While previous generations of plant-based burgers tasted nothing like the meats they sought to imitate and were often punctuated with protuberant beans and mealy soy, more recent, higher-tech efforts like Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger have come closer to the mark.
Many restaurants and grocery stores now offer plant-based burgers, meatballs, bacon, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, sausages and many other meat-like products that offer an increasingly convincing simulacrum of familiar flavors that promoters say are better for health and the environment.
Buona Beef, a long-running Chicagoland chain that has a location at 324 Indianapolis Boulevard in Schererville, rolled out a Beefless Italian Beef that sold 2,000 pounds of seitan in the first week, selling out at many locations across the Chicago metropolitan area.
The facsimile of the traditional Italian beef sandwich included thin slices of browned seitan that's heavily seasoned, especially with black pepper. Buona partnered with Uptown Naturals to get it just right and avoid cross-contamination with meat on its grills.
The meatless sandwich can be doused in vegetable-based gravy, served dry, dipped, wet or baptized like the real thing.
Tucked into soft and chewy Turano Italian bread, it's adorned with spicy Giardiniera that confers authenticity.
If you're starving coming off a construction, factory or manual labor shift, and wolf it down, you would barely notice any difference from a regular Italian Beef. Bursting with simulated umami, it's even more convincing than many of the trendy plant-based burgers that bleed like real ground beef patties.
The intense seasoning might be a little strong for some but it offers a delectable and surprisingly similiar Italian Beef alternative that its proponents tout as better for the earth and the world your grandchildren will inherit. It's at least worth trying to see how close they've come to replicating the taste of a perennial staple in the city that's the Hog Butcher for the World.
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Taste Test is a weekly feature showcasing specialty dishes at Region restaurants.