Coppa osteria cuaosc

Margherita pizza at Coppa Osteria makes for an effortless Meatless Monday.

While some of us spend Meatless Monday exploring the exotic cuisine at Pondicheri or Lucy Ethiopian Cuisine, there is nothing like a traditional carb fest at an authentic Italian restaurant. Italian cuisine has long been a favorite among vegetarians, with its pizza, pasta, hearty soups and salads loaded with greens. Since Houston offers options way beyond a Never Ending Pasta Bowl at your local Olive Garden, it is an upscale eatery in Rice Village that has us craving some noteworthy vegetarian delights.

Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, Coppa Osteria is nestled on Morningside Drive in Rice Village. It's one of Houston's more celebrated dining destinations for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, though its name is certainly more inviting to the latter. But vegetarians shouldn't be put off: Its large menu of shareable starters, flavorful pastas and decadent entrees make it a popular choice, while the intimate dining room and lively outdoor patio are indeed a bonus.

In addition to classics like housemade ravioli or thin crust margherita pizza, Coppa invites vegetarian guests to indulge in exciting dishes such as crispy, spiced chickpeas; burrata pomodoro with torn ciabatta; or sweet-and-sour eggplant caponata. Side dishes can easily be enjoyed à la carte as a meatless meal. They include wilted greens with crispy garlic, chickpea-and-tomato stew, crispy caulflower with pine nuts and capers and Parmesan-polenta pudding. Full of fresh flavor and topped with aromatic herbs, the vegetarian options are no doubt just as enticing as some of the flesh-heavy selections.

During lunch, you can score a hot vegetable panini loaded with tomato, eggplant and zucchini, and slathered with chickpea puree and basil pesto with your choice of salad — my favorite is the stunning red quinoa and beet — for only $10!

Expect nothing less from weekend brunch, when Coppa's menu includes a fig mostarda croissant sandwich with Brie, honey-and-rosemary butter or  almond-raspberry coffee cake. Traditional brunch cocktails including mimosas, Bellinis and bloody Marys are the perfect addition to any late-morning meal — meaty or not — and are best enjoyed on the charming patio.

Coppa Osteria, 5210 Morningside Dr., coppaosteriahouston.com

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