Everybody's doing it, wolfing down the best plant-based meat-like substitute thang that science can produce. And for those who might have been living under a rock the past year, the two protagonists are Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.
On Thursday, Burger King had the nationwide rollout of its entrant, an allegedly toothsome tidbit called the Impossible Whopper. Interest is high in the six-buck ($5.99) sandwich, because of the notion that plant-based "meat" is better for you even if you wash it down with fries and a chocolate shake, like some of us did. Nah. But for vegetarians like me who for years have had to deal with the grim, salty, messy, mushroomy, soul-damaging adequacy of the veggie burger, the hyperbolic excesses of Beyond and Impossible are a delight.
Both Beyond and Impossible are on version 2.0, which store-bought Beyond patties tout as "now even meatier!" The competition is fierce. Burger King is a bit late to the dance, as planty patty partisans have for months been able to get their fix at White Castle (um, same aftereffects as a normal slider) and M Burger, to name just a couple of places. Kuma's has its own, metal variant. But until now, the two big burger chains, BK and McDonald's, weren't in the fray.
Enough prattle. How was it? Quite good, with some caveats.
When grilling a Beyond patty, when it hits the grill it starts to sizzle and drip "juice." It gets a really nice sear and grills up nice and juicy. The Impossible Whopper from the Thompson Center Burger King (which was chaotic, as every other person was ordering an Impossible), was a bit dry and chewy, with an almost metallic aftertaste. But it also looked to be a bit lighter in color than a properly done Impossible patty. And there was no sear, because they were churning them out. The BK visit was my 10th experience with an Impossible burger, and the least impressive. A carefully prepared Impossible patty is difficult to discern from a beef patty. This one had an artificial taste, like the third-best plant-based meat substitute that science can produce.
The condiments that BK ladles on -- mayo, pickles, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, onions -- mask the flaws in their patty, which was also crumblier than Impossible patties usually are. It was tasty for a fast-food burger, and a vast improvement over anybody's veggie burger. Going back for another would be a no-brainer, even as the White Castle Impossible was much better as a gustatory simulation. But Burger King tops M Burger's Impossible for me, which is dry, crumbly and too salty. Two other Tribune colleagues also had Impossible Whoppers on rollout Thursday. Here's what they thought:
Ben Meyerson: (Millennium Station Burger King) I've had Impossible Burgers from a couple of other fast food joints -- Chicago chain M Burger and in beefy slider form from White Castle. The Impossible Whopper was fine, but didn't compare favorably to other preparations, or to a regular burger, for that matter. Whatever method Burger King uses to cook the Impossible Whopper left the patty dry and lackluster. The sides looked almost squared-off and had a disconcerting texture, almost a crunch. In other words, it lacked the beefy texture that makes Impossible patties stand out -- instead, it was more similar to a frozen, old-school supermarket veggie burger.
Jeremy Mikula: (Thompson Center Burger King) As someone who had a regular beef Whopper about a month ago, I could taste a slight difference. But that doesn't mean the Impossible Whopper is bad. It's actually pretty good and retains the texture of the traditional Whopper. The taste of the patty blends in nicely with the burger's other ingredients (lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayonnaise) and, crucially, it still tastes like a Whopper, albeit with a slight difference. If there is one criticism, it's that the patty didn't have the typical charring of a beef patty. But that could be a preparation error and not from the patty itself.