Utahns are traditionally a meat and potatoes crowd, with the emphasis on the meat. The entree section of most menus goes something like this: beef, beef, beef, fish, chicken, lamb. But the character actors, the garden-variety understudies have been moving to the center of the plate. The fun thing is, whereas animal protein doesn’t get much treatment besides the sides—it’s mostly simply served grilled, seared, broiled or braised—vegetables take a lot more chef creativity to make them the main. Here are some terrific local veg inventions. In other words the best vegetarian options that aren’t a veggie patty or side of fries.
Cucina, 1026 2nd Ave., SLC, 801-322-3055
Technically this is listed as a starter or small plate, but once you’ve eaten fried avocado it’s hard to imagine following it with anything hefty. Chef Joey Ferran piles on the flavors with tamarind curry, candied cashew and green chile emulsion.
HSL, 418 E. 200 South, SLC, 801-355-3282
A hunk of a head of purple cabbage, ash-roasted on the hearth until the leave are compressed, textured with sourdough breadcrumbs, scented with Comte cheese given a tart aroma jolt with smoked paprika vinaigrette, is Chef Briar Handly’s surprising vegetarian centerpiece.
The Copper Onion, 111 East Broadway #170, SLC, 801-355-282
Indian cooks are the rulers of vegetarian cuisine, so Chef Ryan Lowder looked to a sub-continental favorite as the starting point for his version of saag paneer, made with local greens, griddled Heber Valley cheese, coconut rice, chili flakes and cilantro.
Firewood on Main, 306 Main St, Park City, 435-252-9900
Mushrooms have long been used as a meat substitute—they have some “tooth” to them and some protein. Chef John Murcko adds fire to the fungus, making a Moroccan tagine out of grilled wild mushrooms with the help of kale, round carrots and pearl onions over couscous.
Log Haven, 6451 E. Millcreek Canyon Rd, 801-272-8255
Chef Dave Jones makes a complex Bolognese sauce with no meat using almond milk and grana padano over fettucini or gluten-free corn pasta, with nutritional yeast for umami.