This post has been a battle to put into the right words and clearly articulate my feelings. I also expect to see some tough comments and reactions. Before you read on, know that I have a completely open mind to trying new things and put forth a lot of effort to understand the food of each culture and type of eater. We write this blog as a way to share some of those discoveries.
It's also one of the reasons why I wanted to tackle some vegetarian "cheesesteaks." I hoped for the chance to share a positive experience with skeptics and explain why you should try them. Sadly, that has not turned out to be the case after stops at two highly recommended places. The vegetarian cheesesteaks have been a disappointment.
The seitan cheesesteak at Blackbird was no better than Govinda’s, and probably worse. Even more disheartening is that the same complaints surfaced.
Like Govinda’s, the Blackbird cheesesteak lacked flavor and the mushy consistency was off-putting. It was like eating pureed steak inside a roll, which just does not work. The only texture came from the onions of which there were too many.
|Blackbird's seitan cheesesteak|
Kristy was with me on this trip and she had to hear me talk out loud for 30 minutes trying to put my finger on what’s wrong with these cheesesteaks. I’ve come up with three things.
1. The aftertaste is not appealing. Unlike a real cheesesteak that coats your taste buds with meaty, juicy flavor, the seitan version leaves an odd coating of flavorless flour. It’s not good.
2. They're not authentic. I felt like I was eating a fake concoction made to taste like something else. It seems to me that a vegetarian sandwich should take advantage of the authentic flavors of vegetables and herbs to make a great tasting meatless sandwich, but not aim to make it taste like something else. The Sarcone Veggie at Sarcone's Deli, for example, is delicious and doesn't try to be anything other than a veggie hoagie.
3. This really comes down to a branding issue. These “cheesesteaks” should not be called cheesesteaks nor compared to them. They don’t taste like cheesesteaks and don’t have the same texture. Put simply, they are not cheesesteaks.
My advice is to call them something else such as a seitan roll, Blackbird Special, or something more creative. Using the term "cheesesteak" limits the ability of a non-vegetarian to find them tasty because your mind is trained to associate them with the traditional meat version. Eateries definitely have an opportunity to attract people who enjoy traditional meat-based cheesesteaks to their vegetarian options, but just have set the expectations properly so we look at them as a new type of sandwich to try, not a cheesesteak replacement.
I’m still more than willing to try meatless sandwiches on Sandwich Quest. Just no more that are positioned in the same category as something they are not. Suggestions?