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Ever since I first wrote about vegan barbecue in Gothamist a few years ago, I’ve heard a lot of opinions about the topic. Some barbecue fans have laughed at the idea of meatless BBQ, while others including me continue to be intrigued by the idea. Why not expand the idea of what barbecue can be and break tradition now and again?
So when I read that a new vegan barbecue restaurant called Honeybee's had recently opened in New York’s East Village, I immediately felt compelled to try it. Honeybee's comes from the mind of Ravi Derossi, the man behind popular bars like Death & Co. and a few vegan restaurants like Avant Garden.
I, a barbecue fanatic, visited Honeybee's this week with two vegetarians and one omnivore who doesn't eat pork. The most amazing thing happened: we ordered seven menu items and we all really liked what we tried.
The single biggest highlight of the meal for me were the burnt ends, which are made with seitan protein and slathered in a rich, slightly spicy barbecue sauce. As someone from Kansas City, where burnt ends were created, I know burnt ends well and these did an excellent job of matching their flavor.
Honeybee's chef Amira Gharib said she has spent a lot of time experimenting to find the right flavor profiles to mirror American barbecue and trying to accomplish that with 100% vegan ingredients. As for the burnt ends, she said she rubs them with whole-grain mustard and then smokes them for five hours using applewood and hickory wood.
Other items that I quite enjoyed were the chicken and waffles, chorizo sausage, and the cauliflower hot wings. The only item that didn't land for me was the "pulled pork," which is made from smoked soy curls and mushrooms. It generally tasted good, but it was clear that I was eating fake meat, whereas the burnt ends, chicken, and chorizo were more substantial.
Sean McClure, general manager of Honeybee’s, says he was unsure at first of the concept because he loves barbecue. He even says he owns two smokers. But he's become a fan of Honeybee's vegan offerings and has been carefully watching other barbecue fans' reactions to this twist on the cuisine.
"They are skeptical at first, and then shortly after enjoying their meal, they turn around and say "Wow, bravo, well done," McClure said. "Most of the time you think of barbecue, you think about meat and tradition and so on. Whereas at the end of the day, it makes you think about how it's really how a chef puts their spin on barbecue."
McClure forsees the menu continuing to change and evolve, especially as different vegetables are available in different seasons.
“A luxury we have is that seasons change and the possibilities are endless,” McClure said. “We've got spices, we've got our rubs, we've got our sauces. But then again, we have the whole world of vegetables we can work with.”
On top of the food, Honeybee's also has an incredible bar featuring more than 80 bourbons and whiskeys, plus an extensive cocktail list. I tried the rye old fashioned and loved it, while my fellow diners also liked their drinks.
So even if you're "hardcore carnivore" and don't fall in love with the fake meats, there's a good chance you'll at least enjoy the cocktails.
Personally, I found Honeybee's vegan dishes to be the closest thing to real meat I've ever eaten, easily surpassing both the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger. And it does a damn good job of replicating the flavors and textures of traditional American barbecue.
While there was never a moment where I would have confused the food with the real thing, I was impressed and delighted by creativity and inventiveness of Honeybee’s. It's a welcome addition to New York's barbecue landscape, and I hope you won't knock it until you've tried it.
Founder, NYC BBQ
EAT ALL ABOUT IT
Here are the top BBQ and food stories in the New York area this week:
Staten Island’s Juicy Lucy BBQ, which won Brisket King NYC 2019 without even being open yet, has pushed back its June 14 opening date to July, they told NYC BBQ. One reason for the delay is that it is taking longer than expected to secure their liquor licence, which is a fair reason to postpone.
If you love hot dogs (and if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance), Eater NY’s Robert Sietsema has a new list of 20 great hot dogs around NYC, which includes new and old favorites.
Bear’s Smokehouse, one of the top barbecue destinations in Connecticut, is opening a new brewery this weekend at its New Haven location. In partnership with Black Hog Brewing, the on-site brewery will debut its first four beers that are brewed in house.
Speaking of Connecticut barbecue, the Journal Inquirer profiled Daniel Bell, the owner and pitmaster of Danny’s Little Taste of Texas in South Windsor. Bell moved from Connecticut to Texas and then back to Connecticut, so he knows a thing or two about high-quality barbecue.
Last but not least, New Jersey’s Kimchi Smoke was shouted out in a Texas Monthly roundup of the best barbecue books released so far in 2019. KS’s Robert Austin Cho provided a recipe for the great book Smoked and Texas Monthly highlighted the inclusion of Cho’s recipe for unique Korean ribs.
Here are the top BBQ (and related) food events coming soon to the New York metro area:
June 19: Get ready to try some of the best ciders from all around the world at the all-inclusive CiderFeast NYC in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It will also double as a book launch for Andy Brennan's new book Uncultivated: Wild Apples, Real Cider, and the Complicated Art of Making a Living. Buy tickets here.
June 21-23: The Saratoga Balloon and BBQ Festival will take place in, you guessed it, Saratoga, New York. The event will feature BBQ from six national vendors, and there will also be draft beers from New Belgium Brewery, spirits from Black Button Distilling, and more. In addition to BBQ, there will be hot air balloon launches, live entertainment, a kids zone, a festival marketplace, and more. More info here.
July 5-7: Just after the fourth of July, the I Love BBQ and Music Festival 2019 will be revving up in Lake Placid, New York. This is a large event that attracts barbecue enthusiasts from all around the Tri-State area. Not only are there Kansas City Barbeque Society competitions happening on-site, but there are also lots of food and drink vendors for the public to eat and drink well while watching lots of live music. More info here.
July 12-14: The New Jersey State Barbecue Championship will not only be about competition, but will also have live cooking demonstrations and music throughout the weekend. Sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, the NJ champ will have the opportunity to compete at the American Royal later this year. Details about the weekend here.
July 17: If you love beer, you won’t want to miss NYC Brewers Choice in Brooklyn. This all-inclusive event will feature outdoor space, sunset views, live music, and a ton of beer tastings. This year, 20 small batch brewers will come together to celebrate local grains and malts. Buy tickets here.
August 16-18: When it comes to barbecue festivals north of New York City, Hudson Valley Ribfest 2019 is one of the top events. RibFest will be held at the Ulster County Fairgrounds in New Paltz and it will feature family activities, live music, and more. More info here.
August 24: One of the last summer barbecue events held in NYC is the Hudson River Park Blues BBQ Festival, which is held annually at Pier 97 at Hudson River Park on the west side of Manhattan. Admission is free and there will be five different blues acts throughout the day and BBQ vendors selling grub. More info here.
September 7: For those that love all things pork and barbecue, the 10th annual Pig Island NYC will be a can’t-miss affair. Held outdoors at beautiful Erie Basin Park in Red Hook, Brooklyn, this all-inclusive event will feature a ton of great food, beer, cider, and liquor. I’m already hungry for it all. Buy early bird tickets here.