The Vegetarian Option: Buttermilk Channel
The Brooklyn food scene is full of hip and trendy restaurants, but it's rare that any of them offer more than one or two vegetarian options. That's why I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Buttermilk Channel has an entire menu devoted to vegetarian food. In addition to small plates and appetizers, there are five vegetarian entrees listed, a positive bounty for those of us who don't eat meat. Although the Southern-inspired food sometimes came up short, it was all interesting. The meal started with this delicious complimentary popover, buttery and crisp, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with salt.
Less successful were the hush puppies with green chile aoli ($4). They were light and pillowy soft with very little flavor, the opposite of what I look for in a hush puppy. I like mine more dense and sweet, which would have been a better match for the tangy aoli at the bottom of the dish.
Much better was the grilled flatbread ($12). The thin dough was nicely crisp and spread with a housemade buttermilk ricotta before getting topped with thinly sliced meyer lemons and grilled ramps. Ricotta and lemon are a great combination in just about any form, and the ramps added a welcome charred flavor.
There are plenty of vegetarian sides, and if you want to sample several of them at once, the cheddar waffles ($17) are the way to go. The waffles themselves are the same that come with the fried chicken entree. They're an intriguing mix of savory and sweet: topped with powdered sugar but made with cheddar in the batter. The crisp exterior lets you know you're eating waffles despite the relatively unfamiliar counterparts. Roasted mushrooms were well seasoned but ordinary, and the savoy cabbage slaw added a cooling element to a warm plate but not much else. Best of all were the sweet peas with mustard. The peas themselves were not particularly sweet, though they were perfectly cooked just between too mushy and too crunchy. The missing sweetness was taken care of by the handful of pea shoots cooked in with the peas, and the mustard sauce was a spicy counterpoint to their fresh flavor.
Buttermilk Channel seems to be the archetypal Brooklyn restaurant: a name referring to the history of Brooklyn, a long wooden bar dominating the dining room, and Meyer's candles in the bathroom. What sets it apart is its commitment to making vegetarians feel welcome; despite the cramped seating and seemingly harried waitstaff, I was able to enjoy a fully vegetarian meal. It's hard to express just how satisfying that can be.
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.