Sunday, January 3, 2010
TRUEBEN: Tempeh Reuben at Viva! Vegetarian Grill, Eugene, OR
It's fun to learn about a new vegan-friendly joint and be able to hop to reviewing it in a timely manner. I first learned about the Viva! Vegetarian Grill food cart just a few days ago, thanks to the warm reviews on Yelp, and with Corvallis as home-base, it was easy to convince B. that we should take the 45 minute drive into Eugene for a lunch-time review. I'd never really been to Eugene, and with 30-degree weather we didn't hang out long, but it was nice to get a glimpse of this college town which I really only heretofore knew of as the Asheville of the West Coast.
With no listed address, the cart was a little challenging to locate, but once we found the right intersection, the green sign emblazoned with a hot dog at the entrance to the parking lot led the way.
Despite the cold temperatures, the owner Dave seemed relatively busy, but took our order quickly and efficiently with just the right amount of conversation. The menu had a number of options, all vegan. The sandwiches were served up with a minimal amount of paper; we couldn't help polishing off the first order while waiting for the star of show.
Back at the car, with the juicy vegan cheese-steak as an appetizer, we dug into this trueben with gusto. B.'s first comments were compliments to the bread and the kraut, the latter of which he swore had an especially good flavor. He also appreciated the temperature and moisture of the kraut--cool, without too much liquid, but not too dry either. He also said it was the right amount, which might be a first. Most reubens seem too low on kraut in comparison to other aspects. He also enjoyed the flavor of the tempeh. We were both impressed at how well put-together the sandwich was, especially considering it came from a cart with limited amenities. The tempeh was marinated and grilled, which gave it a slightly crunchy exterior; the bread was warm and perfectly toasted. The dressing was great, too. It reminded me of the cashew cheese that had been wonderfully slathered on our cheese-steak and I suspect it was a similar base, with some tomatoey-ness added to make it into a Thousand Islands dressing. It was creamy and savory without the heavy unctuousness of veganaise.
B. loved the sandwich--well worth the drive, I gathered--and his only recommendation for additions would be more dressing and a pickle on the side. I agreed that more dressing wouldn't hurt. For me, this sandwich was quite good and presented a worthy rival to various reubens in Portland (for example, the Red and Black, which also uses tempeh and I think the same bread). The tempeh did seem a little dry, something which perhaps a bit more dressing would fix. Even with no side, $5.50 is a good deal in my book, and the service was friendly and lightning fast---definitely more than I can say for the Red and Black (or most vegan reuben-serving restaurants in Portland, for that matter).
We have to give Dave extra points not only for being a cart, but for being an all-vegan cart (definitely try the cheesesteak--the hot dogs seemed to be selling well also, and the tempeh satay presented a unique yet intuitive and tempting option). Ultimately, we give the Tempeh Reuben 4 points out of 5, and encourage you to check it out yourself. Though it has a long history serving veggie dogs at events, the cart itself has only been in place for about a month--let's keep it going! (Even better, get $1 off for biking, being a student, or showing up in the rain).
Viva! Vegetarian Grill
E 12th and Willamette Street
11 am - 4 pm, Monday-Friday
Tempeh reuben on Dave's Killer Bread with kraut and vegan Thousand Islands.