Atlanta Orders In: Grass VBQ Joint serves mock barbecue that tastes amazing

Grass VBQ joint serves wonderful vegan fare, like a smoked brat sandwich made with Beyond Meat sausage (left); a po’boy created from blue oyster mushrooms (right); a vegan, chopped  “veef” brisket sandwich (left rear) and a Nashville hot chic’n sandwich (right rear). 
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Grass VBQ joint serves wonderful vegan fare, like a smoked brat sandwich made with Beyond Meat sausage (left); a po’boy created from blue oyster mushrooms (right); a vegan, chopped “veef” brisket sandwich (left rear) and a Nashville hot chic’n sandwich (right rear). Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Before he embraced veganism, Terry Sargent was a purposefully obnoxious carnivore. “I made fun of the vegans,” he said. “I was that guy.”

Now, Sargent is the chef and owner of Grass VBQ Joint, a vegan restaurant that began as a pop-up and has sold plant-based barbecue, as well as faux chicken sandwiches and po’boys, out of a tiny Stone Mountain storefront since December.

In five years, he’s gone from mocking vegans to catering to them.

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Grass VBQ Joint’s oyster po'boy is made with cornmeal-crusted blue oyster mushrooms, and is dressed like the classic Louisiana sandwich. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal Constitution
Grass VBQ Joint’s oyster po'boy is made with cornmeal-crusted blue oyster mushrooms, and is dressed like the classic Louisiana sandwich. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

After trying an animal-free diet as a challenge with friends, he decided he liked it, because it made him feel better. But, when July Fourth rolled around, he couldn’t enjoy the traditional burgers, hot dogs, ribs — or even potato salad and coleslaw, thanks to the mayo.

So, on Independence Day of 2019, Sargent offered his smoked “veef” brisket and chopped “chic’n” sandwiches at a pop-up at a friend’s restaurant in Decatur. The demand was so great that, by Labor Day, he’d quit his job as executive chef for a senior-living community and created Grass VBQ. He started out at We Suki Suki in East Atlanta Village, and later moved to Orpheus Brewing, near Piedmont Park.

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Terry Sargent is the chef-owner of Grass VBQ Joint in Stone Mountain. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Terry Sargent is the chef-owner of Grass VBQ Joint in Stone Mountain. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

While Sargent, 36, used to chomp bacon in front of vegans just to mock them, the chef now spends a good bit of time concocting mock meats. He replicates the flavors of pork, sausage, chicken, beef and seafood from vital wheat gluten, chickpea flour and pea protein, among other ingredients.

He’s really good at it, too.

I discern this as I hover over my kitchen counter, sampling four of his signature creations: the Titustown, his plant-based answer to brisket; the Nashville hot chic’n (made from seitan); a smoked brat sandwich, created with Beyond Meat; and an oyster (mushroom) po’boy.

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Grass VBQ Joint offers vegan mock-meat barbecue, like the Titustown. In the background are vegan potato salad, collards cooked in coconut milk and some other sandwiches with fries. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Grass VBQ Joint offers vegan mock-meat barbecue, like the Titustown. In the background are vegan potato salad, collards cooked in coconut milk and some other sandwiches with fries. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

Named for his Virginia hometown, the Titustown drips with roasted Vidalia barbecue sauce and a slaw of celery root and chickpeas. It is very tasty, in a sloppy Joe kind of way. The brat, dressed with caramelized onions, beer cheese and Sargent’s take on Cincinnatti chili, is even better. I particularly like its peppery finish.

Now comes the po’boy, made with cornmeal-crusted blue oyster mushrooms and dressed with lettuce, tomato, bread and butter pickles and creole remoulade. I take a bite, and my tastebuds perk up. The shrooms are crispy, and I detect a bit of Old Bay and a hint of the sea. (Sargent later tells me he uses kelp powder to add a saline note.) I’m real happy with this riff on the Louisiana classic.

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Grass VBQ Joint’s Nashville hot chic’n sandwich is so good you might think it’s real chicken. 
Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Grass VBQ Joint’s Nashville hot chic’n sandwich is so good you might think it’s real chicken. Wendell Brock for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Wendell Brock

Credit: Wendell Brock

But the sandwich that sends me over the moon is the Nashville hot chic’n. Everything comes together here — a hefty chunk of imitation white meat that’s impeccably fried, and covered with a sauce packing the ideal amount of heat. The texture and the chew are so true to the real thing that I jokingly text Sargent, “Are you sure this isn’t chicken?”

Sargent, whose parents moved from Virginia to Georgia when he was 7 or 8, grew up in Roswell. He was obsessed with football, until an injury sidelined him. He got his start in food cooking omelets at an Alpharetta Marriott, later working at Flip Burger Boutique, the Lawrence and Steel Restaurant & Lounge in Midtown.

Since becoming a vegan, he’s immersed himself in the culture. He’s been known to journey to California to try an important VBQ restaurant, or scoot up to New York to sample a particular brand of vegan mozzarella. And, it’s not just food: He believes veganism is good for the planet, too.

As a person who ate meat for 30 years, Sargent knows how hard it is to go cold turkey. He also understands that animal products can taste delicious. “I don’t dislike the taste of bacon,” he said. “I just don’t like the processes used to make it, or what it does to my body. The flavor that bacon brings to me is amazing! My job now is, how do I re-create that flavor that I love?”

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GRASS VBQ JOINT

Menu: vegan barbecue, other mock-meat dishes and sides

Alcohol: no

What I ordered: four sandwiches, the Titustown; smoked brat; Nashville hot chic’n; and oyster (mushroom) po’boy. Sides of potato salad, collards and fries. Very impressive! Since I researched this piece, the restaurant has updated its online ordering system, allowing you to choose a variety of sides with each sandwich.

Service options: takeout and in-house delivery

Outdoor dining: no

Mask policy: required for staff and guests

Address, phone: 5385 Five Forks Trickum Road SW, Stone Mountain; 470-395-0934

Hours: 1-8 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 1-9 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 1-8 p.m. Sundays

Website: grassvbqjoint.com

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