Here’s a paraphrased version of a recent tirade I launched into the moment I decided to compare a vegan burger patty to a real-meat burger side by side: “As a lifelong carnivore and a lover of vegetables, few things irritate me more than vegan kitchens that disguise non-meat ingredients to look – and sometimes taste – like meat. You can keep your chicken-shaped tofu or compressed quinoa posing as a hamburger patty. *shakes cane at no one in particular* I like tofu, veggies, and quinoa. If I go to a restaurant and order these things, I want them to retain their normal shape. I don’t understand the point of fake meat, either. Do you have to fool your brain into thinking you’re still eating meat to enjoy food? Is becoming vegan a 12-step program and counterfeit steak a transitional tool?”
Here’s what I had to say to my lunch guest after trying the Impossible ($12.75), the burger with a plant-based patty at Hopdoddy Burger Bar (2300 W 7th, 817-270-2337): “Wow! It doesn’t exactly taste like meat, but it’s very good. They really captured the texture and juiciness of a basic burger patty. I’d definitely order that again. I just wish it weren’t so expensive.”
I’ve been hearing about Hopdoddy’s signature non-meat burger patty since the Austin-based chain first expanded to North Texas a few years back, and I couldn’t roll my eyes hard enough. The feedback I heard always went something like, “It’s the closest-tasting thing to a beef patty I’ve ever had.” “But,” I thought, “is that really a compliment?” That’s a little like saying something is almost good or really close to being a credible replacement for the food that you really wanted. Or so I thought.
Served on a fresh-tasting wheat bun, the Impossible’s “meat” was smothered in Tillamook cheddar, Sassy Sauce (a blend of horseradish and mayo), lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. A vegan version with both Follow Your Heart-brand Gouda and Vegenaise is also available.
Optically, the burger passed the eye test. There were no bizarre-looking grains or green particles spilling out from the bun. The coaster-sized patty oozed juices at every bite. The sandwich did not mimic the flavor of a burger but conjured up enough of the sensations touched off by a burger to be an honest variation, not a fake. It was both heartfelt homage and its own, craveable thing.
Every good science experiment has a control, so just for comparison’s sake, I felt compelled to order a meat-laden burger – also known simply as “a burger” – just to make sure my palate was still sharp.
In what was perhaps an error of judgment, I opted for Hopdoddy’s gimmicky burger of the month, The Red-Eyed Stranger ($8.75), a tribute to Willie Nelson’s affinity for his own plant-based recreational activity, slathered in a spicy aioli and salse verde and loaded with fried tobacco onions, an over-medium egg, and a country ham patty served on *sigh* an oat-and-hemp seed bun. I should have just ordered the kitchen’s standard-issue hamburger, but years as a food critic have trained me to order whatever is on special. I am no scientist.
The Willie-inspired sammy was a clunky, mismatched amalgam that lacked balance. It tasted like heat on top of heat on top of breakfast, stuffed inside a grainy bun dotted with debris. Just to drive home its pro-pot bent, a Hopdoddy staffer handed us a flier for a Spotify playlist to accompany the Stranger, which included ganja-themed tunes like “Mary Jane” by Rick James, “Sweet Leaf” by Black Sabbath, and, of course, “Roll Me Up” by Willie Nelson. I wish they’d have focused their energy on making a better burger this month.
In the battle of non-meat burger versus gimmicky burgerjuana, the plants won this round – the edible plants, specifically the edible plant shaped like a burger patty.