I spent so much time in R.P. Tracks back when I lived in the University of Memphis neighborhood that I could call ahead and ask whoever answered the phone to put a beer mug in the freezer for me. I didn’t even have to say my name.
Before you start wondering about how I spent my time, let me point out that Tracks has always had decent and reasonably priced food, and while I was often there to unwind over a beer or two, we also ate there. I’d put the burger up against many in town any day.
But on recent visits I didn’t go for the burger.
These days I’m trying to follow a vegetarian diet about half the time, and I recently blogged about it at whiningdining.com. Several people posted that Tracks serves up good veggie fare, so it gave me a good reason to pay a visit to my old stomping ground.
Let me say this first: I don’t eat barbecue tofu. I eat tofu and I eat barbecue, but not together. It’s no surprise that I didn’t care for the BBQ tofu sandwich (though a vegetarian friend who dropped in happily ate it). The surprise is that I liked the BBQ tofu nachos — and frankly, I am no fan of barbecue nachos, period. Tracks has good nachos (we rated them tops in an unofficial tasting last year), whether you get them with beef, chicken or tofu. I can’t comment on the vegan nachos, because I can’t see the point of nachos without cheese. Unless you’re a vegan. I’m not.
All versions are piled high, gooey with cheese and sloppy with chili or sauce, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers and sour cream. The ratio of topping to chip is right, which means you can get some chips that are heavily laden and others that are dry enough to be used as dippers.
The same can be said of everything we tried, BBQ tofu sandwich excepted.
A good patty melt done up on rye bread is one of the best things in the world. I wanted one, but instead I tried both the veggie melt and the portobello mushroom sandwich, which isn’t so labeled but is also a melt.
Both were good. The rye bread was perfectly grilled — crisp and buttery, I could’ve been happy with the toast alone. Of the two sandwiches, I’d choose the portobello because it is what it is. While the veggie melt, much to its credit, is made with a veggie burger and not a fake meat burger, it’s still a patty and, come on, it’s a replacement for a real burger. It’s tasty, as you would expect, laden with mushrooms, onions and cheese, but the portobello sandwich is naturally hearty and meaty because of the density of the mushroom.
Several varieties of quesadillas are available for vegetarians. We liked the spinach, grilled portobello and feta cheese the best. The tangy chipotle sour cream that comes with the quesadillas is reason enough to try any of them. I liked it so much I tried it with my vegetarian burrito, which would feed about three people.
All burritos contain a mix of refried beans and wild rice, corn, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, peppers, onions and salsa. Mine was heavily stuffed with spinach, too. It was most definitely a knife-and-fork burrito.
I’ve saved my favorites for last. I’ve been crazy about Tracks’ black bean chili for as long as it has been on the menu — maybe 15 years? It’s spicy, hearty, rich and appropriately textured. Chili that is too thick isn’t right for crackers or, in this case, tortilla chips. Consequently, I prefer it slightly on the thin side, which this is. Topped generously with cheese and onions, a $3 cup will fill your belly.
But even better is the rice and beans, a simple bed of wild rice topped with the black bean chili (you can get meat chili if you want). It’s also topped with cheese and onions and served with chips. My daughter, who doesn’t like beans, liked this so much she took the leftovers home. It’s $5.50 for a serving that is easily enough for two and maybe more.
Don’t miss the hummus, either. You can get the appetizer or go with the Alpha Beta Pita, grilled pita stuffed with the hummus, feta, sprouts, cucumber and onion. Either will please you, though I think I slightly prefer the hummus, slightly smoky with chipotle, straight.
Looking over the menu, and thinking to way back when, I remembered going to Tracks one night with a vegetarian friend. It was close to 20 years ago. There was one thing she could eat: french fries.
Co-owner Peter Moon told me that these days, they go through as much tofu each year as they do ground beef.
I’m definitely not the only one cutting back on meat.
— Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223