Growing up in Vermont, most places I considered “vegan” were stereotypical hippie joints – local co-ops bathed in patchouli oil, incense, and Birkenstock footprints. And, while many places in the Green Mountain State still resemble those icons, the vegan scene in Vermont is changing.
On a recent trip home, we pulled our car into a non-descript parking lot in Essex. The property is shared with a nursery/greenhouse. A small sign over a beautiful deck read “Sweet Alchemy Bakery and Cafe.”
From the outside on this chilly Winter day, so far the experience was quintessential Vermont – from the rolling frozen hills in the distance, to the barn-esque design of Sweet Alchemy. Once inside, the warm, sweet smells of a talented baker completed the experience.
Today we ventured down Broadway in Portland, looking for a spot for some lunch goodness. The only problem? I wanted something new. I remembered hearing about Blackwater Bar in Portland, an all-vegan bar.
Blackwater is a punk-rock themed bar, that teeters on the edge of dive status for me. Once you walk in, the space is on the dark side (not sure if deliberate for the punk theme) and has a good mix of booths and chairs with tables. The place is pretty good size, with a full sized stage for live music shows, a bar in the back, a couple of pinball machines, and ample seating.
Traveling to Alaska as a vegan can be pretty daunting. There is hope though, in the sparsely populated vegan options on menus at places like Bear’s Tooth, Middleway Cafe and others. But you can also get sick of them pretty quickly.
So I decided to join some friends recently on a downtown crawl.
The brewery is located in the old Snow Goose space, and they have done an amazing job with the design. I would have taken more photos, but it was Iditarod weekend and the place was absolutely PACKED. To the gills. So apologies for that (you can find some photos on their website).
When I used to travel to Singapore, I always made sure to stop at VeganBurg – a country-wide vegan burger joint that prided itself on healthy vegan options.
So when I heard their first (and only) US location was in the heart of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, I knew I needed to go.
While the menu options seemed little lighter than I remember, the space itself was really nice, clean, and bright. I ordered the “Cracked Mayo” burger with seaweed fries (not as hippy as they sound, I promise), and Kristin ordered the Smoked Franks with a side of fries. Landen went with the standard – Chicken Tenders.
UPDATED 9/14/15! We returned to NLB for an amazing breakfast! See the new content below!
When it comes to vegan fast food, us vegans miss out on three key elements of the fast food culture:
1. We don’t camp out weeks in advance of an opening. And, while I would never be one of the schmucks in a $20 Coleman tent sleeping on a sidewalk outside some vegan Chick-Fil-A, the concept of it is appealing. I mean, how committed do you need to be to artery-clogging, fat soaked food to actually sleep outside for a week? That is true, foodie commitment.
Camping in the winter for a week. For fried chicken.
2. We can’t just have a greasy, bad-for-you burger experience. Most vegan burgers I have seen are typically some malted oregano-kale infused, carrot fiber burger, promising all kinds of health claims. Sometimes, I just want to eat something bad for me too.
3. We don’t have a vegan fast food mecca that beckons us to make multi-mile journeys off major interstates. We need a vegan In-and-Out kinda place.
So when I heard there was a new vegan burger joint in Bend, I had a chance to do a little of all three.
I have been waiting for the Beast Burger from Beyond Meat for a VERY LONG time. Ever since my friend over there told me it was in “the works” I wanted to try it out.
As a vegan, veggie burgers are crucial. First, they give me a staple I can relate to from my meat days. I know to some this may sound stupid, but that’s just how this vegan rolls. On a nice summer day, I still like tossing something on the grill other than corn and asparagus. Or, in the winter I may crave a bacon double cheeseburger.
There are a lot of contenders in this space too. Companies like Gardein, Field Roast, and now Beyond Meat all produce decent burgers (in addition to the Boca and other large brands). But it seems like each one trades off something.
Gardein’s burgers are good, but plain and oily. Field Roast’s Hand formed burgers require you to refinance your home mortgage ($7.99 for 4 small patties) and companies like Morningstar add egg whites so they are not even vegan.
All of this meant I was really stoked to finally get my paws on a brand new burger.
As always, the retail packaging was designed well and the price was good. Two 1/4 pound patties (frozen) per $6.49 box means a premium, all vegan, non-GMO burger patty for $3 and change.
I tossed them on the grill along with some asparagus. I decided to pair them with some vegan bacon strips from Sweet Earth and Chao regular cheese slices.
These burgers grill up really nicely over a well seasoned propane grill. I applied a little spray olive oil to each side (per the instructions) to help them out a little.
Watch them grill:
I heated them up really well, melted some Chao cheese on ’em, dropped the bacon on and had a GREAT lunch.
My first impression was yes. Yes to a good-tasting, hearty as heck, well made vegan burger. The flavor was right in the middle of the “not so meaty but still meaty enough” scale that companies like Beyond Meat must navigate carefully.
While the taste is what really excited me, it were the nutritional claims that made me look twice. Beyond Meat claims that the Beast Burger:
Has more protein and iron than beef;
Has more omega fatty acids than salmon;
Is GMO free;
Features a “beyond nutrient blend” which apparently makes me healthier.
All of this poses a question I will ask myself rhetorically,
“If I can eat more protein and iron, more omegas, less cholesterol (as in zero), less fat, and less cancer-causing meat stuff, while enjoying a great texture and flavor why wouldn’t I?”
The ingredient list, while long, is all natural, basic ingredients. I see things like pea protein, canola oil, beet juice powder, onion powder, paprika, etc.
I mean when you look at the actual nutrient benefits of these burgers, combined with the taste and texture, relatively low cost, no worry of food-borne pathogens, ease of cooking, and a multitude of other benefits….shouldn’t’ we?
At least one thing is for sure. My freezer will be full of these things, and I look forward to dragging some with me to Moab and the Rubicon later this Summer.