Sunday, July 20, 2008

TRUEBEN: Papa G's Vegan Organic Deli

Papa G's opened several months ago, a few blocks east of Seven Corners. I lived nearby at the time, had just begun this blog, and was very excited about a new vegan dining option as well as the potential for a new reuben. It's a deli, right? And a reuben is a traditional deli standby.

I investigated Papa G's immediately after it finally opened, with somewhat sparse offerings, and sadly dismissed it as an unlikely reuben source. The centerpiece seemed to be their salad bar and hot, by the pound options like mashed potatoes and gravy and quinoa pilaf. Little besides their signature chewy, seasoned tofus graced the refrigerated deli case. I've returned a few times since, enjoying many of their offerings, but feeling a little bittersweet -- if only there were a reuben!

Since then, Papa G's has come into its own, expanding their offerings and instituting specials that make their per-pound options more attractive. A few weeks ago I was there enjoying the bowl special and a root beer float I'd made by combining a few scoops of their Temptation soy cream and a Virgil's root beer, when the word "reuben," like an ethereal whisper snagged my ear. I looked over to the deli case, where some employees were chatting, and was surprised to see that for who knows how long, Papa G's has indeed sold tempeh reubens. The plastic-wrapped sandwiches, almost indistinguishable from the tempeh burgers they rest beside, sit in the long, lower refrigerated case to the right of the hot offerings and cash register, above a variety of chilled salads and desserts I'd never paid much attention to.

B. and I opted to split one, supplementing our lunch with a few other dishes, and finding a seat at one of Papa G's outdoor tables.

Here it is after being unwrapped and warmed up. (Papa G's is sort of cafeteria style, you grab your own silverware and bus your own table, but the cashier/server was kind enough to bring it out to us after warming, which he recommended.)

It's sort of an unassuming sandwich, obviously not on rye but on some sort of savory bun that was a bit crispy around the edges and contained flecks of vegetable or seasoning, but of what my tastebuds couldn't detect. I took a closer look at the insides.

That appears to be a baby dill pickle sliced length-wise and a smattering of their house-made dill sauerkraut. Slicing it in half revealed a more interesting sandwich. The tempeh patty, which I assume is found on their tempeh burger as well, appeared to have seasonings mixed in. The tempeh was cushioned by a creamy layer of dressing. In fact, biting into it, my first thought was, "Wow, this is cheesy and creamy-tasting." If I didn't know Papa G's was 100% vegan, I might have been suspicious. The dressing softened the bun and I actually enjoyed the texture. B. wasn't positive warming up the sandwich had been a good idea, and wished we could compare.

As I expected, I was disappointed by the tiny amount of kraut. Is there a cabbage shortage in this town I'm not aware of? I didn't mind the pickles, but B. thought they were a strange touch. We both noticed a cheesy flavor, at first I thought it was the bread, B. thought maybe it was the tempeh itself, but I'm thinking it was probably the sauce, or a hard-to-see layer of cheesy spread next to the sauce.

I think B. was disappointed by this sandwich, not because it wasn't tasty, but because it didn't seem much like a reuben. The sauce lacked something "reubeny," obviously the bread wasn't rye, and there wasn't much kraut at all. Though I enjoyed the sandwich, I had to agree. It basically seemed like they took a tempeh burger and put some kraut, and maybe a different sauce, on it. I did like that creamy, cheesy taste, even though it wasn't really even reminiscent of a reuben.

I think B. was leaning even lower, but I give this sandwich a 3 out of 5. It's a TRUEBEN, it has some unique flavors and textures going on, everything is made on the premises, and hey, I thought it tasted good. It might be better with more kraut, a tangier sauce maybe in addition to whatever was making it cheesy, and the pickle on the side. All in all, I'm still glad Papa G's delivered on my expectations -- grab one sometime if you are passing through SE and need some quick wholesome vegan grub to go.

Papa G's Vegan Organic Deli
23rd and SE Division

$5.99 gets you a little burger-like tempeh reuben with the pickle on the inside. There are plenty of by the pound options to supplement your meal. Yes, it's pricey, but it's vegan, organic and pretty healthy.


Webly said...

That ruben looks so sad!

TJF said...

I agree the first couple pictures are kinda dismal. It tasted better than it looked, at least!

Anonymous said...

I feel like a cheap bastard in saying this, but that reuben looks tiny...

TJF said...

Yeah, it's definitely not huge. Probably about the size of a regular-sized fast food hamburger. Papa G's isn't really the place to go if you want a lot of food for cheap. But some of their stuff is worth it!