It’s grilling season, and vegan “meat” is sizzling.

Burger King announced in April it would flame broil the plant-based Impossible Burger nationwide by the end of the year, while in May, the maker of the competing Beyond Burger dazzled Wall Street with the success of its initial public stock offering.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, “20,000 restaurants across the U.S.” offer either the Beyond Burger or the Impossible Burger, both are plant-based but mimic the taste and look of a beef burger.

In Maine, these burgers, which can “bleed” like a beef burger can be found on more and more restaurant menus. Here in Portland, a growing number of bars and pubs serve one of the vegan burgers, sometimes alongside a more traditional veggie burger and sometimes as the only meat-free burger on the menu.

Mike Barbuto, bar manager at Bramhall in Portland’s West End, said when the kitchen added the Impossible Burger to its compact menu last fall it attracted a “cult” following. “I’d be working the floor, and a table of six would all want the Impossible Burger,” Barbuto recalled. “It’s rare to have a table where everyone orders the same thing.”

Barbuto tells guests that Bramhall’s Impossible Burger comes topped with cow’s milk cheese, though it can be left off to make the burger vegan.

“We sell indulgence at Bramhall,” Barbuto said. “The Impossible Burger is super tasty and indulgent.”

The Impossible Burger has been a strong seller at Novare Res Bier Cafe. But because supplies are so short, for now the bar is serving the Beyond Burger. Photo courtesy of Novare Res Bier Cafe

Novare Res Bier Cafe in the Old Port added the Impossible Burger to its menu in January.

“I really like the Beyond Burger, as well,” said Shahin Alireza Khojastehzad, co-owner of Novare Res, “But when I tried the Impossible Burger side-by-side, I’ve preferred it a little bit more.”

Bramhall and Novare Res, like many other restaurants across the country that serve the Impossible Burger, started running into shortages in late spring after Burger King announced its test of the burger was a success.

“We’re having a hard time getting more than a case,” Barbuto reported at the end of May.

“For the near future, we’ve switched to the Beyond Burger because we can’t get the Impossible Burgers,” Khojastehzad said, noting that “customers have been pretty bummed out.”

By June, Bramhall was also forced to switch to Beyond Burgers, until the Impossible Burger is available again.

Before the shortages, Impossible Foods, which is based in Redwood City, California, announced plans to sell their vegan burgers at supermarkets by the end of this year.

At Three Dollar Dewey’s in the Old Port, the kitchen expanded its vegan dishes in May and added the Beyond Burger alongside the Beyond Sausage it’s had since the long-running bar reopened under new ownership in February.

Dewey’s chef Richard Belanger said he considered the Impossible Burger, but “what it really came down to is that it wasn’t gluten-free.” Dewey’s serves the Beyond Burger, with either traditional, veganized toppings or piled high with jackfruit pulled pork and coleslaw.

“We keep doing different versions for specials,” said Belanger, who is a vegetarian and makes the bar’s vegan cheese sauce from scratch. The Beyond Burger “even confuses some of my meat-eating friends.”

At Bayside Bowl in downtown Portland, co-owner Charlie Mitchell said the bar added the Beyond Burger after the kitchen tested it, and the “staff enjoyed it, including meat eaters, so we made it our veggie burger option on the menu.”

The vegan burgers tend to sell for slightly more than traditional beef hamburgers. For instance, Three Dollar Dewey’s charges $14 for a basic beef hamburger and $16 for a basic Beyond Burger. At Bramhall, a beef burger costs $12 and an Impossible Burger costs $15. Bayside Bowl charges the same price for its beef burgers and Beyond Burgers, while the Impossible Burger is the only burger option at Novare Res.

Meanwhile Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, says it plans to launch a meaty vegan hamburger called the Awesome Burger in the U.S. by the end of the year.

Impossible Foods’ supply troubles echo those experienced by Beyond Meat in 2017 and 2018, as major retailers and chain restaurants added the burgers. Since then, an increase in production capacity seems to have helped Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat keep up with demand. Last month Beyond Meat announced plans for its first European production facility, which will be in the Netherlands.

As problems go, though, demand outstripping supply is probably a good one to have.

In a statement issued by the Good Food Institute, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for plant-based and lab-cultured meats, executive director Bruce Friedrich said, “The success of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat is proof that plant-based meat has arrived. With these two companies now valued in the billions of dollars, it’s clear that the plant-based meat market is both hot and here to stay.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at [email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: