Q: When is a steak not a steak?

A: When it's a big old parsnip, slow-baked and butter-basted and served with an array of steakhouse-inspired sides.

That's how Nick Curtin does it at Rosette, his new restaurant in New York. The dish is an homage to Dan Barber, and it's just one example of today's new wave of veg-centric main courses.

No longer willing to be sidelined, the mighty veg wants top billing in place of traditional proteins--to delicious results.

Take Jason Neroni's cauliflower "T-bone" with olive pistou at L.A.'s Superba Snack Bar. Or the "braciole" at Philadelphia's lauded Vedge: a roulade of cold-smoked eggplant and jasmine rice rolled into very thin slices of roasted eggplant (in place of thinly pounded meat), topped with Sicilian-inspired salsa verde and a chunky olive tapenade.

Clockwise from left: Pittsburgh's Salt of the Earth; Superba Snack Bar; NYC's Dirt Candy; TT; Rosette; NOLA's Domenica

Even beef Wellington is no longer safe. At his new restaurant Narcissa in The Standard East Village hotel, John Fraser packs brined carrots, walnuts, coffee and cocoa nib into his puff-wrapped carrots Wellington. "I wanted the name to be playful but recognizable," Fraser says. "You want to get people on your side."

"Meat is a one-trick pony," says Vedge chef Richard Landau. "Vegetables are harder. Chefs who really love what they do will embrace the challenge."

We took up the challenge: Our Test Kitchen's take on chicken Marsala gets its heft from big chunks of cauliflower and a meaty oomph from mushrooms, soy and, of course, Marsala wine (see the recipe).

"If you want to be a chef who just checks out, throw some meat on the plate," Landau says.

If you want to be one of the cool kids, play with your vegetables.