Monday, January 28, 2008

There's a fourth category?!?

So, originally, I figured this blog would have essentially three kinds of posts: vegan reubens in restaurants, vegan reubens made at home, and vegetarian reubens adapted to be vegan (in restaurants). Yesterday I was shopping at People's, and what did I see staring out at me from the refrigerator near the entrance, next to the bottles of kombucha? The Groovin' Reuben. I googled it today and found that it is in fact a TRUEBEN. This is the first deli-case TRUEBEN I've ever encountered. Apparently, it's made by a cafe called Holy Cow located on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene. So if you're ever in Eugene craving a vegan reuben, you know where to go (or at least, somewhere to go). Expect a review of the deli-case variation later on. That is, unless People's decides to stop carrying it. Why is it suddenly so hard to find vital wheat gluten in bulk in this part of town? How am I supposed to make a corned seitan reuben for my readers when everyone is discontinuing it?

Edit: 2/15/08: For an update about why the Groovin' Reuben isn't really vegan, see this post.

Also, thanks to Portland Hamburgers for the nod. Speaking of "narrow lens" though, you should check out Semicircular Vegan (which I recently added to the links to your right). Since I am dedicated to keeping this blog to a narrow focus, I have refrained from listing all my favorite vegan food blogs (not to mention how much space that would take up), but I just had to include Semicircular Vegan, since her focus is even narrower than mine, perhaps (or maybe not, I mean, the possibilities are endless). Seriously, it's awesome, give it a look.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tempeh reubens to drool over...

We probably won't be posting another reuben for another week or so, so to tide you over, here are some delectable pictures from a couple vegan bloggers out there. Note the awesome food photography skills I can only aspire to.

From SwellVegan:

And this from "What the hell does a vegan eat anyway?":

Sunday, January 20, 2008

TRUEBEN*: Vita Cafe

* See the note later on about cheese.

This was our first meal of the day, and being a Sunday afternoon there was a bit of a wait, so after snapping a few pictures we attacked the reuben pretty quickly. Everyone knows food tastes better when you're superhungry, so I wonder if this sandwich came off as extra-satisfying because of this. It was a fairly solid sandwich--pleasantly warm throughout (even the sauerkraut), a generous slab of tempeh, a single slice of vegan cheese, and a creamy vegan Thousand Islands dressing.

The dressing was easily the most impressive aspect of this reuben, substantial with bits of chives. But I'm a fan of spicy, tangy condiments and almost reached for the Aardvark hot sauce. I did ultimately think the sandwich was disappointingly bland. Though I'm not a devotee of store-bought fake cheeses, and in this case the cheese was basically undetectable, I have to give a place points for having vegan versions of all the traditional reuben components. Unfortunately, this seemed like a case where having all the traditional components wasn't enough. The dressing was not quite flavorful enough to compensate for the mild cheese and the tempeh, which seemed to be simply steamed and not marinated or spiced (I should note for those unfamiliar with tempeh that is does have a pleasant, nutty flavor on its own that many find quite meat-like, so it often works plain, especially in a sandwich---though you always want to cook it). But nothing really stood out about this sandwich. It probably would have benefited from a more pungent dark rye, instead of the marbled rye it was served on. As for the bread, the sandwich came warm off the grill, but the bread was still rather soft, and didn't hold together too well. Fortunately, the sandwich wasn't so juicy that it disintegrated, so I didn't find myself reaching for extra napkins.

Though many of Vita Cafe's portions are hearty, fries or a salad with your sandwich can run a couple bucks extra. $7 doesn't strike me as unreasonable for a reuben, but some other places will include a side for that much or just slightly more. As the menu listed the sandwich as including Swiss cheese, and the Vita Cafe isn't 100% vegan, I specified vegan cheese, and wasn't charged any extra. Though the wait was long (which you might expect on a wintry Sunday afternoon when the patio seating isn't available), the service was friendly and the food came pretty quickly. I enjoy the Vita Cafe and have always had pretty good experiences there, but I'd likely point my friends to the Great Grain Salad, Chicken-Fried Tempeh or Corn Cakes before recommending this sandwich.

B. split the sandwich with me (his second experience with a tempeh reuben) and thought it was decent, aside from the bread, which fell apart on him. As my partner in this endeavor, he knew what to expect, but even a great vegan reuben can be an unpleasant surprise for a meat-eating reuben aficionado. I don't think this sandwich is going to convert any omnis anytime soon.

We both gave this reuben 3 out of 5.

Vita Cafe
3024 NE Alberta
Reuben: $7. Restaurant offers a variety of vegan and non-vegan options, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Summary: Pluses - nice temperature, good filling ratios, extra points for a house-made dressing. Minuses - no sides or tasty garnishes (read: pickle), marbled rye didn't work so well, could have been more inventively seasoned.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a reuben recipe test and what will be the first of many experiments in ordering a "vegetarian" reuben vegan.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What is a Portland Vegan Reuben?

Since I became vegan over a year ago, I've been on a personal quest to sample all of the vegan reubens to be had here in Portland, Oregon. I have to admit, back when I ate meat, a hot, melty reuben made with corned beef and sauerkraut was one of my favorite things to order. Fortunately, after sampling some of what Portland has to offer, I have developed a similar affection and craving for a well-crafted vegan reuben.

Somewhat inspired by the website Portland Hamburgers, I decided to take this quest to the blog, and document my findings with ratings and pictures. I will try to post weekly with a new Portland Vegan Reuben. In the past, I have experimented with creating my own reubens, from homemade corned seitan or tempeh, so you might see a few recipes interspersed midst the reviews.


On this website, you find postings marked TRUEBEN. What is a TRUEBEN?

A TRUEBEN is a reuben that comes vegan as is, and is generally advertised as such. This means vegans can partake without having to worry about substitutions or asking for the sauce on the side. However, a vegan reuben isn't just any old vegan sandwich. There are four integral components that it requires. Note that fake cheese is not one of them, simply because I don't think a super-processed imitation cheese is necessarily an asset to any sandwich.

1. A hearty vegan protein source, preferably not made or distributed by ConAgra or Phillip Morris. This will usually be tempeh, mushrooms or a house-made seitan.
2. Sauerkraut (though cabbage in another form, or another picked vegetable, is sometimes acceptable)
3. Rye bread
4. A vegan Thousand Islands or Russian dressing or "special sauce"

Ideally, every posting on this website would be a TRUEBEN. I am aware that many restaurants and pubs offer vegetarian reubens, disappointingly usually just a regular reuben with a gardenburger instead of the meat. However, some of them could be quite good with a little doctoring, so I feel I should leave that option open. You never know what you might find. In the case of vegetarian reubens, I will do my very best to let you know how to order them vegan, but please don't send me angry e-mails if you find that some bar's bread had milk whey in it or something. I'm only human. Please do all your own asking as well.

With that, onward! Check back for reviews and recipes, and if you are local to Stumptown, feel free to leave a comment recommending a PVR that just needs to be blogged about.