To celebrate finishing graduate school, I prolonged my journey back to the West Coast with some stops in Illinois and Wisconsin, to visit friends and family. Milwaukee was a pleasant town with a surprising number of intriguing vegan options, including at least three vegan reubens. However, we found that--perhaps in order to deal with the brunch crush familiar to many Stumptowners--various places modified or limited their menus on Saturday afternoon, making the delicious sandwich seem at first unattainable. With my good friend and native A. as back-up, we made a few rounds before finally achieving success in the evening.
With a vegan reuben not really described on the menu (denoted only by a * next to their traditional reuben advertising it could be made vegan for a $1 extra), but lauded by many on Yelp, Comet Cafe seemed to me to be the first choice. Though the menu wasn't very specific, it gave me good reason to believe that the reuben was made with Field Roast, which, while I'd tried this combination before in Seattle, made it more interesting to me than the typical tempeh reuben common about town. Unfortunately, at brunch-o-clock, Comet was our first fail. After waiting half an hour for a table, we were told that they don't serve the Reuben before 3 pm on weekends.
We had just been wandering around Riverwest, a sort of up-and-coming hipster neighborhood, and had stopped in at the Riverwest Co-op to investigate and drool over the number of tasty sounding vegan options on their small cafe and deli menu. After deciding to move on from Comet, we returned there, since we recalled a tempeh TRUEBEN listed under lunch. However, what we didn't recall with such clarity was that this place, too, only served breakfast until much later in the afternoon. With an extremely small kitchen, the cooks were firm on this. Foiled again, we settled for vegan biscuits and gravy and a take on bi-bim-bop, incorporating tofu, that was actually quite satisfying.
Somewhat disappointed but not entirely deterred, we resolved that we could get a tempeh vegan reuben at Beans and Barley, a frequently recommended, veg-friendly spot also part of a market, which was already under consideration for dinner that evening. After a local brewery tour (hey, this is a Portland-based blog after all) and various shenanigans, we showed up at Beans and Barley that evening, a little toasted. Again, there was a lengthy wait---which gave me time to scrutinize the menu. One reason Comet had been first on my list for a reuben despite the numerous folks who pointed me towards Beans and Barley was that the menu at Comet made clear that veganization was straightforward and easy. Clearly vegan-friendly, I anticipated no hurdles with this place, but asked the hostess anyway, since the tempeh reuben listed on the menu clearly included real Swiss cheese. Without batting an eye, and extremely cordial, she assured me that veganizing it would be easy -- just substitute the rye bread for white.
That stopped me in my tracks. Dear readers, you probably know that rye bread is typically vegan. You probably also share my feeling that a reuben is not a reuben if it is not on rye bread. In fact to reprise the definition of a vegan reuben, my standards only include: a vegan protein, sauerkraut, rye bread and a vegan sauce of some sort. I've even been known to accept mustard when vegan Russian or Thousand Islands is not available. But white bread? This could not stand.
Fortunately, A. is very patient and flexible (in case you are wondering, my usual dining companion, B., was busy driving all of our stuff back across the country), and we high-tailed it back to Comet again, full of anticipation.
The place was still crowded, but we avoided a wait and snagged seats at the perfectly comfortable but admittedly dim bar, where we continued to get inebriated and ordered the vegan reuben as well as the vegan gyro.
Man, that is a lot of Field Roast and I have to respect it. The bread was a light caraway rye and probably grilled coated in margarine, as it was quite crunchy and salty. Though B. was not present, he would have appreciated the presence of a pickle spear. The heap of fries was very generous. I found the sauerkraut to be a little sparse, but perhaps that was in contrast to the huge slabs of Field Roast. Despite the excessive grease and salt (or perhaps because?), it was pretty tasty. Admittedly, given the lack of light and the speed at which I wolfed it down, I didn’t notice too much about the sauce (or whether or not there was vegan cheese, which I doubt). A. however, recalls the sauce being “really good” (he also agreed there was possibly too much Field Roast, though it paired well with the rye). All in all, I was quite satisfied, and not to mention pleased that our Milwaukee vegan reuben quest had ultimately been successful. The gyro wasn't bad either, also generously proportioned, though with not quite as high a ratio of the chewy seitan to other ingredients.
Thanks to A. for the phone shot, as my camera was not coming through.
1947 N. Farwell, Milwaukee
Veganized reuben (Field Roast with kraut and Reuben sauce on a light caraway rye, fries included). $9.50.