When you sell food in Ann Arbor, even BBQ, one of the things you get asked is “What are your vegetarian options?” In the past our response has always been: cole slaw, potato salad and cornbread. All good stuff, but not exactly a hearty meal. This has especially been problematic for those who want to use our catering services since invariably there are a few non-meat-eaters on the guest list.
I am pleased to announce that we now have a bit more depth to our vegetarian options. In the past, we used a bit of chicken stock in two of our heartier side dishes, the mac-and-cheese and the red-beans-and-rice. Now, after a bit of tinkering, we found a way to maintain the delicious flavor of these menu items (no one on our staff can even taste the difference) without using any meat by-product. So for those of you who seek to steer clear of meat products and yet somehow find themselves in Satchel’s, simply order a Shelley Plate for $4. This will get you three servings of any side dish plus a piece of cornbread. It’s great food at a great price.
The issue of vegetarian options touches upon the broader challenge we face at Satchel’s of balancing our mission (we sell good old-fashioned southern BBQ) with the desire to be responsive to our customers. For example, it has occurred to us that perhaps our customers would like french fries. Or chili. Or hamburgers. The list goes on. But at the end of the day, this dilutes the whole purpose of our enterprise: BBQ. If we try to be all things to all people, we end up being not much to anyone. So we always ask ourselves, is this consistent with what we do? Would you find this on the menu on one of those mythical southern eateries that we adore?
Which raises some problems with vegetarian cuisine. The inspiration for Satchel’s derives from BBQ joints down south. And while these places often offer a “vegetable plate” (creamed corn, baked beans, turnip greens, mashed potatoes, etc.) this is not vegetarian fare. Bacon, ham hocks, gizzards and necks adorn these plates. So part of me thinks, “Hey, you don’t go into a Chinese place and ask for tacos. You can’t expect to come into a BBQ place and get vegetarian.”
But this is when a mission can potentially become something of a cage. While we have no interest in trying to compete with some of the great vegetarian restaurants here in town, why not accommodate the occasional vegetarian who agreed to tag along with meat-eating friends to Satchel’s? Why not throw that poor boy or girl a bone (so to speak) and offer some good old-fashioned southern vittles….which happen to be vegetarian. Is this such a compromise to the mission? We don’t think so. Just seems courteous to us.
We live under no illusions that vegetarians will now flock to our doors in droves. Again, we are a BBQ place and always will be. But for the occasional vegetarian who meanders into our dining room, we say “Welcome!” Just please, don’t ask us to smoke any tofu.