Trying to live a meat-free life is difficult when you have a decidedly carnivorous, culinarily-unadventurous husband. Don’t get me wrong, my husband is down for meatless meals, but sometimes his less-than-ambitious palate gets tired of pasta (and I get tired of cooking the same “safe” flavor combinations). Many nights we end up eating out, mainly because we don’t want to do the “What do you want to eat?” dance. Even that can be difficult–he likes bar & grill-type places; I get sick of mushroom sandwiches or salads. I’m emotionally exhausted just thinking about it.
So what’s a couple trying to eat well to do? Here are five tips for eating out if you are a “mixed-eating” couple like my husband and me, after the jump.
1. Ethnic, ethnic, ethnic. This one is tricky–my husband wants to stay close to the holy trifecta of Americanized ethnic foods: Italian, Chinese, and Tex-Mex. Those choices are fine, and usually very accommodating, but I can make pasta at home, and many Tex-Mex joints use lard in their cooking. I’ve found Thai to be close enough to Chinese for my husband to find something he likes, but provides several out-of-the ordinary options. Most Asian cuisines are very veg-friendly, and Indian cuisine is largely meat-free. Many African cuisines, such as Ethiopian, have just as many meat-free menu items as meat-based. An adventurous palate can help find a much wider variety of promising restaurants than if you were to stay with the same old places.
2. PIzza. Half-and-half pizzas may have just saved my marriage. Widely-available, the endless varieties and styles make pizza crucial to our eating out (and eating in) rotation. One of the best restaurants I’ve been to in terms of equal eating opportunities for vegetarians, Pizza Luce in Minneapolis, not only has plenty of meat-free pizzas and pastas, but almost everything on the menus has a vegetarian, if not vegan, alternative. Multiple vegan options, clearly marked as such, let you know that a restaurant knows what it is talking about.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask. Although some chefs might stick their noses in the air at the thought of vegetarian or vegan cuisine, quite a few others are glad to create a meat-free, off-the-menu dish. You just have to ask. Sometimes, particularly if I’ve made reservations, I’ll even call ahead to let the chef know that there’s a vegetarian in the party. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the creative, thoughtful dishes chefs have made just for me. In addition…
4. Become a regular. When you find a place that you both like, visit often and spread the word to your friends. Let the restaurant know they are doing good job. A restaurant is much more likely to cater to your needs if you routinely patronize their business and you won’t get stuck with the same old veggie pasta while everyone else enjoys something more creative.
5. Go where the farmers grow. Now is the perfect time to ask your favorite farmers market vendor to which restaurants they sell. Chances are that a restaurant who takes the time to buy local will want to showcase that local produce, hence menu items that showcase veggies, not just meat. I often see the owner/chef of one of my favorite St Louis restaurants at our farmers markets, so I know he’s going to have meatless entrees, and, as a bonus, is trying to patronize as many local growers as possible.
For those mixed-diet couples out there, what are your favorite types of cuisine or restaurants that make it easy to dine out together?