No one's denying that barbecue is a meat lover's world. But you don't have to stay home or politely peck at a sweaty baked potato with "spread" just because you're vegetarian and the gang is gung-ho for BBQ. There are quite a few fabulous dishes that don't involve meat at all at local smokin' restaurants. One caveat: the same generous spirit that inspires BBQ chefs to 10-hour bouts with the smoker means they don't stint on the vegetarian offers, either—you're not going to find them on your cardiologist's short list. Most of these are replete with seasoning, dairy, calories, and flavor. And, may we add, TLC.
Fried Green Tomatoes and Mac N' Cheese
It's so nice that those who don't eat meat won't have to miss out on the family-owned, controlled chaos, gentle humor, and superb cooking at Chandler's. The fried green tomatoes are thin cut and crispy, with crispy browned batter that could just be the same they use on the chicken—liberally seasoned, yes it is. It's worth mentioning that the tomatoes cost just $2, unlike some of their hoity-toity cousins at chain restaurants. And oh, this macaroni. The Chandlers put literally years into development before they settle on a recipe, and the m-and-c shows the benefit of the time and attention. The elbows are creamy but never sticky, the sauce velvety, never a clump, and a nice little smatter of black pepper give it an up-tempo taste without being hot. While you're at it, grab a couple of 55-cent yeast rolls.
Red potatoes, made fresh, a kiss of green onion, maybe there's some sour cream in there? Yours not to analyze, but to enjoy.
Stinker's BBQ at the Shed in Maryville
So everyone else is wading into tender, tasty, messy baby back ribs, dry or wet rubs, smoked on location, or hand-pulled pork sandwiches. Fret not—you've got onion rings. Piping hot, fresh, beer-battered rings that are almost an embarrassment of riches. Only thing better is chasing them with a cold bottle of beer.
Tomato N' Blues Salad
Sweet P's Barbecue and Soul House
Unlike that 5-pound barbecue burrito, you'll never see this on Man vs. Food, but it's really nice nonetheless. They intermingle chopped grape tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow pepper, generous chunks of bleu cheese, and vinaigrette. If you like, you can order it over a bed of fresh greens, or alongside steamed green beans with onion, garlic and cumin. That'll make you feel more virtuous when you cave and get banana pudding later.
Smoked Portobello Mushroom Philly Sandwich
Smoky Mountain Brewery
Soon-to-be-famous, for sure. Smoked portobellos make their way onto the Calhoun's specials every now and again, but Calhoun's smokes them for sister restaurant SMB to feature every day. Sure, you could get them atop a salad or in a sandwich, but the Philly is savory, hearty, and redolent of green peppers and onions, and fairly melting with cheddar cheese. Dare we say you'll never miss the meat?