Louisville is for vegetarians. It is sooooooo much easier being a grazer in 2019 here than it was 26 years ago when I leapt into a meat-free lifestyle. Even some steakhouses offer excellent veggie-friendly options. This column is dedicated to helping veggies find something they can eat in restaurants they might not have tried otherwise. Please write me with suggestions.
For carnivores reading along, here is a dirty, little secret about veggies: Everyone has a line of what it means to be veggie. Anyone less restrictive than the veggie doing the judging (read: wears leather, eats seafood, maybe is OK with chicken broth), they are faux veggies or posers. And anyone more restrictive (read: won’t use pans that have cooked meat or won’t eat things cooked in the proximity of meat), well, those folks are wingnuts or zealots. So, just to make sure you know my definition: I will not eat anything that required an animal to die. This includes anything cooked in duck fat, soups with chicken broth or bonito flakes and Asian sauces with fish or oyster products.
Also, I am gluten intolerant. I thought it was something only high-maintenance people claimed. And then, like a switch flipping, I was appalled when restaurants couldn’t cater to my probably-real ailment. Therefore, most of the dishes I recommend will either be gluten free, or I will give modifications to request if you are also one of worst people on Earth.
My inaugural pick is Wild Ginger, Asian fusion with a menu blending Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai. The owner is from China, and patrons will see Jenny Wang greet them when they walk in. Wild Ginger has been in business for about a decade. Having staying power on Bardstown Road is a credit to the food and the value.
The wine: My wife Hope and I usually drink a sauv blanc or a minerally white blend when we eat Asian cuisine. The pick for the night was Bonterra ($24). Good mineraliness, grape fruit in the nose, and, on a hot summer day, shoots great through a wine funnel.
The starter: the Wild Ginger salad ($4) with a tangy, homemade ginger dressing. Before I went gluten free, I would order their vegetable tempura ($6) served with a spicy, smoky soy sauce… mmm… smoky soy sauce. My wife and I also enjoy the sea salted edamame ($5).
Second course: a vegetarian roll ($7) filled with cucumber, avocado, kanpyo (a type of gourd), pickled radish and pickled burdock in a cucumber wrap and an avocado roll ($4) in soy paper with a side of gluten free soy sauce. I like their use of the pickled veggies, the satisfying crunch, the salty goodness of soy and the deep nostril burn from the wasabi.
The main course: my favorite dish at Wild Ginger, donabe ($14), a sizzling, clay pot of veggie goodness. Two things about the clay pot: you will burn yourself, and you will burn your tongue. Wild Ginger can make it gluten free upon request. It comes with the rice still sizzling at the bottom of the pot. The fresh mushrooms (mostly shiitakes, I think) are cooked perfectly. I pick tofu as my protein as well as a poached egg on top. Take the spoon, get a reasonable amount of hot sauce to stir in… then, all of a sudden get competitive and dump the rest of the hot sauce in and stir. The meal finishes cooking in front of you. You can use a fork or chopsticks.
Wild Ginger is a go-to for me as a vegetarian because I can take a variety of meat-eaters with me and know I have great options.