Max Meat? Vegetarian options are becoming more common in local dining destinations | Messages

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In recent years, vegetarian options have become increasingly common in Blount County. Meatless meals and plant-based foods can be found in more and more local restaurants and are becoming a staple on many menus.

The Vegan Blount County website (https://www.veganblountcounty.net) lists eight local restaurants that have made vegetarian entrees a significant part of their menu, along with reasons why these options may be better for the business. It suggests that since only a limited number of Blount County restaurants offer vegan items, there are greater opportunities to make a name for yourself by mining this niche.

Bluetick Tavern Executive Chef Amy Rimmer agrees. “I’m a strict vegetarian and eat mostly plant-based foods,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard to find somewhere to eat somewhere in town that I haven’t eaten 5,000 times. We’ve always had vegetarian options on the menu, even when we were Barleys before we changed the name. All we did was freshen things up.”

Hot Rods has also put a lot of effort into expanding its vegan offering.

“We started to see a growing need for more plant-based options in Blount County,” said Kerri Weaver, Hot Rod’s front of house manager. “Our owners, Ray and Ashley Schwartz, incorporated plant-based options into their diets, so our vegan menu grew from there. We wanted options that would appeal to those looking for vegan options, but that also fit our menu.”

Blossom Bowls, which opened its third location in Maryville last year, has built its business around offering a wide variety of vegetarian dishes. “For us, Blossom Bowls isn’t just a restaurant, it’s a lifestyle,” says Moe Fawaz, who co-founded Blossom Bowls with his wife Ella. “We wanted to help create a more health-conscious generation by introducing more people to superfoods.”

Rimmer said that while the word “vegan” is a popular term these days, it sometimes scares people. Nevertheless, Bluetick’s Mediterranean tofu bowl has become very popular with its customers.

“Recently, the trend in recent years has been mostly health-based,” she said. “People who follow a vegetarian or plant-based diet do so for health reasons, whether it’s preventative or they have an issue they’re trying to address. They find what works for them and it makes them feel better.”

Weaver shares the same feelings.

“Vegetarian and vegan options appeal to people for different reasons,” she said. “Our customers have mentioned that not only is it good for their health, but also because they have strong feelings about the treatment of animals. Some customers simply enjoy the vegetarian and vegan options as part of their diet, but do not strictly adhere to those options.”

She said Hot Rods has attracted diners who come just to try their new veggie choices, and their vegan burgers are among their most popular items. “We offer a veggie burger and a black bean burger that are homemade,” she said. “We also have an Incogmeato burger. They are unlike many other vegan options in the area.”

Additionally, the variety allows them to attract groups and families hoping to find both meat and meatless offerings. “Our extensive menu allows groups to eat comfortably together,” she said.

Blossom Bowls’ Fawaz said the strategy has worked for his company as well. “Our customers range from athletes looking for a healthy and high-protein smoothie or bowl to families and teenagers looking for a nutritious and delicious lunch,” he said. “Our menu is predominantly vegan, plant-based, gluten-free and packed with nutrients. It focuses on nutritious superfoods.”

Amanda Bates, a nutritionist who works for Davita Blount Dialysis in Maryville, said there are benefits to including plant-based protein in every meal. “Foods rich in fruits and vegetables can provide antioxidants, fiber and protein,” she said. “They can help reduce dementia, act as mood enhancers and even fight depression. Plant-based foods are good for the brain and body.”

Fawaz has his own theories as to why a vegetarian diet offers its own benefits. “More and more people are giving up unhealthy fast-eating options in favor of cleaner alternatives and more active lifestyles, especially in the wake of the coronavirus crisis,” he said. “As a society, we are becoming increasingly conscious of what we put into our bodies and how it affects our lifestyle and most importantly, our mental and physical well-being. After my father passed away from lymphoma, my wife Ella and I became increasingly aware of juicing, superfoods and their immense immune system benefits. We were always looking for healthy and tasty meals to take on the go but struggled to find many.”

Rimmer also sees the benefits from a personal perspective. “For me, it was diet,” she said. “I had heard and seen some documentaries about food and read some about plant-based eating and how it could be better for your heart and better at preventing inflammation and things like that. I was a vegetarian anyway, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

To reach longtime freelance music writer, reviewer, critic and blogger Lee Zimmerman, email [email protected]

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