Every other Monday throughout the summer and fall while locally raised produce is spectacular and abundant, the Heavy Table will be exploring vegetarian cuisine, both in the kitchen and at local eateries. Read other stories in this series.
As a co-author of an upcoming book about Minnesota sandwiches and the people who prepare them, I ate a lot of sandwiches in the first half of 2010, mostly Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches and Somali sambusa, but also, in support of my co-authors, the occasional meatloaf, fried walleye, or hot dago sandwich. I ate sandwiches for breakfast. I ate sandwiches for lunch. And, yes, I ate sandwiches for dinner. Sometimes for every meal in a day. Sometimes in family-owned delis so small I couldn’t turn around without clobbering someone with my purse; sometimes in celebrity-chef-operated restaurants anchored by shiny art museums.
Fortunately I like sandwiches, so this was not a problem, except that, Minnesota sandwiches, at least the iconic ones, tend to be incredibly, gloriously meat-tacular. So, the first thing I did when I submitted my chapters to my editor is swear off bacon-wrapped, pate-slathered, or deep-fried meat sandwiches. But, after months of eating, breathing, and dreaming sandwiches, I found I couldn’t give them up. Thus began my quest, still ongoing, for vegetarian, sometimes even vegan, sandwiches.
French Meadow Bakery and Café in Minneapolis serves up a vegan Grilled Reuben Tempeh sandwich ($9) stuffed with thick slabs of marinated tempeh (pressed cakes of cooked and fermented soybeans) and tangy sauerkraut and spiced tomato aioli piled onto slender slices of house-baked rye bread. The sandwiches are grilled until the bread has achieved that toasty, buttery exterior you look for in a grilled cheese sandwich, except that it’s all vegan, so there’s no butter and no cheese. Sandwiches come with your choice of chips and salsa, mixed greens, or, as pictured in the photo above, a spicy slaw.
Across the river in St. Paul, Trotter’s Cafe and Bakery serves its Tempeh Reuben ($8) on hearty house-baked honey whole-wheat bread. Slender fingers of marinated tempeh, a hearty dollop of sauerkraut, a swipe of Dijon mustard, and a slice of melty Swiss cheese serve as the filling of the sandwich, while a tangy house-made Russian dressing lumpy with bits of chopped scallion provides crunch. Corn chips from Whole Grain Milling are served on the side. Heartier and more multi-dimensional than French Meadow’s, Trotter’s Tempeh Reuben is our pick of the pair, if you’re willing to go vegetarian rather than vegan.
If your cravings lean Southeast Asian, rather than German, head to Mill City Farmers Market on a Saturday and wander past Black Cat Natural Foods‘s booth to see if they are serving their Vegan Bánh Mì ($6) sandwich, stuffed with mock duck vital wheat gluten. Served on a baguette, Black Cat’s sandwich is huge, about a foot long, and an explosion of savory flavors and a riot of bright colors, with a sprig of cilantro and a confetti of pickled and shredded carrots and purple cabbage. If you’re a bánh mì aficionado, you might miss the the crunch and heat of a classic bánh mì sandwich, as Black Cat’s baguette sandwich doesn’t have the shattery baguette or the sliver of spicy jalapeño as those sold at the Vietnamese joints around town, but what it lacks in crunch and spice, it makes up for in earnestness.
Alternatively, Seward Co-op Grocery and Deli in Minneapolis sells a Mock Duck Bánh Mì Sandwich, which isn’t as photo-worthy as Black Cat’s, and, instead of shredded vegetables, is topped with carrot coins and long slices of cucumber. Slices of daikon radish and jalapeño pepper provide a little crunch and heat. You can have the sandwich made to order for $7 at the deli, where it is served with chips and pickles, or pick it up in the refrigerated case where it is sold by weight, usually for about $4.
French Meadow Bakery & Café
2610 Lyndale Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55408
Trotter’s Cafe and Bakery
232 N Cleveland Ave
St. Paul MN 55104
Black Cat Natural Foods
At Mill City Farmers Market
704 2nd St S
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Seward Co-op Grocery and Deli
2823 East Franklin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55406