We. Love. Food. One of the best things about traveling is the new food we try in each new place we visit, and our NYC2NOLA road trip was no different. We were super excited to try all the local specialties and from New York until we hit the South, this was a piece of cake. However, it turns out that finding vegetarian food in the Land of Dixie is a challenge when plates are normally piled high with pork, chicken and shrimp. We did manage to belly up to some fabulous southern restaurants for some traditional soul food. Caution: this post may make you hungry!
Mary Mac’s Tea Room
While visiting a college friend and Atlanta local on our road trip this summer, she insisted we dine at Mary Mac’s, an Atlanta institution which has been serving up classic Southern cuisine since Mary MacKenzie opened it in 1945. 60 years later, this old school southern restaurant serves up southern staples like country-fried steak, chicken pan pie with gravy and sweet potato soufflé, and always with the utmost, genuine southern hospitality. To start, all diners (most of whom are locals – this ain’t no tourist trap) are served ‘potlikker’ (broth of cooking up greens) with bread – and though this usually have chicken in it, the waitress organized us two vegetarian bowls of the stuff. Mary Mac’s is meat-heavy Dixie food, so we both opted for the vegetable plate of four sides, which was a great way to sample several small plates of Southern food. We were already familiar with the Southern Vegetable Plate concept from our road trip stops at Cracker Barrel along the way.
Between the two of us we had broccoli soufflé, cheese & vegetable soufflé, fried green tomatoes, mac’n’cheese, coleslaw, a vegetable medley, fried okra, and of course, a side of fresh home-made corn bread on the side. For dessert the three of us split the banana pudding, bread pudding and Georgia peach cobbler, which were all seriously good, before waddling out to the car. Meat lovers and veggies alike should check out Country Skipper’s review and great photos of Mary Mac’s for more details.
This open-minded everyone’s-welcome city may not have many purely vegetarian restaurants, but plenty of places in town have veggie-friendly options on the menu.
Breakfast at Clary’s
You might know Clary’s already from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which hosted many of the scenes of the film. This traditional diner opened over 100 years ago, so they know a thing or two about pleasing local customers to keep ’em coming back for more. Veggie options here include mouth-watering Stuffed French Toast, Eggs Benedict or the ‘Elvis’ – thick-sliced sourdough toast stuffed with peanut butter and bananas, the sandwich the King made famous. You can also try classic Southern items such as griddle cakes (pancakes), Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns, grits or Biscuits & Gravy.
The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
We have a special place in our hearts for our home-base in town, the Westin Savannah Harbor– where we not only had the most comfortable beds we have ever slept in, but a staff that went above and beyond the call of duty for us. We happened to be in town for the Savannah Craft Brew Fest, which was held between the Westin and the neighboring convention center. We got to talking food to Westin’s General Manager Mark Spadoni, and once Mark discovered that we did not believe an intersection of classically Southern and vegetarian food to be possible, he put a challenge out to the head chef to create just that: a classically Southern vegetarian dish. Less than twenty minutes later we were each served a soft, succulent grit cake topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and green asparagus, lightly covered in a subtle, yet tangy sauce. Until that night we hadn’t touched grits (they just seem so slimy), but this grit cake blew us away with its flavor and consistency. Mark made sure to follow this up with two pots of blueberry crumble cake – which literally melted in our mouths.
The ‘Vegetarian Food Challenge’ was a one-off, but we also had the Sunday brunch held in the hotel’s Aqua Star restaurant – which might just be the best brunch in town! Brunch staples such as made-to-order omelets and waffles, blintzes, hash browns and all the meat you could want (bacon, sausages, beef medallions, lamb, etc), an entire table of sea food and sushi, fresh made-to-order penne pasta dishes, garlic bread, salads, and a dessert buffet that would alone be worth the price: fresh macaroons, éclairs, pies and cakes of all varieties, ice cream, homemade chocolate truffles and pralines, chocolate covered strawberries, bread puddings, crème brulee and mousse, and the Westin Savannah’s signature dish – bananas foster.
The Distillery is first and foremost a beer lover’s bar, with hundreds of craft brews to choose from, and though not really a veggie-hangout, we left the place absolutely stuffed. Along with the Black Bean Burger (which we went back for it again the next night) we sampled the grilled cheese, deep fried pickles (surprisingly good) and soft pretzels with a variety of dips. We could also have ordered a hummus plate with veggies and pita bread, sweet potato or stout fries served with home-made Creole remoulade or chili & ale cheese. We could have ordered a salad without the meat, as well, but somehow the deep-fried pickles seemed to go so much better with craft brews. To top it all off, the owner Michael decided that us two out-of-towners needed to try his ultimate southern dessert creation – a deep-fried moon pie a la mode. Whether this sounds delicious, disgusting or just plain dangerous to your health – order it. Just once. It’s so good!
In the land of gumbo, jambalaya and po-boys, it was not easy finding vegetarian food in the Big Easy – but we managed to find a few top spots for vegetarians in town.
Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters
One place where we found plenty of options was at the Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch, which we would recommend to anyone visiting New Orleans. The tables are set in a shady, breezy courtyard surrounded by flowers under a canopy of trees. A jazz trio entertains guests with live music at the perfect volume to still hold a conversation. The sprawling brunch buffet has a generous selection of breakfast and lunch items and if you are not a vegetarian, you can eat your way through dishes like creole seafood omelets, ceviche, spinach and crawfish pasta, seafood mousse, roast beef and chicken breast and shrimps. We enjoyed brunch staples like eggs and potatoes, creative waffles and delicious salads, and with the bottomless coffee we enjoyed classic Southern desserts like Pecan Pie, Bananas Foster or Mardi Gras King Cake. Do not waste your time like we did at the disappointing Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues – which serves up a limited brunch (eggs and hash browns, the only veggie options), put on a forced show to tourists and they kick you out when the show ends after an hour. The Court of Two Sisters brunch is an authentic, relaxing experience any day of the week.
The French Market
This foodie market is a collection of some of the freshest, healthiest options in New Orleans. We loved Meals from the Heart, where we gobbled up a Black Bean soup with fresh avocado. Then we ordered an amazing salad with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, pistachios and apples from Albertos Cheese & Wine, right next door. More than just simple stands, these two market eateries have completely different, yet equally veggie-friendly dishes. Meals from the Heart is run by a friendly New Orleans native, while Albertos is run by Spanish Alberto and his Mexican wife. We even went back to Albertos for a second salad we just could not forget about – the mixed vegetable salad with walnuts and gruyere cheese. Yum!!
Mahony’s Po-Boys on Magazine Street
Po-boys are traditional Louisiana sub sandwiches, the most classic option is stuffed with shrimp so not a dish we thought to try. One day while strolling along Magazine Street, we discovered Mahony’s Po Boys, a laid-back po-boy shop with several veggie options. We couldn’t resist being able to sample this NOLA staple, and tore in to the eggplant parmesan po-boy. We rate it as only okay, but that is because we compare it to what might be the best sandwich in the world – the New York-style Eggplant Parmigiana sub sandwich. However, the other options – like the grilled cheese po-boy or fried green tomato po-boy – we would probably have really enjoyed. We had the the fried green tomatoes on the side and loved them.
Café du Monde
Dani’s favorite thing about being vegetarian on the road is that any and all local sweets are not only an option, but an exercise in intercultural understanding. Translation: it is our duty to try the sweets. We could not leave New Orleans without stopping in at the city’s most famous institution: Café Du Monde. This French-influenced, Chinese staffed New Orleans cafe on the Mississippi River has one of the simplest menus in town. Eat the famous beignets (deep-fried dough pastries covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar) and drink the Café au Lait (coffee with milk) made with chicory. The beignets were so good, we ordered a second plate right away.
This is not a comprehensive list of veggie-friendly Southern restaurants, so please add your suggestions on where to get great vegetarian food and also any tips on other typical southern dishes we need to try on our next trip through the south.