Friday, August 1, 2008

Veganization: Tempeh Reuben at the Paradox Palace Cafe

I have to admit it was with a little trepidation that I led my group to Paradox Palace Cafe for breakfast this morning (their whole menu is served all day). My past couple experiences at this little vegan/vegetarian friendly diner on Belmont had ranged from pleasant to somewhat mediocre, but I was familiar with the inconsistencies the Paradox is known for. The food can range from great to bland, the service from prompt and friendly to painfully slow. The menu also shares many similarities with the Vita Cafe (and I heard they once shared owners). After the disappointment of the reuben there, I wasn't sure what to expect. But the Paradox, since it serves a tempeh reuben that is easy to veganize, was on the list, and so it got paid a visit.

I'm very tempted to call this reuben a TRUEBEN. The Paradox has many vegan options, and I think their menu used to actually describe a vegan option for their tempeh reuben (leave off the cheese, sub lemon tahini dressing). Though my prompting of the waitress that I wanted my sandwich vegan, and to swap the dressing, seemed unnecessary based on her response, the menu now doesn't give you any hints. When reviewing other veganized reubens, it has crossed my mind that it could work well to sub a vegan salad dressing for the 1000 islands (instead of say, mustard) and it certainly worked here.

The lemon tahini dressing was great. After my initial bite, it was so creamy and tart I almost wanted to check that the waitress really had understood my order, but a few more bites revealed a distinct, pleasant lemony flavor that assuaged my fears. I was also very gratified by the very generous amount of kraut -- finally, a restaurant that isn't afraid to lay it on thick! The bread was also a bonus, though B. and I both thought it could have been toasted more. Though it was dark and pungent, and stood up fairly well, the thick slathering of dressing (on both pieces of bread) did soften it a bit, especially on the bottom. Over all the sandwich was warm, but not much warmer than room temperature (at least the sauerkraut wasn't cold, as we've experienced at other places).

I'm happy to report that this sandwich doesn't resemble the Vita Cafe reuben much at all. Probably the only similarity is that the tempeh seemed to be simply broiled or steamed and not marinated, but the copious amounts of sauerkraut and flavorful dressing caused that to work fine. The sandwich came with some simple pickle slices on the side which weren't fantastic, but a nice touch. Maybe it was just because it was early in the day, but I found the sandwich surprisingly filling, probably because there was plenty of tempeh, and because of the quantity and richness of the dressing. In fact, my only complaint was probably that there was a little too much dressing, which made the sandwich a bit difficult to eat without making a mess. But I was surprised that the tahini-based sauce didn't have an overwhelming sesame flavor, and how well it stood in for 1000 islands.

B. only had a few bites of the sandwich, opting instead for an Early Bird Breakfast special, but he agreed that this is one of the best sandwiches we've had, and even he, a regular consumer of dairy, was impressed at how well the dressing worked. Over all, our only improvements to the sandwich would probably be to toast the bread more and use a smidgen less dressing. It was even a good deal, $6.50 total for the sandwich (though fries or a side salad are extra).

I'm happy to give this sandwich 4 out of 5, and to report that this is yet another vegan reuben in Portland that's worth returning to (unless, knock on wood, the rumors of inconsistent food at the Paradox bear true...).

Paradox Palace Cafe

SE 34th and Belmont

$6.50, ask for the Tempeh Reuben vegan. Nice-sized sandwich comes with pickle chips on the side, fries, soup or salad are extra.

P.S. I've noticed just now that the menu on their website states that their 1000 islands dressing is vegan. I did take a look at the dressings on the physical menu when we were there, and certainly don't recall seeing this. I'm pretty sure we did end up with the tahini dressing, and the waitress didn't say anything about the 1000 islands already being vegan when I was placing my order, but it's probably worth asking about if you decide to try a vegan reuben there yourself.

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