To my surprise and delight, this was surely the case at The Wild Hare, the restaurant that opened this summer at 316 White Bridge Road. Carrington Fox reviewed it for the Scene a few weeks ago, but I decided to check it out as a destination for vegetarians like myself.
The eatery is located in a quaint little house right beside Jiffy Lube, marked with a sidewalk sign sporting the restaurant’s long-eared mascot, plus there’s plenty of parking in its surprisingly large lot in back. Inside is a small and cozy dining room with tall pine booths, and a long dining table down the center. The homey interior is comfortably decorated with rustic gaud and other indie-inspired ornamentation. The menu is small but comprehensive, and with a party of three “ovo-lacto” vegetarians, we had it out family-style with an assortment of appetizers, salad, pizza and sides.
The Wild Hare's vibe is definitely family-friendly, as Carrington mentioned. Not Chuck E. Cheese family-friendly, but more of an all-inclusive environment where parents and kids can enjoy a meal in one booth, and friends can partake in libations in the other. After looking at the menu for a couple minutes, I was impressed with number of vegetarian (or easily-modified-to-vegetarian) dishes. We opted for the tomato stack, the grilled farmers salad, the vegetarian pizza, and sides of grilled asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes and fries.
The grilled farmers salad was fresh and sported grilled summer veggies, marinated portobello mushroom slices and crunchy fried black-eyed peas atop a bed of baby greens. I got it with a side of the red wine vinaigrette instead of the creamy Green Goddess dressing it comes with. The tomato stack (shown here in a photo from the restaurant's Facebook page), is a fabulous twist on the classic Caprese, with thick slices of fresh tomato and fresh mozzarella and a sweet, refreshing watermelon-cucumber salsa. We highly recommend adding some marinated portobellos to the mix.
The pizzas are baked in a wood oven, and the 10-inch vegetarian pie came out at the perfect temperature — hot, but not so scalding we couldn't dig right in. The thin crust had a pleasantly chewy tug, and the pie overall managed a good balance of crust, sauce and cheese. My only complaint was the scant sprinkling of toppings, which included grilled squash, zucchini, red onions, and mushrooms — the menu spoke of Roma tomatoes and arugula, but I didn't spot any on our pie. Still, for eight bucks, I’m not all that upset.
The sides came out in appealing little cast-iron skillets, and they deserved the special presentation. The grilled asparagus was firm and crisp, topped with a zesty dash of coarse salt. The garlic mashed potatoes were a hit as well, with the lumpy chunks of potato and skin you expect from homemade.
And, oh, the fries. It’s my policy that if a restaurant has fries, you have to try them. They came out late, but these spuds were worth the wait. The thick, crispy cuts of potato were sprinkled with coarse ground salt and charred scallions. Next time we’re trying the mac and cheese, cheddar garlic grits and caramelized Brussels sprouts.
Other vegetarian items were beer-battered fried mushrooms, a goat cheese quesadilla, tempura-fried garden veggies, “Rabbit Food” — the perfect name for a raw veggie plate — and the wedge salad. The grilled cheese and the Wild Hare pizza convert easily to vegetarian options — just ask them to skip the bacon. And the California BLT easily becomes a fantastic vegetarian sandwich, if you get them to hold the B (but not the avocado and the sun-dried-tomato mayo). Given how good our selections were, I would love to see the kitchen try a homemade veggie burger or a grilled veggie sandwich.
Overall, the Wild Hare is a vegetarian gem on the West Side. The food is made with quality ingredients, and the prices don't break the bank. A place where omnivores and herbivores can dine in harmony is a rare delight. So to all my vegetarian brothers and sisters, eat here with confidence.