Vegan meat. That term might as well be the definition of the word oxymoron.
And yet, it’s exactly what you’ll find topping a few new pies at Northeast Minneapolis’ Pizza Nea, purveyor of wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizzas. Recently, Pizza Nea began offering simulacrums of traditionally animal-sourced toppings like pepperoni, sausage, and ham from the brother-and-sister team behind The Herbivorous Butcher, a vegan butcher shop slated to open in Northeast this fall.
All too often, meat-like products fail in their attempt to mimic the real deal, leading us to wonder why anyone would bother at all; veggies themselves can be so delicious without having to play meat charades — and require far less work to manufacture. So skeptical yet hopeful, we ordered one of our favorites pies from Nea — the Salsicce — with vegan meat. The Salsicce ($12.50, either vegan or regular) is defined by spicy Italian sausage, with roasted red peppers, mozzarella, and fresh basil along for the ride, so we felt it’d make a good test case. We’ve eaten it many, many times. So how did the version with the Herbivorous Butcher sausage (made from vital wheat gluten, vegetable broth, pinto beans, nutritional yeast, sun-dried tomatoes, and other flavorings and ingredients) hold up?
Really well, it turns out. In appearance, we wouldn’t have been able to ID this pie as meat-free. But the proof is in the pizza, and after our first bite, we were impressed — in both texture and rich umami flavor, the meat-free-meat evoked pork. The only thing lacking was the characteristic rich fatiness of real sausage, which might be a plus if you want a “cleaner” meat flavor. Overall, the Herbivorous Butcher product delivered what we love most about a good Italian sausage — strong fennel and garlic flavor, with plenty of red pepper flake kick.
So we say to you, vegans and the vegan-curious alike, fear not the not-meat. We look forward to trying the pepperoni and ham variants, and also to the opening of the Herbivorous Butcher, if this is indeed a fair hint of what they have up their cholesterol-free sleeves.