I'm a vegetarian, and I used to bartend at a steakhouse in Chicago. On busy nights, we would have more than 500 guests. There was no time to think, let alone eat, during the rush. As the evening wore on, you could see the staff's eyes following every plate of unfinished food to the dish room, as each waitress silently cursed the person who had so thoughtlessly left sirloin scraps on the table.
Every so often, though, a whispered signal would go out, passed from bussers to servers to us behind the bar: There was food in the back!
The moment it slowed down I would sneak away, my hands and wrists sore from shaking martinis all night. There it was: a mistake order. Something the kitchen had made that didn't have a table to go to. And as everyone around me descended on the pepper-crusted strip steak, a perfect medium-rare, I had the mashed potatoes — light, airy, and smooth — all to myself.
I may be a vegetarian, but damn if I don't love me some steakhouse food. Despite commonly held beliefs about vegetarians, I've never been a salad person; I've always loved rich foods. And after giving up meat, what I found was that, much like Thanksgiving, the sides are the best part of a steakhouse menu anyway.
What makes steakhouse sides so amazing?
So. Many. Potatoes. At any steakhouse you go to, there will be a minimum of three potato options: fries, either thick-cut and pillowy with starch, or skinny and salty and addictive; twice-baked, their skins wrinkled and crackling and their insides fluffy; and au gratin, with thin slices bathed in silky cream and topped with bubbling brown cheese. And those are just the basics. At many of the more modern restaurants, you'll find enough creative potato options to put the chip aisle to shame.
Make your own: The Best Twice-Baked Potato
The lettuce wedges!
If I have to eat a salad, it's hard to go wrong with a wedge (without the bacon, please!). To some, iceberg lettuce might seem pointless, but to me the wedge is really just a vehicle for blue cheese dressing. Get enough of that creamy goodness, and you can forget that you're eating lettuce at all. And take it from me, when everyone around you is consuming an enormous porterhouse, they're not going to judge you for your salad toppings.
Make your own at home: Iceberg Wedge Salad
The not-so-healthy vegetables!
I eat a lot of vegetables in my normal life and sometimes (like when I'm at a steakhouse), I just want them to be fun. At a steakhouse, vegetables don't pretend to be healthy. Asparagus is drenched in hollandaise; spinach is creamed; mushrooms are sautéed in butter and garlic. And then there are the onion rings that are dredged with buttermilk and breadcrumbs, fried until golden. At these restaurants, onion rings are no longer a fast food indulgence — they're essential.
Make Your Own at Home
The mac and cheese!
There are also a couple of newer trends in steakhouses that make a meat-free experience there even better. The first is mac and cheese. A vegetarian who doesn't appreciate a good mac and cheese should be eyed with extreme suspicion; it's the perfect indulgent option for herbivores. And it also dovetails beautifully with another veg-friendly steakhouse trend, which is truffles on everything. White truffles, black truffles, summer truffles — whether they're included in the dish (like, perhaps, a truffled mac and cheese) or offered as a supplement to be shaved on top, they add a burst of earthy, savory umami to everything. Even when I ate meat, given the choice between that and truffles, there was no contest. Truffles win every time.
Make your own at home: How To Make Classic Baked Macaroni & Cheese
Do I eat at steakhouses every night? No. There's still a lot to be said for opening up a menu and being able to choose from everything on it. But when my friends are craving a trip, I'm more than happy to tag along. I'll simply skip down past the porterhouses, the New York strips, and the bone marrow supplements. Potatoes five ways? If you insist!
Are you a vegetarian? When was the last time you ate at a steakhouse and what did you order?