If you're in the market for a restaurant that will appeal to carnivores and herbivores alike, look no further than Salty Sow in Phoenix. The self-described "American Gastropub" specializes in simple but well-executed comfort food, and their vegetable dishes are no exception.
Whether you ascribe to a plant-based diet or you're just looking to add a little nutritional value to your meat-and-potatoes, Salty Sow will leave your mouth happy and your belly full.
It's a well-known fact that side dishes are often the best part of any meal, and Salty Sow definitely delivers in this arena. We tried a number of dishes, from the vegetarian Cauliflower and Rice Casserole and Crispy Brussels Sprout Leaves, to the distinctly un-vegetarian Collard Greens (made with hamhock and pork fat) and Fried Smashed Potatoes (served with neck-bone gravy). None of these dishes disappointed, but we'll focus on a few of the meat-free options today.
If you are feeling up for a little cream sauce (and who isn't?), the Cauliflower and Rice Casserole is a delicious vessel for the good stuff. More of an extra-saucy gratin than a Midwestern casserole, the dish features tender cauliflower and grains of wild rice smothered in a beautiful, silky-smooth parmesan-garlic bechamel. A sprinkling of almonds gives the dish a nice crunch, and gives the eater the (moderately delusional) rationalization that almonds are very good for you, so clearly this cheese-drenched cauliflower dish is, too.
Cheese grits are a truly magical thing - when they're done right. There's a thin line between cooked and gummy, and Salty Sow's version tiptoes delicately on that line. Creamy, but not too mushy, this side dish is savory, starchy, and supremely cheesy. These are certainly not the most impressive thing on the restaurant's menu, but if you are the sort of person who wants to kiss your grits (because you love them so much), you'll be thrilled.
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The Crispy Brussels Sprout Leaves offers an intriguing combination of flavors and preparation methods. The tiny cruciferous vegetables are first de-leafed, then blanched, then deep fried and mixed with olive oil, golden raisins, and Pecorino Romano. The texture is crispy but tender, and the raisins add a hint of sweetness that complements the pepperiness of the brussels sprouts perfectly.
If you're looking for something more substantial, the Vegetable Antipasti is a refreshingly simple vegetarian main. The dish is served on a wooden board, and consists of a smattering Salty Sow's vegetable options. The dish is large enough for sharing and significant enough for one vegetarian with a hearty appetite to consume as a main dish. Be warned, this platter is not for the casual vegetable consumer. Roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary, buttered sauteed broccolini, roasted cauliflower, and a light arugula salad with pickled red onions provided an array of textures and flavors to the dish. Lentils and quinoa were a simple, hearty, and perfectly seasoned addition to the plate, while roasted red and yellow beets dressed in a simple vinaigrette were a tangy and sweet contrast. Each component of the Antipasti was perfectly cooked, simply seasoned, and showcased skill in a variety of different styles of vegetable preparation.
It's not surprising for a gastropub to get the meat thing down; what's perhaps more impressive is a demonstration of prowess when it comes to creating innovative flavor combinations and skillful execution of vegetable-based dishes. When it comes to excellence in vegetable preparation, Salty Sow will not disappoint.