A Taste of Three Vegan ‘Meats’ from The Herbivorous Butcher

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

There has been no end of hype and hoopla surrounding the Jan. 23 grand opening of the Herbivorous Butcher vegan “meat” shop in Northeast Minneapolis — everyone from the BBC to NPR to the New York Times has weighed in on the effort. That said, the excitement makes perfect sense. The brother-sister team of Kale and Aubry Walch are pushing boundaries with their products — which are designed to powerfully evoke their meaty namesakes without using animal-derived ingredients — and they’ve received some positive and buzzy word of mouth in the process.

We considered profiling the Herbivorous Butcher’s sibling team, but we’d be one of a long line of outlets to take that approach. Instead, we tucked into an array of three faux meats sent our way by the shop: Pastrami ($15 a pound), Korean Short Ribs ($12 a pound), and Porterhouse Steaks ($12 a pound).

We, as confirmed omnivores, found all three to be exceptional pieces of work. Forged from the likes of vital wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, tomato paste, and other prosaic ingredients, the meats depend for their success on the strength and balance of their seasonings. These are fine tuned to a degree that the meats vividly evoke their namesakes without coming off as imitations (or mockeries) thereof.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

The pastrami was flavored with such skill that except for a somewhat less unctuous mouthfeel, it was nearly indistinguishable from the real thing when served on rye bread with mustard. The expression “cut the mustard” most certainly doesn’t originate from the idea that a flavor has to be strong and true to stand up to mustard’s potency. That’s a shame, because it would be nice to say that this vegan pastrami cuts the mustard in both meanings of the phrase. Well, we’ve said it anyway, so there you have it.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We stir-fried our vegan Korean short ribs with garlic, ginger, hoisin, and two kinds of soy sauce (one conventional, one smoked) and put them in a rice bowl along with similarly stir-fried peas, a bit of kimchi, and a poached egg. The result was one of the better rice bowls we’ve made in recent years, the protein uniformly clean and light in texture and rich with sweet, tart, and nutty (think sesame) flavors. The ease of preparation and consistency of the protein means that we will go back for more of this delightful stuff just for stir-fry and rice bowl use.

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

We included the porterhouse steak in a simple pan-fried steak and eggs breakfast. Here, the earthy, smoked-onion umami of the protein nicely complemented the salty richness of the fried eggs. We should add that the steak was at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the Korean short ribs and pastrami. The ribs could lean on their sweet and sour marinade plus sesame to lend them additional flavor, and the pastrami could rely upon its intense spice profile. The steak (which is to say wheat gluten, nutritional yeast, tomato and apple juice, etc.) had to stand more or less on its own. This therefore opened up the widest gap between the vegan product and its namesake — while the pastrami and short ribs would stand a chance of passing as their target meats, the steak was clearly in the realm of faux meat. That said, in the same way that we dig, and will sometimes order, mock duck in our Thai food, we enjoyed the porterhouse on its own merits.

Herbivorous Butcher meats are already shaking things up at restaurants such as Pizza Nea. We hope that their stuff will be popping up elsewhere in the area, offering vegans (and meat-weary omnivores) a flavorful respite in a Big Mac world.

Herbivorous Butcher (opens Jan. 23), 507 1st Ave NE, Minneapolis

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James Norton

James Norton is editor and co-founder of the Heavy Table. He is also the co-author of Lake Superior Flavors, the co-author of a book about Wisconsin’s master cheesemakers, and a regular on-air contributor to Minnesota Public Radio.

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9 Comments

  1. You didn’t get a chance to try the jerky yet? That was my backer reward, so I’m anxious to hear how it is.

    • Author

      Haven’t tried it, no. Once the shop’s officially open, I’m hoping to stop in and try some more stuff, including the jerky. Speaking personally, I’m always looking for more ways to reduce the amount of meat in my diet without eating lousy food, and HB seems committed to flavor.

  2. Lisa Ware 01/21/2016 Reply

    I live in California and have been trying to be a vegan (mainly for health reasons). It is very expensive here. Would you have any suggestions?

  3. Sarabeth Marcello 01/21/2016 Reply

    Great review! The Korean short ribs were already on my list to try, but now I’ll have to try the pastrami, too. I loved reading an omnivore’s opinion of the food, by the way!

  4. Does anyone else find the terms “vegan meat” & “cheese-free cheese” at best ridiculous and gimmicky?

    In my spare time should I be trying to teach my cat to deny his cat nature, enjoy kale and stop killing birds?

    Look, I don’t eat a lot of meat, perhaps a few times a month or not at all, but words mean & matter.

    It ain’t meat. $40 for their jerky sampler? REALLY?

    For $40 I can make at least 3-4 nutritious and extremely flavorful vegetarian FULL meals. There are many inexpensive ways to cook nutritious vegetarian meals with unprocessed ingredients. Teaching people to do that and getting people good, unprocessed nutritional food is perhaps a much more noble cause than faux meat.

    I’ll stick to beans and lentils and the many tasty dishes I can make rather than dropping big bucks on faux. And every now and then I’ll sear a real steak or splurge for some luscious triple cream brie.

    Now I’m hungry. For real food.

  5. I wonder how npmany people who eat this “meat” also eat gluten fre?. I wonder if they realize that the main ingredient in most of it is vital wheat gluten? Now, if they could just figure out a heritage vital wheat gluten……….

Trackbacks for this post

  1. […] opening a vegan deli–the Herbivorous Butcher–with a mail order business, and from reviews I’ve read, their meat substitutes are delish.  Most excitedly, their version of pastrami apparently passes […]

  2. […] the first vegan butcher shop in the US, opened in Minneapolis[2] — and is getting rave reviews.[3] The first vegetarian pub in Britain opened in Bristol. The pub is vegan except for some dishes […]

  3. […] like crazy,” Aubry says. “Nearly everyone has been ordering them. James Norton at The Heavy Table had some good things to say about them so we suspect that’s been helping to push people to […]

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