BBQ Chef Courts Vegetarians

Chef Bryan Dooley of Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue is a thoughtful guy. In the midst of smoking hundreds of pounds of beef, pork and chicken, he thinks about vegetarians.

“I think about vegetables the way a vegetarian restaurant does,” he says. “To me, vegetables shouldn’t be an afterthought.”

True, and that’s why I named his vegetarian “pulled” spaghetti squash sandwich one of the best sandwiches (meat or otherwise) in the January 2010 issue of PHOENIX Magazine.

Make no mistake, Bryan’s BBQ is a meat lovers haven, but Dooley always has something up his chef’s coat sleeve for those who eschew meat. Besides the pulled squash sandwich that’s on the menu year-round, Dooley offers seasonal items, often geared toward the non-meat eaters.

This past summer, he whipped up a juicy heirloom tomato sandwich and this fall, he dazzled diners with a fried artichoke po’ boy.

He’s tinkering in the kitchen again, thinking about what to offer his vegetarian friends this spring.

And he’s come up with something creative, incredibly tasty, and yet, a tad on the quirky side.

He calls it Veg-A-Pickle-Pie.

Veg-A-Pickle-Pie? I snickered when he first told me the name, but then I tasted it, and while it has a funny name, there’s nothing silly about the layers of flavor Dooley’s packed into his vegetable pie.

So what is it, exactly?

It’s a savory pie with a natural sweetness that comes from two root vegetables roasted to coax out the inherent sugars. He layers a pie crust with pureed roasted sweet potatoes spiked with chipotle.

Next, he sprinkles chopped, pickled green beans over the sweet potatoes. He experimented with spinach, but he’s leaning toward the pickled green beans. On top of the green beans, he layers a roasted beet and herb puree, and then he bakes it.

The kicker — what makes the flavors pop — is the topping of dill pickles.

“I made the pie and thought, yeah, this is nice, but then I put the pickles on it and said YEAH, that’s it,” he says.

I know what you’re thinking. Pickles? I thought the same thing until I tasted it with and without the pickles. The dilly vinegar really heightens the flavor of the beets.

Still, homey dill pickle slices on this gorgeous pie? Dooley likes the funky look of a crinkle-cut pickle covered pie, but I asked him, “why not julienne (matchstick) the pickles to dress it up a bit?” After all, he has a plume of lemon-pepper vinaigrette dressed watercress sitting on the side.

“I like the kinda Route 66 look of the down home pickle slices,” he says.

To humor me, he juliennes the pickle slices, and admits that it’s easier to get a taste of pickle with every bite of the pie.

Even though Dooley is a trained chef with years of high-end resort cooking under his belt, he considers himself, at heart, a simple BBQ guy.

OK, but what simple BBQ guy dreams up olive-studded coleslaw and root beer marinated apple rings with pink peppercorns?

Or, a roasted beet and sweet potato pie with dill pickles?

The verdict?

I’d order it — and I’m not a vegetarian. Of course, I’d order it with a side of the toothy pork ribs or the tender beef brisket that put Bryan’s BBQ on the must-eat Valley dining map.

Dooley’s still tinkering with the recipe, and hasn’t decided if this will be his spring Vegetarian special or not (there are some logistics to work out), but one thing is for sure:

The guy loves to play in the kitchen, and while he’s stoking the pecan wood fire in his smoker full of meat, he’s dreaming of delicious ways to bring vegetarians to his table.

So what do you think? Would you order the Veg-A-Pickle Pie?

Bryan’s Black Mountain BBQ
6130 East Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek
480-575-7155

photo credits:1, 2, 3: Bryan Dooley; 4, 5: Gwen Ashley Walters
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