The Vegetarian Option: Blue Pit BBQ is an unexpected oasis for non-meat eaters
By By Martine Richards
Feb 05, 2015 at 1:50 PM
Baltimore is not a bad city for vegetarians. There are some dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants that really know their stuff, like Land of Kush and Liquid Earth. There are fewer good half-and-half spots—though they exist, like Golden West Cafe. We know a lot of long-term vegetarians, and nobody really complains about the available options.
But what about when you have to dine with that one family member who refuses to go for more than four hours without consuming meat and calls anything else "rabbit food"? And the one person looking out for you says, "Is there anything here you can eat?" and all you can say is, "Well yes, technically . . ." Maybe you're in an inter-dietary relationship and you want to do something nice for your partner who is now somehow better at cooking tofu than you are. Or you're just poorer than all of your friends so you like to order veg to save a few bucks (it's always the cheapest entree, trust us). The Vegetarian Option tells you all you need to know about going meatless in Baltimore in the places you'd least expect it.
Blue Pit BBQ & Whiskey Bar (1601 Union Ave.,  948-5590) is basically a hip Baltimore version of a classic Texas barbecue joint. In fact, it reminds us a lot of Kreuz Market, a barbecue cafeteria we visited many years ago in Lockhart, Texas: the same big wooden tables, a roll of paper towels on each to wipe off your sticky fingers, brown butcher paper piled high with hunks of meat.
There are a few differences, though. For starters, Blue Pit's first floor has a dimly lit bar with a full drink menu of whiskey and craft beers, including many local brews and spirits. In fact, we immediately ordered a few Miracles, the small-batch winter Weizenbock from nearby Union Craft Brewing ($10, $8 during happy hour). The whole vibe of the place is less lunch room, more dinner date. But the main difference? Our trip to Kreuz involved stopping at a fast food place on the way to buy a bean burrito, because there was not a single thing there that a vegetarian could eat.
When Blue Pit first opened in mid-2014 it had a limited menu: a few different types of brats, a cheese plate, a Reuben. Throughout the summer they assured customers that the full barbecue menu was coming soon, but the rumor that piqued our interest was that it was to include vegan barbecue. We even creeped on a Reddit poster who said he was an employee, asking him if the whispers were true. He confirmed that there was going to be a pulled jackfruit sandwich, and that it was going to be delicious.
It's easy to order veg at Blue Pit, for two reasons. First, they make it very clear what contains meat from the descriptions—the greens and the beans unfortunately have meat, but at least the menu is not at all sneaky about it. The other reason it's easy to order is that there's just not much a vegetarian can order. Your decisions are mostly made for you. And you know what? That's fine.
The only vegetarian entree is the pulled jackfruit sandwich ($8). "Jackfruit. What the fuck is that?" you ask. It's is an East Asian fruit that, when ripe, tastes kind of like a banana crossed with a pineapple. However, it's also commonly used in its unripened form as a vegetable. The stringy texture and blank slate of flavor lends itself to any sort of shredded-meat substitute. As long as it's seasoned well, it rules. And let me tell you, Blue Pit's was seasoned, smoked, and shredded to perfection. The smoky, crispy little bits were piled generously on a roll and topped with slaw. It was tasty and messy, just like barbecue should be. It even looked enough like pulled pork to fool an omnivorous friend. We could not think of a single way to improve it. We would even go so far as to say that it is the best vegetarian entree we've had at a non-vegetarian, non-ethnic restaurant.
For sides ($3 each, or $5 for two sides and a tea or soda), our first choice was the macaroni and cheese. It was pure comfort—unpretentious, absolutely loaded with cheddar cheese, and it kind of made our hearts hurt. Perfect. We honestly think that it might be too much on the side of a greasy slab of meat—but then again, what do we know about meat? We do know the mac and cheese was a perfect accompaniment to jackfruit. Sometimes the relative lack of protein in jackfruit can leave you wanting, but this rounded it out perfectly. A good vegetarian meal is one where we can enjoy the feeling of not really being able to comfortably move our bodies afterward.
There were two types of slaw, and both were fine. Nothing mind-blowing, but definitely solid additions on top of our sandwich or on the side. The pickleback slaw was vinegar-based and the chili mayo slaw was, duh, mayo-based, so only the former is vegan-friendly. But if you don't care either way, go for the chili mayo—the creamy dressing was a perfect foil to the smokiness of the jackfruit.
Like any good barbecue place, they had a handful of house-made sauces available to accompany your meat (or not-meat). I asked the bartender if they were vegetarian-friendly, and he trailed off, "I think so . . ." He came back a minute later and reported that two of the sauces had Worcestershire sauce in them. Bless his heart for checking, and we're impressed he even knew that Worcestershire is not veg. So the smoke sauce and the mustard were out. The sweet hot sauce was in, and it lived up to its name—a classic, slightly sweet barbecue sauce with just enough heat to keep it interesting. While we longed to try the others (they looked and smelled so good), the fact that any of them were vegetarian was a nice surprise.
The cornbread ($1) can be skipped. It was OK, but a bit dry. And with the huge sandwich and generous side portions, it seemed like a waste to fill any room in our stomachs with plain cornbread. The house-made pickles ($1), though? Those should be ordered and devoured. A sweet cucumber pickle with a bit of onion, it has the perfect amount of softness without being floppy. Plus, pickles are only like 15 calories, right? If you can't force that down on top of your massive jackfruit and macaroni-and-cheese binge, you should be ashamed of yourself.
Everything about eating vegetarian at Blue Pit was pleasant: the clarity of the menu, the willingness of the staff to check and be aware of non-vegetarian ingredients, and, you know, the fact that the food was awesome. We would eat at this unexpected vegetarian oasis again in a heartbeat, even without meat-eating companions to force us.