Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Veganization: Vegetarian Reuben at Cup and Saucer

Sometimes, you just have to take one for the team.

I enjoy the fact that this blog is very specific. And I have a goal that it be very comprehensive as well -- meaning that I not only review every vegan reuben in Portland, but do my best to veganize every vegetarian reuben in Portland. This goal sent me to such unlikely places as the Goose Hollow, where I ingested a very dry vegetable and sauerkraut sandwich. Obviously, you draw the line somewhere. I would never blog about a sandwich that was basically just sauerkraut on rye. But when you hear that a place like the Cup and Saucer offers a tofu reuben, this being an establishment that is pretty vegan-friendly and well-loved by many brunching stumptownie, you feel compelled to go forth and document. It makes me a little jealous of sites like Stumptown Vegans, who probably only feel compelled to go out and review vegan food that is potentially good. But I console myself by thinking that I am still doing a service for the vegans and vegetarians out there by investigating even the less promising possibilities.

But I was certainly not excited. You won't even hear B.'s take on this sandwich, as I didn't force him to sample it (he doesn't like tofu much to begin with). I heard about the reuben when I led the vegan pub crawl ride for Pedalpalooza about a year ago. Someone on the ride heard about this blog and told me about a really bad tofu reuben they'd had. "I think the tofu was like, steamed or something." I think my response was, "Nooo! Why did you tell me? Now I have to go eat it and review it." Back in Portland for perhaps the last time in awhile, I made it over to the Cup and Saucer's northeast location.

The vegetarian reuben is described as a vegetarian version of their classic reuben, with the meat replaced by tofu. I already knew the dressing was not vegan, so when the waitress said, "So you are basically getting a tofu and sauerkraut sandwich on toasted rye," I didn't bat an eye. To her credit, she was nice about it. Note that she clarified about buttering the bread or not -- something to keep in mind if you are ordering at hot sandwich at this joint. I was already eying the various hot sauces on the table as candidates to doctor this bland meal. I also asked for stoneground mustard on the side, and she brought me a whole squeeze bottle. The sandwich is $8.50, and I do respect that you can have soup, salad or fries on the side, though the soup of the day is not always vegan. I asked for sherry vinaigrette on my salad, expecting it to come out in a little cup so I could maybe drizzle a little on the sandwich and see if subbing a vegan dressing for the Thousand Islands might work -- unfortunately the salad came already dressed and the dressing was either really bland or of a small quantity, because I could barely taste it.

To be honest, after my first bite, my initial impression was that it was not as bad I was expecting. The bread and kraut were fine. Unfortunately, the tofu was essentially a thin slab that had apparently just been lightly browned on the grill. This is a good example of the failing of many a vegetarian reuben (less so TRUEBENS, I think): YOU CANNOT JUST REPLACE THE CORNED BEEF WITH SOME RANDOM PROTEIN. Many vegetarian reubens rely on the cheese and dressing to essentially mask the lack of flavor. This is a cop-out and not respectable at all. I'm not saying all vegetarian reubens must be just as good vegan -- they are, after all, vegetarian reubens, not vegan reubens. But it's really lazy to just slap a random bland vegetable or protein on there (for example, the tomato vegetarian reuben at the Widmer pub in North Portland), and call it good. No wonder so many meat-eaters scorn vegetarian food.

But anyway, yes, the first bite was not as bad as expected. Of course, I had already slathered that portion of the sandwich with mustard. The pure tofu and kraut and rye bite was pretty horrible. I ended up employing both Aardvark and Chipotle Tabasco hot sauce to make it edible. The salad was generous, and fine, aside from the bland dressing.

So the lesson...if you are vegan, never order this sandwich. If you are vegetarian, you should probably never order this sandwich was well. Go for a tofu scramble or a vegan cornmeal pancake or even the veggie burger, which is cheaper and sounds a lot more appetizing, even if it is a Boca patty or something. And if you think you would like to try your hand at your own vegan or vegetarian reuben, learn from the mistakes of the Cup and Saucer. Be thoughtful about your meat replacement. Marinate!

Cup and Saucer
Locations in NE and SE Portland
$8.50 for a tofu reuben with side salad, soup or fries, leave off dressing and cheese.
Rating: 1

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