Amidst a symphony of manly groans and hippie cheers, Portland welcomed Homegrown Smoker all-vegan barbecue pit to Last Thursday on Alberta. The hulking black smoker, bearing a deceptively hostile pirate flag, was tucked in a gravel lot on the corner of NE Alberta and 23rd alongside an old-fashioned popcorn machine and a keyboardist banging out a mournful rendition of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (sob!). Fresh-faced brother-sister duo Jared and Clara Ridabock greeted Grand Opening customers, ready to serve up smoked soy curls on pita bread and tempeh ribs with a side of Mac No Cheese.
Jared and Clara, along with friends Alex and Elise, are like a four-piece set of vegan encyclopedias. They are extremely knowledgeable about the meat-free products they serve up, and have been experimenting tirelessly to produce the best-tasting vegan barbecue possible. Not only are they versed on the processes through which vegan oddities like soy curls are created, but also have had a hand in the production of some of their more obscure dishes, like the strangely delicious Mac No Cheese. Clara and Jared's dad, Jeff Ridabock, a chef who was once a meat seller, has helped them formulate their animal-product-free menu. Jeff is still eating meat, but his entrepreneurial vegan brood hopes to eventually convert him from his carnivorous ways.
While they're proud of their menu and all-vegan approach, the last thing Homegrown Smoker wants to be is a "vegan nazi" – Jared insists on customer feedback to help shape the menu, and says he's proud to be a part of the supportive restaurant and vegan community that Portland fosters. While the stand has yet to nail down an official schedule for open hours, they're anticipating a second opening this coming Wednesday or Thursday, and hope to operate Thursdays through Sundays. Check out their blog for a full menu and the latest on your next chance to indulge in smoked meatless merriment.
-- Reported by Emily Jensen and Caitlin McCarthy