A well-made sandwich can be a bit of a balancing act, a vegetarian sandwich perhaps more of a challenge. A person with sandwich crafting skill understands that you need to pair mild flavors with bold condiments, soft textures with crispiness or crunchiness, lest you end up with a sandwich that is either monotonous or competing with itself. I think this may present a quandary in my quest to find vegetarian reubens and veganize them, in that a really good vegetarian sandwich, where the combination has been carefully considered and tested, is automatically going to be somewhat lacking in a vegan version, unless you can replace those non-vegan elements somehow. This was basically what the friendly bartender told me when I walked into Plan B and told him I wanted the Shrooben (a mushroom and onion reuben, complete with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Islands) but I needed it vegan.
"The vegan Shrooben," he emphasized, "is boring."
However, he appreciated my mandate and offered to grill the bread with some herbs and olive oil to make the sandwich less dry and increase the flavor. He also told me that the caramelized onions would help. I didn't tell him that I'd ordered the Shrooben before, vegan, and found it fairly tasty. But I have to admit, upon careful consideration, I conclude that he was on the right track.
B. ordered the Shrooben with no omissions or substitutions. We both got the side salad instead of fries, with vinaigrette (the obvious vegan option). I have to admit, I was looking forward to the salad as much as the sandwich. I remembered it from my last visit. It's pretty hearty for a side salad, not just a tiny pile of leaves tucked in the corner as an afterthought, but a small bowl of spinach, baby greens, black olives, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and chopped tomato and bell pepper. This and the sandwich is a pretty good deal at 7 bucks.
B. was very pleased with his non-vegan Shrooben, and I was quite happy with my choice as well. Marbled rye piled generously with sauerkraut, and onions and mushrooms straight from the grill. The sandwich was the perfect temperature all the way through, and the bread was nice and crunchy. It held together perfectly on my end, though I didn't have any sauce to contend with. A few bites in, I had to admit, it was a tiny bit bland. I'm a big 'shroom fan, but I couldn't help but notice that the mushrooms appeared to be cooked without any additional seasoning. This is where I started to see the bartender's point. On the non-vegan Shrooben, seasoning the mushrooms probably wouldn't contribute much, and might even be overdoing it, because the point of the dressing and the sharp cheese is the heavy flavors they impart. A toasty, juicy sandwich of simple mushrooms, onions and sauerkraut is great in my book, but there was potential for something more interesting. Probably next time, and there probably will be a next time, I'll ask for some mustard on the side (which, incidentally, could very well have been what I did last time I had the same sandwich). At least until Plan B comes up with a vegan Thousand Islands.
Plan B is dark and pleasant, without being too cozy, has a pretty good booze selection, and a pretty extensive, inventive and reasonably priced food menu. (I think their happy hour is late night with a limited menu). There are at least two expressedly vegan options on the menu -- a BBQ tempeh sandwich I hope to try someday, and a vegan chili dog. The bartender said they are planning to expand the menu, to include more vegan options as well as more choices for those who eat meat and dairy.
I give the veganized Shrooben a 3.5 out of 5, but not because it wasn't crafted with skill and care.
SE 8th and Main
Shrooben: $7. To make it vegan, ask for no cheese, no dressing. Request mustard. Comes with side salad or fries. And little pickles! This is a bar (with a spacious back patio, by the way), and smoke-free inside. Go for dinner and a pint, you probably won't be disappointed.