The past few years have seen something of a barbecue revolution here in New York, but that doesn't mean much to us vegetarians. Even places that are doing creative things with barbecue don't make much concession to us, relegating our options to side dishes. And even then, dishes like collards or beans are often laced with pork products, limiting our choices even more. The first time I visited Fort Reno Provisions, they mentioned that their collard greens are completely vegetarian (though the beans are full of meaty burnt ends). I've eaten there twice now, and some of the sides make the trip well worth it.
The sides are split into two sizes: $4 and $2 portions. On the $4 end, you can get three for $11, though I think only two of those are worth ordering. The first would be the collard greens. The greens were liberally doused with vinegar and salt, and then cooked until soft (but not mushy). Every mouthful was full of flavor, underlined by the cabbage flavor of the collards.
Some sides are not so successful. The cole slaw (also $4) was nice and creamy, but the cabbage used was far too bitter. I could only eat a few bites of this.
The sides seem to vary in quality from day to day. Spicy pickles rotate; on my first visit they were green beans, so spicy that they brought tears to my eyes and made me hiccup—I mean that as a compliment. On another trip, they were a few sticks of pickled carrots and celery, more vinegary than hot. The cornbread ($2) on one night was sweet and drizzled with honey. On another night it was bland, and so dry that it crumbled into dust with the slightest pressure. A biscuit ($2) was a highlight of one meal; it was not on the menu on my second visit.
Earlier I mentioned that there was another of the $4 sides worth ordering, and I've saved the best for last. That would be the mac and cheese, some of the best I've had in a long time. Though it isn't baked with a crust, it comes topped with lightly toasted breadcrumbs. The creamy sauce is infused with garlic and dotted with black peppercorns so coarsely ground they crunch between your teeth, adding a great spicy quality to the dish. The portion may look small, but the bowl is deceptively deep and there is plenty of food.
Fort Reno Provisions has its ups and downs, but there are enough good options among the side dishes to make it plenty vegetarian friendly. It may not be worth a special trip, but if you're out with friends and they want barbecue, you can approve the choice unreservedly.
Fort Reno Provisions
About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Eat to Blog and the creator of BrooklynVegetarian.