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Elway's Downtown: Not just for steak and seafood

Elway's Downtown might not be the first restaurant that comes to mind when you start thinking of veggie-friendly options. First of all, the Elway's brand has always been more about steak and seafood than tofu and Bibb lettuce -- but I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down for lunch the other day. The menu doesn't contain a ton of vegetarian/vegan fare, but what's there is excellent -- and the kitchen creates a daily meat-free plate that's included in the specials.

The salad in the above snap belonged to my dining companion, who also ordered a steak, medium, when we sat down for lunch. Which is one of the beauties of Elway's: You can dine easily in mixed company. There are dozens of options for the meat-friendly, including a new sake and sushi bar (open at 4 p.m. daily) for pescetarians, so it's a good choice for those relatives-visiting-from-out-of-town situations where you're trying to appease the meat-and-potatoes types without having to munch on iceberg lettuce yourself.

First up was the grilled artichoke, $11, served with warm drawn butter and aioli, plus half a lemon for squeezing on top and warm towels to wipe your hands with when finished. The artichoke is rubbed with Elway's steak seasoning before grilling, which gives it a tangy, slightly spicy flavor. I couldn't decide whether I preferred the butter or the aioli, so traded off with each leaf, savoring the taste and forcing myself to stop before I finished the entire artichoke myself (and ruined my lunch in the interim). This beautiful lettuce-wrap plate was the featured vegetarian dish on the day I had lunch. I love the fact that the kitchen dishes up a different veggie lunch dish every day -- you can really tell they've got practice putting together plates that don't push meat as an ingredient, yet are still filling and delicious, and cost between $10 and $20. Four big leaves of Bibb lettuce cradled grilled tofu (marinated in some kind of Asian chile sauce), which was perfectly cooked, as well as thin slices of cucumber and grilled red pepper, onion and mushroom, all topped off with fried soba noodles. Although sizable, the Bibb lettuce leaves weren't nearly big enough to wrap around the filling, so I took the plate apart with my fork and knife, making it through two of the lettuce wraps before I was spent. Dessert was tiramisu, $9, nestled in a round glass, sprinkled with cocoa and served with biscotti and a scattering of chocolate-covered espresso beans. It was decadent. Tiramisu is my favorite dessert, and I could only stuff in a handful of bites before bowing to defeat.

Other veggie options on the Elway's menu include the charred red pepper soup (which is actually vegan), the grilled vegetable wrap (portobello mushrooms, zucchini and fire-roasted tomatoes with the option of adding herb-and-garlic goat cheese), and any of the salads can be ordered meat-free if they normally come with a protein. The sides are heavy on vegetables, too, so if you don't think a sandwich will fill you up, you can always order one of those.

And the service at Elway's is outstanding: attentive without hovering, and the servers are always willing to answer any questions you may have. For a restaurant known for its USDA aged steaks and shrimp cocktail, Elway's is a pleasant surprise for any vegetarian to experience.

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