Maine Restaurant Week is all about standing out from the crowd, as chefs woo new diners with good deals on prix fixe lunches and dinners. For many participating restaurants, putting their best food forward means highlighting vegetarian and vegan dishes.

This Restaurant Week, which began Tuesday and goes until March 12, vegetables from Brussels sprouts to sweet potatoes take center stage in a crop of vegetarian dishes that have increased in range and sophistication since the event began in 2009.

At the posh Inn by the Sea in Cape Elizabeth, the Sea Glass restaurant includes the Vegan Harvest Shepherd’s Pie – made with mashed sweet potatoes, mushroom “meat,” corn, peas, vegan gravy and romanesco sauce – as a choice on its special Restaurant Week menu, priced at $45.

“The vegan shepherd’s pie has been awesomely received over the winter,” executive chef Steve Sicinski said. “We made a conscious decision to offer a lot of things we offer regularly because it’s great for exposure. We’ve got a pretty big vegan influence here. Some of the owners are vegan, and I have a spa background.”

His stints at spas in Vermont and Arizona show up in an edamame appetizer, which features the steamed beans rubbed with ginger-infused salt and served with a dipping sauce.

A Singapore-inspired fried rice dish is a vegetarian entree choice at Tempo Dulu in Portland.  Courtesy photo

A Singapore-inspired fried rice dish is a vegetarian entree choice at Tempo Dulu in Portland. Courtesy photo

At the luxury Danforth Inn in Portland’s West End, its new restaurant Tempo Dulu is participating in Restaurant Week for the first time. Its vegetarian offerings include a salad with cabbage and tempeh and a Singapore-inspired vegetable fried rice. Both can be made vegan upon request.

“We typically keep at least one vegetarian option on our course menus,” said Elizabeth Totzec, who manages Tempo Dulu, where the week’s menu reflects the tasting menus regularly on offer.

Totzec said the restaurant decided to offer vegetarian choices on its Restaurant Week menu to highlight its usual vegetarian choices as well as the kitchen’s willingness to make off-menu vegan and vegetarian dishes.

But creative vegetarian fare isn’t limited to high-end dining rooms this week.

At The King’s Head gastropub on Portland’s waterfront, the week’s special menu offers a Brussels sprouts appetizer and two vegetarian entrees (one of which is vegan).

For the appetizer, crispy Brussels sprout halves are tossed with sherry-shallot vinaigrette and sprinkled with almonds and feta. (The feta can be left off to make it vegan.) The entrees are Spaghetti Squash Bake with Spinach and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce or a scratch-made Vegan Veggie Burger with pickled onion, spicy ketchup, lettuce, tomato and English chips.

“The veggie burger is a popular item,” chef Paul Kirschbaum said. “It’s my wife’s favorite thing I make, and she’s not even a vegetarian.”

Kirschbaum prefers the baked squash dish. “I eat that for lunch all the time,” he said.

The 1912 Cafe at L.L. Bean in Freeport offers a Restaurant Week meal deal of a soup, salad and hot entree, such as macaroni and cheese made with smoked gouda and Pineland Farm cheddar with breadcrumbs.   Courtesy photo

The 1912 Cafe at L.L. Bean in Freeport offers a Restaurant Week meal deal of a soup, salad and hot entree, such as macaroni and cheese made with smoked gouda and Pineland Farm cheddar with breadcrumbs. Courtesy photo Photo courtesy of 1912 Cafe

Another vegetarian-friendly Restaurant Week deal can be found at the 1912 Cafe, located at L.L. Bean in Freeport.

The cafe is offering a cup of soup, a hot entree, a small salad and a large drink for $15 during both lunch and dinner. The restaurant’s daily soup choices always include vegetarian and often vegan options.

Like the soups, the hot entrees change every day and always include vegetarian dishes, such as spanakopita, shepherd’s pie, vegetable lasagna and macaroni and cheese. Vegans can substitute an item from the sandwich menu if the hot entree isn’t vegan.

“My partner is a vegetarian and my 5-year-old is picky, so creating delicious, wholesome meals to please the diversity of my own family has carried over to my work,” said Jessica Adams, the kitchen manager of the 1912 Cafe.

The wide range of vegetarian dishes is a change from the early years of Maine Restaurant Week.

Ahead of the 2010 event, I wrote: “With a few exceptions, the restaurants dishing up vegetarian eats intend to serve cheese-based Italian entrees, with risotto and pasta being the most common.”

Flash forward six years, the vegetarian dishes have expanded, although you can still find Restaurant Week deals on vegetable pasta (such as the Butternut Squash Ravioli with Dried Cranberries, Cherries and Toasted Pecans at The Good Table in Cape Elizabeth) and risotto (such as the vegan risotto du jour at the Brunswick Hotel & Tavern).

While most restaurants offering vegetarian and vegan choices for Restaurant Week list the veg dishes on their online event menus, a few say they can accommodate vegetarian diners but require a call ahead to find out what the dish will be. The online, searchable directory allows searches for restaurants offering vegetarian and vegan choices.

Other notable meat-free dishes on Maine Restaurant Week menus include the Porcini Sacchetti in Garlic-Rosemary Sauce with Sautéed Sundried Tomatoes, Rocket Greens and Shallots at Fish Bones American Grill in Lewiston; the Red Curry Vegetable Stir Fry with Brown Rice at Sea Dog Brewing Company in South Portland; and the Root Vegetable Ragout with Carrots, Parsnips and Celeriac at Local 188 in Portland.

All told, you’ve plenty of plant-based reasons to get out of the house and try a new restaurant.

Avery Yale Kamila is a freelance food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

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Twitter: AveryYaleKamila