We brake for Interstate and vegetarian comfort food

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Although the bar at Interstate Kitchen & Bar, 901 West 10th Avenue, is packed during the early evening hours, the dining room is nearly empty, with just one two-top finishing up a meal over what sounds like a quiet business discussion. The room will get busier as the hour gets later -- but if you want an intimate dinner before 7 p.m. (or a raucous snack after midnight), brake for Interstate.

The vibe here is retro and fun, and while the kitchen serves what's billed as classic roadside grub, it's much better than anything you'll find in a restaurant actually on the side of an interstate.

The tables are covered with brown paper stamped with the Interstate logo; an assortment of Crayola crayons help soothe the fidgets while such '50s classics as "Blue Suede Shoes" mixed with newer tunes by bands like the Drive-By Truckers are piped through the loudspeakers. The water comes in a Mason jar -- but the more interesting drinks are on the whiskey and house cocktail lists. The knowledgeable staff is more than willing to offer suggestions.

Vegetarians should ask for the veggie menu, since it lists all the meat-free dishes available. Snack options, each $4, include spoon bread, mac-and-cheese and deviled eggs (pictured). The eggs are beautifully presented, each half resting atop a smear of the yolk mixture that holds a hint of paprika; the green onion and dill garnishes help the flavors pop. Fair warning: The deviled eggs come with a smidge of caviar on top that adds a lovely tang of salt, but the more squeamish or traditional veggies might want to ask for the eggs without the caviar.

There are a handful of veggie-friendly salads, too, but for a full meal, you can't go wrong with either the veggie burger ($9) or the Roadside Veggie Trailer ($10).

The veggie burger appears to be your typical Gardenburger patty, but the fixings make it particularly fine. You can top it with avocado, grilled onion or mushrooms or a fried egg, plus your choice of cheese; on the side come crispy fries and paper-thin housemade pickles. The Roadside Veggie Trailer is an even bigger load. The menu describes it as a "roasted succotash-stuffed tomato with Interstate mac & cheese and snap peas," but onion and green pepper are mixed in with the corn-and-lima-bean succotash, and there's a sprinkling of rocket on top for fiber. The sugar snap peas add a burst of flavor, but the macaroni-and-cheese really holds this dish together.

Interstate's kitchen is open until midnight (or 1:30 a.m., if you just want snacks) seven days a week, and there's free parking in the garage just west of the venue.

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