Years ago, RP Tracks was my neighborhood bar and restaurant. We ate and drank there several times a week, and one night, some friends that weren’t regulars met me there. This was at least 20 — probably closer to 25 — years ago, but one of the women was a vegetarian, and the only thing she could eat was french fries.
Today, RP Tracks (3547 Walker; 901-327-1471) goes through as much tofu as it does ground beef. Former co-owner Peter Moon told me this a couple of years ago, about the time the consumption equaled up, and new owners Bernard and Mary Laws (who worked there for years before they took it over) confirmed it last week.
“I’d say about 35 to 40 percent of our customers are strictly vegetarian,” Bernard Laws said. “But about 70 percent of the people who come in here are willing to try things like the Buffalo tofu fingers or the tofu nachos.”
Here in barbecue Mecca, folks who want to forgo meat, whether for reasons of conscience or health, can do it without too much trouble.
I’m not a vegetarian, though I probably could be if I were so inclined and I didn’t review restaurants for a living. It would be fairly easy for me, as I love spicy ethnic cuisine. Because it is so easy to find vegetarian and even vegan fare (though not quite as simple) in virtually all Asian (any kind, from Chinese to Vietnamese), Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, and even Italian restaurants, we’re not even going to name them, with a few notable exceptions. Same for places that have a large selection of salads or sandwiches that include veggie options, because come on: You know what to do there.
While there are now five Ethiopian restaurants in Memphis, many folks are still unfamiliar with the vegetable- and spice-heavy dishes, so take note of these places and simply order a vegetable platter. Mounds of veggies, from greens to lentils to potatoes, will come to you served on a protein-rich spongy flatbread called injera. Let the juices soak in, pull off a piece of bread, scoop up a bite, and pop it in your mouth, or feed it to someone you love (with your right hand). Here’s where to go:
The Bar-B-Q Shop, 1872 Madison; 901-272-1277, offers a veggie burger. Co-owner Eric Vernon said he talked his dad into adding one when he saw that some of his friends had quit coming. “They grew up and got married to vegetarians,” he said. “We didn’t have anything for them.” But now there’s a simple veggie patty that’s soaked in sauce, and while it's generally served with lettuce and tomato, ask that it come on Texas toast with slaw. Add your sauce, and there’s your veggie-Q. Greens are also cooked without meat.
Huey’s, Memphis’ original burger joint (multiple locations) has both a veggie patty and a black bean burger, and you can order them dressed the way any burger comes. Both are good; the West Coast burger made with a black bean patty is great. Ask them to change the whole-wheat bun for a regular white one and it’s even better.
Belly Acres, 2102 Trimble Place; 901-529-7017. Here you get an option of three vegetarian patties: Portobello, black-eyed pea, and lentil and onion. (You can also go with Mushroom State of Mind if you want meat but not as much, as it’s a mix of ground mushrooms and beef.) Dress ‘em like you want them, and the bonus is you can eat those great fries they serve.
But enough of the burgers? There are plenty of other things to eat.
Boscos Squared, 2120 Madison, 901-432-2222. There are several options here if you want to stay away from meat, but one of my favorite dishes in town happens to be meat-free. The Black Bean & Goat Cheese Tamale is a big tamale stuffed full of roasted vegetable and black beans, wrapped in a plantain leaf, topped with pico, sour cream and goat cheese, and served with elote, the great corn on the cob sprinkled with lime juice, rolled in mayo and cotija cheese. Fabulous for anyone.
Café Eclectic (three locations including 603 N. McLean; 901-725-1718. You can stick easily to your no-meat diet here, and for breakfast, try Rachel’s Vegetarian Delight: eggs, cheese, tofu, veggie sausage and vegetables scrambled up and stuffed in a tortilla.