Sunday, February 10, 2013

Eating Veggie Like a Carnivore

It’s more fun being a vegetarian than people think.  Actually, it’s as much fun as eating meat.  Really, who gives a damn?  Leonard Cohen wrote something about this:

“A man who eats meat wants to get his teeth into something. A man who does not eat meat wants to get his teeth into something else.  If these thoughts interest you for even a moment, you are lost.”

No disrespect to Mr. Cohen and his famous blue raincoat, but fuck off, Lenny.  This shit does interest me more than some of your songs these days, especially considering the politicized nature of food in the 21st century. 

Sidestepping that rant and the inevitable debate, let’s just focus on some meatless alternatives to some of my favorite dishes from when I was a carnivore. 

And to prolong this prologue even further, let me say that yeah, there a few things I miss about meat, mainly White Castle burgers, but the other things I miss are easily replicated in meatless fashion, the top three of them being the Reuben, the burger, and the hot dog.  Thus, my quest for veggie versions took me to a few spots around Chicago.  What follows is the report, as if you give a rat’s ass:

The Reuben

Oh, what a lovely sandwich.  Corned beef and sauerkraut mix with abandon, heaped upon rye bread with Swiss cheese and Russian dressing, a veritable United Nations of flavors.  I used to love the Reuben, so when I saw that Native Foods offered a veggie version I became more than stoked.  Having missed the initial offer (it came and went last year around St. Pat’s day), I sought solace at Revolution Brewing, a pub/brewery in Chicago’s Logan Square area.  They make good beer, so it seemed logical that the Reuben would be worth a dance. 

All things considered: not a bad Reuben—the Russian dressing is exceptional—but the tempeh meat substitute does not even try to duplicate the taste of corned beef, which is fine, but still… $12 bucks for this? 

Thankfully, Native Foods made the Reuben a regular menu item, so I got to try it and… damn tasty.  Like everything else there, not cheap (more than a real Reuben would ever cost) but pretty close to the actual sandwich, though the Russian dressing could be better (and there could be more of it).  I’m happy to visit there each Thursday when the sandwich is the special of the day and comes with a bowl of onion soup.  

The winner in this match up was definitely Native Foods.  The Reuben is closer to the real thing and the restaurant lacks hipsters unlike Revolution, which, considering its location, was rife with ironic facial hair.  

The Dog

There’s something about veggie dogs—they don’t suck, but they don’t really taste like anything.  It leads me to wonder if real hot dogs really taste like much, thus our city’s predilection toward saturating them with mustard and relish and sport peppers and celery salt and whatever you can think of, except, of course, ketchup.  Whatever the case, I like the idea of a good hot dog, though I am disgusted by the idea of a real one.  I have been for a long time.  Hell, the thought of the shit that goes into a hot dog, even the all beef Dave Bergs, makes me a little sick.  Store bought veggie dogs are fair to middling and require something to add a dash of flavor (chili being my at home choice).  But saints be praised, my lovely wife discovered that Hot Doug’s makes a meatless dog.  It had to be good, I thought.  This is the place for gourmet dogs in the city.  If they could pull off an andouille sausage dog, why not a veggie one?

We wandered over (after a few misadventures) to California Avenue to check out the Joe Strummer dog, as it is called.  I got two—one steamed and one char grilled, both with sauerkraut and celery salt.  Cassandra got hers grilled with mustard and relish and pickles and… we’re not going to go there.  Suffice it to say, I love these dogs.  The grilled one has a nice taste and the steamed one doesn’t taste like plain tofu.  The kraut—a favorite, in case you haven’t noticed—gives them a fantastic flavor.  Kudos. 

Closer to home, we checked out Huey’s in Andersonville on a lark.  Two veggie chilidogs (with free fries!) later, I was pretty happy.  Not as good as the char grilled Joe Strummer, but not bad at all.  And they have foosball!  

Overall, the winner for me was Hot Doug's (kraut is hard to beat), though Cassandra favored Huey's.  A split decision.  

The Burger

Certainly the most popular meat substitute, the veggie burger can be blissful, though more times than not it's a dry, dull concoction.  The ones sold at the grocery store are usually better than any I have ordered at a restaurant, but, as I often find myself at pubs, I tend to eat a lot of them while outside the homestead.  The Mayne Stage near my pad has a pretty good version, though it may have been the fried egg that made it sing, not to mention the pints of beer and tumblers of whiskey.  Not satisfied with that option, Cassandra sought out some suggestions, the first being the ever popular Kuma’s Corner.

Let’s cut to the chase: the burger was fine, but I preferred the metal music blaring from the speakers.  And the whiskey on tap is a nice touch, though I doubt it tastes any better than booze from a bottle (we ate there at lunch time and I stayed sober, mostly because I wanted my impression to be unclouded by alcohol).  And the variety of burgers is pretty great.  I got the Neurosis, which was damn tasty; Cassandra, for some reason, ordered the Plague Bringer, a spicy burger worthy of its name.  Though I dug the toppings, the burger itself was merely the standard vegetarian version—soulless with only the unique condiments to give it any flavor.  And the pretzel bun was fine, though I would have liked for it to be grilled slightly, like all buns are supposed to be. Still, I had never heard of Plague Bringer, the band, and have since been digging their brand of metal.  So there's something.

And then we tried the veggie burger named best in the city by someone or other (The Reader?  Time Out?): the No. 12 at DMK Burger Bar on Sheffield.  Cassandra had that while I opted for the veggie patty melt.  I do love a patty melt.  Dark rye, grilled onions... what's not to like?  And the patty melt at DMK sounded pretty tasty what with the onions described as "burnt" and all.  Sadly, they opted for light rye, a big mistake.  Go dark or go home.  Still, an agreeable veggie burger, though I'm not sure I'd call it award winning.  The bun on Cassandra's was nice, potato based and soft, as was the eggplant that topped it off, though we could not order fries (cooked in beef fat) and, for some goddamn reason, substituting the veggie patty for the real meat version cost an extra two bucks.  The damn menu is steep enough.  At least Kuma's had no problem making any of their burgers meatless.  Fucking Lakeview DMK bastards think they're special because Guy Fieri featured them on his show.  Jeesh, I'm just trying to live without eating animals, and what, I get punished for it by some Bison cooking jerkwads? 

So, for the music, the vibe, and the variety, Kuma's wins.  Not to mention they're located in Avondale, a neighborhood I prefer over Lakeview.  Avondale is more metal, more blue collar, and has a lot more parking and a lot less assholes.      

Big V. out.