Reviewing the dishes at a barbecue eatery feels a bit like judging a family dinner. Most of us have specific expectations of what the meats and the sides should taste like — sensory memories that grabbed us the first time we ate pulled pork or collard greens, and they won't let go. Add to that the many regional differences in BBQ preparation, and there's a lot to consider, discuss, or dispute.
Nonetheless, the folks at United BBQ are convinced that the down-home tastes of their smoked m
eats, herby rubs, sweet sauces, and homemade sides can unite all kinds of eaters, and to that end, they've created vegetarian and even vegan items for their menu. Granted, three of the vegan entrées are listed under "Weird Stuff," but they're available! Plus there are fries, both white and sweet potato, home-fried potato chips, white rice, and corn on the cob that are also vegan.
UNITED BBQ |401.751.9000 | 146 IVES ST, PROVIDENCE |UNITEDBBQ.COM | TUES-SUN, 11 AM-11 PM | MAJOR CREDIT CARDS | BYOB | SIDEWALK-LEVEL ACCESSIBLE
United's space in Fox Point is modest, with a dozen stools, two high-top tables, and two countertops that look out onto the lively Ives Streeet. It's bright and cheery inside, even in gray weather, but when the weather turns warm, you can carry your meals outside.
What the restaurant lacks in physical size, they make up for in an expansive menu. Not only does it list pork or beef ribs, BBQ chicken, brisket, and pulled pork or chicken, plus the combo plates or sandwiches you can make from any of those. But United also offers six variations on potato boats; red beans and rice with regular or vegan sausage; tamales, with choice of filling; regular and vegan chili, not to mention eight sides and four homemade desserts.
Where to start? We jumped right into the BBQ, with Bill getting a combo plate of brisket and pulled pork ($12.99). Cornbread or white bread comes with each dinner plate, as well as two sides. He chose baked beans and cole slaw. To his delight, there was a different sauce on the brisket than the pork; the pork ends were a bit charred, the beans nice and sweet. The slaw needed some more dressing and/or some more chopping, so that smaller bits would absorb the dressing.
I went with the pulled chicken, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese. The mac-and-cheese was creamy and comforting, the pulled chicken a bit dry, the collards nicely stewed with tons of meat in them, though I prefer the greens simmered down in a bit of oil and their own juices — to me, they always taste meaty on their own.
Bill ordered a half-rack of St. Louis cut pork ribs ($8.99) to go, and I got the BBQ seitan sandwich ($5.99; seitan is a meat substitute, made of wheat gluten). He ended up with at least a half-dozen very meaty ribs and enjoyed them almost as much as the two pre-schoolers who were sharing a whole rack with their parents.
United's seitan sandwich is on a whole-wheat roll with lettuce and tomato, with vegan coleslaw, pickles, and homemade potato chips. Seitan chunks are simmered with BBQ sauce and piled, in a generous amount, atop the bun (it took me two meals to get through it all). It's a delicious alternative to the pulled pork or smoked sausage sandwiches, and the homemade chips are terrific. Other vegan sides are pinto beans or brown rice with wheat berries.
Homemade desserts vary from day to day but include brownies, apple crisp, bread pudding, and pecan pie. The pie ($2.75) is packed with chopped nuts and is not overly sweet — you can taste the custard underneath.
Chef Nat Hughes, formerly at the Gatehouse and Parkside, has done a great job with the different rib cuts (the beef ribs are Texas-style); the varied rubs for the pork, chicken, and beef; and the flavorful BBQ sauces — he even turns out several of the desserts. The counter service is welcoming, the kitchen is sparkling, the preparation of plates and take-out is bustling and brisk.
Indeed, a lot of United's business is take-out — they even deliver in a chic Smart Car — and the take-out containers are recyclable cardboard boxes. So, old-fashioned BBQ with new-fangled vegan fillings and ecologically-sound packaging — what more could a food fan, a college student, or a neighborhood resident desire?
Johnette Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.