Seeking out vegetarian food at Ribfest is sort of like going to a bowling alley in hopes of getting in a round of mini golf: try as you might, you're not going to find much in the way of greens. But over the past weekend, when the 2012 installment of the summertime meat party fogged in Lincoln Avenue with a thick cloud of charcoal-scented smoke, a survey of the available eats actually turned up a few tasty options for the vegetarian diner.
One of the most veggie-friendly stands at Ribfest belonged to Teresa Mittons Concessions & Catering, where alongside apricot-glazed chicken wings and slabs of ribs were meatless choices like the veggie kabobs ($5). The array of veg, which included tomato, peppers, red onion, zucchini, and mushroom, displayed a pretty char, mild smoky flavors, and a peppery seasoning that complemented the vegetables' natural sweetness.
For something a little richer and more robust, the same vendor was offering smoked yams with vanilla sugar ($5). This tuber's time on the grill was deliciously evident from the fork-tenderness (and molten heat!) of its bright orange "meat." The dusting of sugar on top added a little textural interest, but the yam's natural brown-sugar sweetness is really the key flavor here.
For a salty snack to go with your cold beer, The Smoke Daddy counter was offering crispy BBQ potato chips ($2). Unlike what you might get in a store-bought bag of barbecue chips, which are simply coated in a barbecue sauce-like seasoning, these actually tasted like they had been smoked on the barbecue. The spicy, smoky flavor seemed embedded in the chip—not merely on it.
I saved the best for last here. Browntrout, which resides on the stretch of Lincoln commandeered by the fest but isn't really known for slinging barbecue, put out a pretty respectable spread, including this outstanding Chicago falafel dog ($5). And yes, it's just what it sounds like—a happy marriage of a falafel sandwich and a classic Chicago dog. A crispy, crumbly, sausage-shaped falafel came wrapped in a poppy seed bun, topped with tahini mustard, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sport peppers. Besides earning points for creativity, Browntrout won me over with this twist on a veggie dog thanks to its both seasoning and tangy sauce. I hope this continues to surface at festivals throughout the summer.