Best Bets: Portabello barbecue sandwich

The Portobello barbecue sandwich at Central BBQ.

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

The Portobello barbecue sandwich at Central BBQ.

It’s Lent. You might be looking for some non-meat options. Try the non-barbecue barbecue — the portobello sandwich at Central BBQ. It’s like a barbecue sandwich without the meat.

I visited the Central Avenue location this week to try one. Manager J.C. Youngblood told me he ate portobello sandwiches at Central BBQ for three years before he went to work there. He still eats at least three a week.

They use a whole portobello mushroom cap, which can range from 6 to 12 inches depending on the season. They marinate it for 24 to 48 hours in a handmade Italian vinaigrette. They then grill it over an open flame, which gives it a “nice, charcoal taste.” Finally, they add barbecue sauce, cole slaw and smoked gouda cheese.

The sandwich is “vegetarian friendly,” Youngblood said.

Nonvegetarians order it, too, added server Duran Rogers.

“I do a portobello and add turkey to it,” said Miller Himelright, who works behind the counter.

Craig Blondis, Central BBQ co-owner, came up with the recipe. “I wanted to have something for vegetarians, being in Midtown,” he said.

“When we first opened nine years ago, originally I tried doing a smoked tofu, and that just didn’t work. I kind of went with the portobello just because of the texture of it, and it held up better, and I was able to grill it on the charbroiler like a steak.”

As for the marinade, he said, “We were just trying to think of some type of vinegar marinade.”

The marinade is made with balsamic vinegar, oil, thyme, oregano and garlic. “We use extra virgin olive oil, but you don’t have to. You can use any type of oil. We emulsify it and make it into almost a thick liquid marinade as opposed to true liquid. That way all the spices and balsamic vinegar mixes with the oil and doesn’t separate.”

The sandwich tastes great even without the sauce, but if you want that barbecue sandwich effect, get the whole shebang. Central BBQ greens also are popular with the portobello sandwich, so I tried those, too. They had a smoky, barbecue taste. “Everything in here gets a little smoke saturated,” Youngblood said.

Central BBQ is at 2249 Central, 272-9377; and 4375 Summer, 767-4672.

— Michael Donahue: 529-2797. donahue@commercialappeal.com

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