A while back, my good friend Jon Breul sent me a Food and Wine article about things that vegetarians can eat in barbecue restaurants. My first reaction was dismissive. First, very few of the vegetables sold in barbecue places, or meat and threes, for that matter, are actually vegetarian. That is as it should be. And why would a vegetarian want to go to a barbecue place; indeed, what sort of thoughtless idiot would drag a vegetarian to a barbecue place.
Well, someone like me.
It was unintentional. While I was at the Alabama Law Institute in Tuscaloosa, I had two seasons tickets to Alabama football games thanks to my friend, the good and wise Bob McCurley. I would buy one to two more tickets when we had out of town visitors. For the Alabama-Auburn game, Liza wanted to come down and invited her cousin, Anne Rain Tanner (now Brown) to join us. Then her cousin Christopher, just back from leading a rifle platoon “outside the wire” in Iraq — “the last 50 meters of American foreign policy” — expressed an interest in going, and who could say no to him? Even more naturally, he wanted his then-fiancee, now-wife, Lauren to come along. And my nephew, David, also wanted to go.
The Dreamland menu at the time included ribs, sausages, white bread, and potato chips. When we all sat down, I learned that Lauren was a vegetarian. (This was a shock: their wedding reception was pretty meat-centric. The change may have been a side effect of performing her first colorectal surgeries. Lauren has since rejoined the omnivores.) I apologized and, tried desperately to think of dishes available in Tuscaloosa that did not involve meat. I suggested we go somewhere else, even though I had no earthly idea where we might go and find dishes without bacon. No, no, no. Lauren, a Real Trooper, bravely made a meal of chips.
So the Food and Wine article is useful, although not very. They mention the barbecue stuffed baked potato at Bob Gibson’s (just ask them to hold the barbecue. Why?). They mention cole slaw at Moe’s and the potato salad at Hog Heaven in Nashville. The macaroni and cheese at SAW’s is free of chicken stock, as is most other macaroni and cheese on planet Earth, and then there is fried stuff — french fries, hushpuppies (but not corn sticks), and fried okra — for those without celiac issues. Desserts tend to be meat-free, although a really good pie crust will be made with lard, and, none well, if the corn bread is good, it’s because of the bacon drippings.
These are pretty dismal options for a whole meal. None is nearly as good as the white bread with barbecue sauce at Dreamland (which now has many more options), What a wonderful treat!
Few things taste as good.
White bread and Dreamland sauce aside, your only real option is to go to BBQ4Life. BBQ4Life really is two restaurants in one. There is a vegan kitchen and a barbecue kitchen, both under the same roof. They have separate, walled-off smoker compartments for tempeh and God knows what else on one side, and for the meat on the other. And the food is good. Nancy liked her salad and vegan chili.
I enjoyed my half-pork and half tri-tip sandwich, and I especially liked the rib sample I was given.
Unfortunately, BBQ4Life is in Boise, Idaho. Boise is a very nice city, but it’s kind of a hike for most of us. Maybe a vegetarian’s best bet is to feign ignorance of those chunks in your vegetables, or to reconsider vegetarianism altogether. People do change. Even Liza, who, when she was a small child, would say “Meat!” when we asked her what she wanted for dinner, and who has been known to order a hamburger and a side of sausage at brunch, once went through a vegetarian phase while she was at a summer camp. Liza announced her conversion when I picked her up at the camp. I drove to a McDonald’s, set her loose, and that was the end of that. Subsequent inquiry revealed that Liza subsisted entirely on Twizzlers while at camp.
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