I'm as helpless as a vegitarian at a Kansas City barbecue
September 17, 2009 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I'll be heading to Kansas City in a week or two for just a few nights. It's on business, so I won't have any time to see the sights. But my colleagues are already talking about spending all night trolling for barbecue, because apparently, that's what you do in KC. But of course, I'm a vegetarian. I'd like to hang out with my workmates, but it's going to be a drag for me and for them if I'm eating dinner roles and water all night. So is it a lost cause, or is there usually enough non-meat fare that I won't be too conspicuous? Is there anywhere you suggest? I don't think I'll be able to talk them into marginal barbecue just because I'll have options. If I'm to hang for the night, the meat will have to be outstanding, as well as non-exclusive. And not that I'd be so lucky, but there isn't any good tofu/mock-barbecue, is there? Does that even exist? Is it worth the time?
posted by ochenk to Travel & Transportation around Kansas City, MO (18 answers total)
In my experience with many BBQ joints (in Louisville), the mac & cheese had ham in it, the green beans had beef in them, and walking into one and asking for the vegetarian options might find you on the other side of a dumbfounded stare (like why are you even here?) These places worship meat and put it in everything they can get away with. Asking for the veggie plate (while certainly done) will be seen akin to walking into a vegan restaurant and asking for a burger. You are probably going to be stuck with a side salad. Inquiring about tofu-barbecue could lead to an altogether different sort of altercation.
posted by mrmojoflying at 1:54 PM on September 17, 2009

by and large BBQ places and steak houses are actually some of the best restaurants for vegetarians. they usually have amazing baked potatoes and sides (and an entree that you can make up of only sides).

find out where they're thinking of going and look up the menu online, so you know what you're in for before you go.
posted by nadawi at 1:58 PM on September 17, 2009

i have only had mrmojoflying's problem in one bbq/ribs restaurant ever, that was rendezvous in memphis.
posted by nadawi at 2:00 PM on September 17, 2009

I think you probably have a decent chance of being able to order various delicious sides (okra, mashed potatoes, green beans, cornbead, etc...) without too much trouble. I would be sure to ask the server beforehand if they contain meat though.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:01 PM on September 17, 2009

Mashed potatoes are often made with bacon in these kinds of places, and green beans with ham, so if it's important to you you will have to ask, wherever you go.
posted by Night_owl at 2:07 PM on September 17, 2009

If you're in KC ad looking for good BBQ, the odds are good that you'll end up at Arthur Bryant's at some point. Click through to the menu and you'll see that your options are going to be limited: Fries, cole slaw, potato salad, pickles and bread.

Unfortunately for you, most small joints that take their barbecue seriously are going to be like this.

If I were you, I'd either rend a separate car and eat on your own, or at least insist that they let you stop at Subway or something before you head in.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:10 PM on September 17, 2009

I am a vegetarian in central Missouri, and though there are plenty of barbecue joints in KC, the most famous/popular/"best" ones are Gates & Arthur Bryant's. I've linked the menus. There isn't much in the way of non-meat at these restaurants, and like mrmojoflying says, there's probably meat in the non-meat options as well. Further, while I don't think that asking the staff about the ingredients would actually lead to fisticuffs, it's likely that they won't know ingredients. These are real-deal barbecue joints where this stuff is taken seriously.

This region of the country lacks in tofu/mock-meat options in non-vegetarian restaurants. In many cases, a vegetarian considers a restaurant to be veggie-friendly if it has a veggie burger on the menu. It's just been my experience as far as American style restaurants are concerned.

Not to say that KC is completely lacking in vegetarian food- absolutely not! Here's a link to the VegKC Restaurant Guide, which is pretty thorough. Eden Alley is in the Country Club Plaza area (very popular for shopping/dining/history) and it's pretty great. Waldo Pizza has a couple of locations and a vegan cheese option. And there are a lot of great ethnic restaurants all around town.
posted by aabbbiee at 2:12 PM on September 17, 2009

I would definitely check the menus. Two that come to mind in KC, Arthur Bryants and Gates, are both pretty limited when it comes to sides - mostly beans (which may have meat in them), fries, and potato salad.
posted by yarrow at 2:13 PM on September 17, 2009

If your colleagues know about your diet then make a game of it. Trolling for the best cole slaw, sweet potato fries, desserts, etc.
posted by Gungho at 2:13 PM on September 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a resident of Kansas City, I'll tell you that most BBQ places around here basically serve large piles of meat. That said, you can get a pretty decent meal at some place like Jack Stack / Fiorella's. You can get a salad, the cheesy corn bake, slaw, baked potatoes, the veggie kabob, and possibly the beans (but ask about them, since they may have ham in them). If you visit the Jack Stack on the Plaza, you'll be able to see one of the nicest streets in KC *and* get an awesome BBQ dinner with more vegetarian-friendly foods than most other BBQ places. Gates BBQ and Arthur Bryants, while famous in KC, don't really have any options. I'm partial to Jack Stack anyway, so that'll be my top recommendation for your entire group.

I've never heard of tofu-BBQ, so I think you're a little out of luck on that count.

I hope you enjoy KC!
posted by Lifeson at 2:15 PM on September 17, 2009

I live in Memphis, and let me tell you, we have some of the best BBQ sauce in the country, and tons of BBQ restaurants. What I do (as well as my other veg friends) is eat a sandwich with just slaw and sauce. Sounds gross, tastes delicious, and you don't miss out on the tastiness of the sauce (which, even if I ate meat, would probably still be the best part).

People are right that the veggies probably have meat in them, so your best bet is fried veggies (like okra) or potato salad. And if the sauce is good, dip everything in it. Between a slaw sandwich and a side or two, you'll be set.

I can't say they won't look at you funny, but I've gotten used to it.
And if you're ever down in Memphis, we've got a place that does have BBQ tofu.
posted by a.steele at 2:25 PM on September 17, 2009

Some KC barbecue sauces are not vegetarian. I don't know how strict you are, but the one that my parents love has Worcestershire sauce in it (which means anchovies).
posted by aabbbiee at 2:29 PM on September 17, 2009

I've been to Arthur Bryant's with my non-meat-eating wife. The beans have meat, but the sauce -- at least this is what they told me -- does not. And the sauce is delicious. I would go with your buddies and eat fries with sauce, just for the experience.

For another kind of classic KC cooking you can go to the Peachtree for soul food -- main dishes tend towards meat and fish, but you can make a terrific dinner out of the sides, many of which are vegetarian.
posted by escabeche at 2:44 PM on September 17, 2009

I live in KC and honestly, there just aren't that many entrees you can find in a BBQ joint that will not feature meat. There's definitely no tofu on the menu--KC BBQ is all about the meat. You'll be able to find some side salads, fries, and other sides. I agree with chrisamiller--you're probably going to want to try and stop elsewhere for your food.
posted by angelchrys at 2:49 PM on September 17, 2009

As a Kansas City resident and former vegetarian, the only place you'll really find anything beyond salad is at Fiorella's Jack Stack. Even a salad can only be had at a a handful of places. If you wind up at Fiorella's or Hereford House, do make it known to the server that you're a vegetarian, the chefs at both places will likely make a dish for you off menu.
posted by piedmont at 5:56 PM on September 17, 2009

When I'm heading out to eat somewhere that's veggie-questionable, I usually pre-game a little with some food at home.
posted by orme at 6:08 PM on September 17, 2009

Thanks all. It sounds like I'm not totally out of luck, but it might be a bit of a challenge.

I'll post a follow-up for posterity sake.
posted by ochenk at 10:09 PM on September 17, 2009

Well, I said I'd post a follow-up, but as it turned out, my mates weren't as rabid for the meat as they initially let on. We mostly stayed in the Light and Power district, which had many nice options, including a few of the above.

By far, the best was Bristol - mostly a seafood place, but even the veggie sides were fabulous.

Thanks all for the help.
posted by ochenk at 6:58 PM on October 12, 2009

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