre and a poached egg or the butternut squash and piave risotto with a mustard green salad. For something truly substantial, crunch into some chicken-fried portobello mushrooms with mashed potatoes and a spinach salad.

And at another craft beer bar/restaurant mash-up, Shepherd Park Draught House, the options are more limited but also more low-key: crispy goat cheese ravioli, hummus blended with roasted red peppers and roasted garlic and a three-cheese grilled cheese sandwich served with a tomato bisque.

This trend of introducing small amounts of low-key vegetarian dishes to menus at craft beer establishments may be slow to gain momentum, but it could be on the rise. Only two years ago, Portland -- that capital of all things trendy in the food world -- was complaining that its brewpubs weren't more vegan-friendly. Now there are two all-vegan craft beer bars, with nearly 25 additional vegan-friendly bars on top of that.

And true to his word, Sammons says he's serious about offering healthier menu items at Mongoose versus Cobra -- starting very soon.

"Mongoose is adding house-made kale chips and a veggie option for our hot sandwich for our winter menu."



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Location Info

Cottonwood

3422 N. Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Backstreet Cafe

1103 S. Shepherd Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Music

Pondicheri

2800 Kirby Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Cafe TH

2108 Pease St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Hay Merchant

1100 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX

Category: Music

The Petrol Station

985 Wakefield, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Mongoose Versus Cobra

1011 McGowen St., Houston, TX

Category: Music

Down House

1801 Yale, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Shepherd Park Draught House

3402 N. Shepherd Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Music

My Voice Nation Help
29 comments
kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

It's hard to write an article like this and include everyone, but I wanted to note that I'm remiss in not mentioning Flying Saucer above. The vegetarian options at Flying Saucer are great: from the Hippie Hollow sandwich to the spicy beer-cheese soup, from the ridiculously addictive Rocket Tots to the fully-loaded veggie pizza. Go Saucer. Seriously. Full menu here: http://www.beerknurd.com/stores/houston/food

ElDuko
ElDuko

Cottonwood has a Caprese Panini is that vegetarian enough?

little_bit
little_bit

honestly, when i am drinking that delicious double ipa i don't want a damn salad or bowl of soup. i want something with substance, but without meat. cooking for us vegetarians isn't rocket science. surely there are ingredients in each of these kitchens that could be cobbled together into a vegetarian meal rivaling the quality of any meat based option on these menus without causing total kitchen chaos.

Steve
Steve

"And that Double IPA is gluten free, right?"

Steve1152
Steve1152

MvC offers a pretzel that costs $10. That's really all anyone needs to know about the place.

Anse
Anse

Excellent article, Katherine. Vegetarians may only be 5% of the population, Mr. Bastard, but even meat eaters like myself would like some other options on occasion. Plus, after a few Rodeo Clowns, a burger and fries is enough to lay me down for the rest of the afternoon. Just a little something lighter can keep you going without putting you down for the count.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Niche within a niche. Might work in Portland, where many vegans and whatnot move to, but not in most other places. I just don't see how a small brewery with limited geographic range can survive with such a small customer base. I'm not going to choose my drinks based on things like that, I choose them based on taste and price. Sure, some non-vegans and vegetarians might try it occasionally, but I fail to see how that can sustain a business that has to deal with high operating costs.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

For something that represents only 5% of the population, and a shrinking percentage at that, there sure a lot of articles about this.

 

Color me apathetic to this plight. 

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

Yeah, I think this is a missing component. And not just veggies, but craft beer places tend to serve really heavy food. That's great with a stout, but not so much with a pale ale. Some lighter fare, please.

sauqkgy
sauqkgy

easy tip, just get some tofu or lightly battered eggplant, fry it up and serve with some kind of sauce.

Perfect bar food

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

 @ElDuko Whoa, I didn't see that on the menu somehow. Thanks for the heads-up! I'll correct above.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @Steve There are a few gluten free beers. Haven't tasted one I've liked yet, though.

Kylejack
Kylejack topcommenter

 @H_e_x Sure if you're talking about a place that is entirely vegetarian, but what if you just put a few vegetarian items on a menu that still has plenty of meat?

J.A.Justice
J.A.Justice

 @FattyFatBastard As a professional beer drinker, I'll tell you flat out, youre wrong.  Though wrapped in the guise of vegetarian and vegan offerings, the bigger picture here is that aside from Petrol Station's growing menu and MvsC, the lighter fare options at most of our craft beer bars are limited.  If I am gonna put down 4 pints, I don't want a Rancor too.

 

Additionally, traditional bar food pairs with good beer in a fairly limited manner. Ligther more diverse vegetarian options are going to bring out all sorts of good things in a belgian or a complex imperial IPA.

 

So yes, while no one really gives much of a shit about that even smaller whiney portion of those 5% of people, its about far more than that.

LKG1
LKG1

 @FattyFatBastard I think the larger point is that some people who are not vegetarians still occasionally like a meal or snack (or salad!) that does not include meat. People have lots of different reasons for wanting a meatless and/or slightly healthier option, and when I go out with a group we tend to avoid places that lack that kind of variety (which, unfortunately, eliminates places like Hay Merchant). That said, most of these places seem packed, so obviously it's not hurting business.

kshilcutt
kshilcutt moderator editortopcommenter

 @Kylejack  @Steve I liked the strawberry Tweason'ale from Dogfish Head, surprisingly enough. But it tasted nothing like beer. It was almost like a strawberry wine cooler. Don't think I could drink more than two.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

 @jajustice Hmm, so more of a wine bar menu, such as the Tasting Room?  Flying Saucer seems to be the closest to that, offering several salads, as well as charcuterie and cheese plates.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard topcommenter

 @LKG1 Hay Merchant shouldn't be a problem.  They'll serve mac & cheese ala carte (and at $4, it is the best mac & cheese in town) along with the gnocchi and giant pretzels with cheese.   Also, I can't imagine them having a problem with putting together a nice salad, sans bacon.

LKG1
LKG1

 @kshilcutt  @Kylejack  @Steve I am fascinated by the fact that you both liked it AND it tasted like a strawberry wine cooler. These two statements seem irreconcilable to me.

LKG1
LKG1

 @kshilcutt  @FattyFatBastard  @LKG1 Well, it's exactly not a lighter option, but you guys have made me curious to try this mac and cheese. With regard to salads sans bacon, I'm sure you're right--I just hate ordering off menu. I feel fussy doing it, and when I don't like what I get, I feel like I only have myself to blame.

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