Friday, July 30, 2010

TRUEBEN: Homegrown Smoker Food Cart

The Third Annual Try Vegan Week PDX is coming up in two weeks! What better way to observe it than engaging with the varied, vegan-friendly and much-lauded Portland food cart scene? Consider it a challenge--can you not only try vegan for a week, but try a week's worth of novel food cart creations?

Homegrown Smoker would be the ideal place to start. This cart is a dream come true for the vega-loca-cartavore; most everything seems to be from scratch, including the home-smoked fake meats, the servings are ample and well-priced, and not to mention bursting with flavor and deliciousness. I had almost given up on hounding out another vegan reuben in Portland to review, but on a brief visit early this summer, a post about a reuben special at HGS caught my eye. (Twitter is good for something). HGS serves quite a variety of Southern BBQ and comfort-food type dishes, and I'd been interested in visiting for awhile. Needless to say, this announcement trumped any reluctance I had to journey over to the PSU-region of Southwest Portland.

I could hardly wait to dig in to this unique take on my favorite sandwich, served to me by the owner's own sons. It hits all the right notes---messy, juicy, good temperature and ingredient balance (especially impressive considering it was constructed in a cart), and at 7 dollars, a good deal. 7 bucks is especially a good deal when you take into account the big side (and there's a lot of choices here, no 'salad or fries' but a variety of Southern-styled goodies). By comparison, it's more food than Vita Cafe, at a few dollars less. The bread was good, and we definitely enjoyed the fact that pickles and seared, grilled mixed peppers were snuggled up to the seitan pastrami. My only complaint would be that the meat flavor was a little hidden. The Daiya cheese was creamy and welcome, but I think the HGS-meister uses a Cheddar-like flavor as opposed to the Mozzarella-like flavor--maybe if the milder light cheese was used the smoky meat flavor would come through more.

We give this a 4.5, hats off again to the price, cart-ness, and the home-made smoked gluten pastrami. And let us not forget that this is an all-vegan establishment! I hesitate to rate this the best in PDX, but taking into account the price, novelty and DIY awesomeness, it's definitely tough. I'm a little on the fence--if the flavor was kicked up a bit, the meat made a little bolder, I think I could easily tip over into rating this the best vegan reuben in Portland.

Homegrown Smoker
SW 4th and College

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Vita Cafe, Round 2

A few things seem to have changed at Vita Cafe since our first visit, right at the start of this blog. The restaurant relocated, just across the street, to a slightly more intimate but relatively similar building. The Reuben (available with vegan cheese or regular Swiss, but always with vegan protein and vegan dressing) is now available with house faux turkey, as well as with tempeh. I didn't recall the faux turkey being an option before, and was surprised to note it when perusing the Vita Cafe's menu recently. I felt compelled to return to Vita and review this iteration, especially because we found the tempeh version to be somewhat underwhelming, especially in contrast to the sandwiches we would go on to try for the blog.

The Vita reuben still comes on grilled marble rye, with kraut, vegan Thousand Islands and a vegan cheese that it neither bad nor particularly memorable. It doesn't melt much---clearly Vita has abstained from making the Daiya switch so many Portland restaurants have latched on to. I feel the Vita automatically loses points for having a fairly expensive sandwich (7.50 before veganization, a dollar extra for vegan cheese), that comes with no sides. With the Reuben, they do include some pickle slices nestled next to the sandwich, which other sandwiches there, such as the BLT, do not enjoy.

Though my memory of the tempeh reuben sampled at the Vita Cafe years ago was hazy, the version with faux turkey (basically a mild seitan that doesn't particularly resemble turkey but I guess resembles it just as well as any other sliced meat), was better. Instead of a bland hunk of tempeh you had a somewhat greasy, salty, chewy seitan layer pressed between the kraut, cheese and dressing. Again, the bread fell apart a little, which isn't entirely bad (but again caused B. to comment that he doesn't recommend a marble rye for a reuben). Though I enjoyed the sauce and cheese flavor combo, I would have recommended that this sandwich be a bit meatier (that is, add more seitan!)---both to balance the sandwich and make the price a little more worthwhile.

This version of the Vita Cafe reuben gets a 3.5, compared to the 3 we awarded the tempeh version.