A la Carte: Vegan BBQ
By Rachel Hergett EBS COLUMNIST
As I wandered through Riverhouse BBQ and Events on an early May afternoon, I contemplated the restaurant’s name and my own propensity for “blonde moments.” Or maybe in my case, it’s a blonde decade.
The Riverhouse, you see, feels like a roadhouse… But with better views. It’s along U.S. Highway 191, about three miles south of Lone Mountain Trail—the turn off to the mountain. It’s both on a road and on a river.
Riverhouse, formerly Gallatin Riverhouse Grill, opened in 2013. It is a BBQ joint through and through. Inside, you’re transported to a mash-up of Montana and Texas, like some log cabin-ranch-homestead. Wood is everywhere: tables, floors, walls, ceilings, beams. A playlist of modern country and Americana music plays over the speakers. I notice Sturgill Simpson and Brent Cobb among the artists.
A distinct smokehouse smell hits your nose as you enter the restaurant. The Riverhouse menu leans heavily on meat—smoked baby back ribs, pulled pork, brisket and tri tip. You can’t go wrong with the meats.
And yet, I’m here with a different mission. Someone told me the Riverhouse had recently expanded their vegetarian options, namely a vegetarian BBQ taco. I spy a baked potato with broccoli and cheese sauce as I contemplate the menu. I’d surely enjoy it. Broccoli and cheddar are a sublime flavor combination in my book. But I resist.
Sweet corn nuggets catch my eye. They’re like hush puppies with bits of corn, my waiter says. I order the corn nuggets as an appetizer and am not disappointed. Crisp crust gives way to a gooey interior, dotted with kernels of sweet corn. The dip is, expectedly, ranch. It’s a decent ranch. I enjoy the contrast of textures while I wait for the main event.
The waiter tells me the veggie version of the BBQ street tacos feature a vegan pulled pork substitute. My exposure to vegan “meats” is limited. I’m a Montanan who still has family raising cattle and whose stepdad and friends’ hunting habits lead to a steady supply of wild game. My stepdad is also a southerner from Alabama, so I’ve been exposed to BBQ joints and their smoked meat-heavy menus from a young age. It feels weird to not order a platter.
I order tacos, choosing flour tortillas. Later, I will learn through an Instagram post (@riverhouse_bbq_events) that the flour tortillas are vegetarian, but the dish can be vegan with corn tortillas.
My basket of food arrives. There’s a pair of tacos, a heaping portion of skinny fries and a little side of slaw. I dig in.
The vegan pulled pork sits atop some slightly sweet pickles. It is topped with a little slaw, jalapeño relish and a mustard-based BBQ sauce. The mustard BBQ is slightly sweet and a little fruity. There are apples in it, I’m told. Yet I miss the vinegar bite of a South Carolina mustard BBQ. I try the other house sauce, a pepper BBQ. The sweetness feels more balanced here, like Sweet Baby Ray’s with a little pepper bite. I add a layer to my tacos.
The “meat” has some sort of dry rub. It’s a tad spicy, smokey and flavorful. It has a little more springy chew than pork pork, and I wonder if it’s made of jackfruit. I poke and prod at the thing, ultimately deciding I don’t necessarily care what it is. I don’t miss the real meat. I’m not sad I visited a BBQ joint and didn’t get the brisket. As the taco ingredients meld in my mouth, I’m only thinking one thing: This is delicious.
Rachel Hergett is a foodie and cook from Montana. She is arts editor emeritus at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and has written for publications such as Food Network Magazine and Montana Quarterly. Rachel is also the host of the Magic Monday Show on KGLT-FM and teaches at Montana State University.