The first time Jennifer Meltzer caught Ed Reavis‘ attention it was because she won a ribeye-selling contest. Back in 2009 she was a server at The Capital Grille in Chevy Chase and he was a cook charged with manning the broiler section in the kitchen. Before they knew it they were falling in love over post-work drinks at Clyde’s while also plotting how to have a restaurant of their own. They opened All Set Restaurant & Bar, a New England-inspired seafood restaurant in Silver Spring, in 2015 and married in 2017.
During the pandemic, Reavis got to flex a new muscle. After acquiring a couple of smokers, the executive chef-turned-pitmaster launched Money Muscle BBQ. The ghost kitchen operating out of All Set and a food truck got a thumbs up for its brisket, pulled pork, and ribs from D.C.’s most discerning barbecue critic, Tim Carman. Unlike seafood, barbecue was the perfect cuisine to nestle into boxes when restaurants were hollow shells.
While Meltzer and Reavis’ relationship started over steaks, the couple is distancing themselves from meat, a least a little. Money Muscle BBQ is debuting a slate of “Piggie Smalls” vegan dishes like a standout smoked mushroom sandwich. Pulled cremini, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms doused in North Carolina barbecue sauce stand in for pulled pork. A bed of zingy zucchini pickles and a crown of coleslaw accompanies the mushroom medley on a Pretzilla bun.
Reavis’ favorite sandwich is the Nashville hot eggplant. The panko breading soaks up the sauce that also covers the tempura-battered Buffalo cauliflower nuggets. The chef combines Frank’s RedHot, sriracha, and vinegar to bring both heat and tang.
Sides like BBQ beans, collard greens, and sweet potato fries are also vegan. And save a lot of room for dessert, because Oreos are vegan! That’s how Reavis can get away with breading and frying the cookies, state fair-style. Coat each one in the chocolate ganache that lines the plate.
You can try the Piggie Smalls vegan picks several ways starting Tuesday, Aug. 31. A handful of them, including the smoked mushroom sandwich, will be available for sale out of the food truck that parks in the lot next to All Set. Customers will also be able to order them online for pick-up or delivery through the Money Muscle BBQ website. Those dining at All Set can try them whenever the restaurant is open.
Aug. 31 also marks the first Tuesday that All Set will be open since the start of the pandemic. They’ll dedicate Tuesday evenings to an all vegan and vegetarian menu for the foreseeable future. Diners can order the Piggie Smalls’ vegan picks barbecue dishes, plus an even wider array of new plant-based dishes like smoked mushroom risotto, Buffalo cauliflower nuggets, and a cajun lentil and kidney bean pita. (See the full menus, subject to change, below or by clicking here and here.)
This isn’t Reavis’ first foray into vegan cuisine. He was once the chef for a Wizards player who ate vegan 28 days out of each month. “That was my first immersion into forcing myself to learn about it and cook it,” he says. “I’ve gotten better since.”
He decided to come back to it after becoming a little overwhelmed by all of the meat he was handling at Money Muscle BBQ. “I’m small compared to the big boys and I’m going through thousands of pounds of meat,” he says. “If we’re going through this much meat so many others are too around the world. What if we ate a little bit less of this stuff? The impact it could have would be major.”
“I love everything in moderation, including moderation because I’m a hedonist,” Meltzer jokes. The vegan menu is more about cutting back than cutting out. “I’m going to make some people convert, but only part-time,” Reavis adds. The barbecue dishes still feel like an indulgent treat, especially when you pair them with the chickpea fries that have been on All Set’s menu for six years.
Reavis doesn’t want you guessing what’s in a “vegan meatloaf.” Nor does he consider himself an “Impossible burger guy.” In his research, the chef and fitness buff came across processed products that sought to mimic the texture of meat. He didn’t like that he “had no clue what was in it.”
His menu stars eggplant, jack fruit, mushrooms, beans, and other familiar ingredients straight from the earth. “I wanted to make everything from scratch,” he says, noting that he does buy the buns and some of the sauces.
The timing is right, according to Reavis. “The pandemic was a health scare for so many people, especially in the Black community,” he says. “I’m from the South. We eat Southern homestyle food, but trying to do those things in a healthy way got me excited.”