Thursday, April 10, 2014

Restaurant Review: Hogtown Vegan

I don't hate Vegans. Does this seem like a bad start to a review where the blogger is already in defensive mode? Let's try this again. I really love vegetables. I own some extraordinary recipe books on cooking vegetables that blow me away. Entertaining at home often forces me to consider my guests restrictions, likes and dislikes. There is a perversity that suggests that I will try to find a way for them to like a childhood nemesis. It often works.

What I find perverse about veganism is this stretch to equate their food to taste better than meat by using meat substitutes. I'll try to explain as I go through what we ate.

I took a friend who has been some sort of vegetarian or vegan in parts of her life and she had been wanting to try this place. Also, she wanted to see what went on while I was tasting food at a restaurant. So, after months of calendar wrangling we set off to find this place, Hogtown Vegan. It was at the sign of a pig. Not quite sure what they were trying to say here. Pigs are notorious omnivores and can be vicious biters. This already set me off by saying we will be selling not pork on their calling card. Mixed signals.

Inside it was another of the thrift shop throw ups that seem to be cropping up everywhere. I suppose it is to reflect small town diner, given the menu. It seems weird to me that so many places are trying to bring the rural byways into the city without reflecting the underlying reasons. I guess the restaurant may be running on a shoestring and that the decor was an afterthought but I doubt it. Someone went to a great deal of trouble to make this work.

We got in before the dinner rush and saw a steady stream of clients while we were there with table service being good and tables turning over rapidly. Since I had a dining companion that was willing to be a guinea pig (there's the pig again), we decided to order a wider range of food than I normally would.

We had two starters, fried "clams" and poutine. There are at least two problems with that last statement; the inclusion of quotation marks on a menu that read like air quotes and the omission of quotation marks around poutine as there is no way that poutine can be made without animal products. There are 29 uses of air quotes around meat based products that have been faked on the menu.

The clams where shiitake mushrooms lightly battered. Unfortunately, the mushrooms were raw and tasted of the nothingness of a raw mushroom and provided no additional give of a cooked fungi. The batter still had the dusty flavour of raw coating, a flour of some sort. If the mushrooms had been marinated or cooked before or just even cooked through this starter would have worked. The poutine gravy was a savoury mushroom based sauce that was rich in umami and felt thick and viscous on the tongue akin to a traditional veal reduction. The sauce was awesome. A refrain that you will hear through out this review. The fries, limp. The Daiya cheese provided saltiness but maybe a better choice would have been to add nutritional yeast. For a purist, putting cheddar type cheese on a poutine is sacrilege anyways. You need cheese curds. This was a fake of a fake and a double fail but the sauce saved it. I'd order it but ask for no cheese.

For Mains, we pulled the pulled "pork" sandwich with mac'n "cheese" and the "peppersteak" and dumplings. It may seem that we choose the most challenging of the menu items but all we did was pick the most interesting items given the claim to having vegan comfort food. I'll say a little but first, thank goodness for drinks. It seems that they have done their due diligence and the beer and wine is all vegan friendly. It might be nice if they stretched their options but good to see local organic alcohol.

Strange, but the peppersteak could have been written ""pepper"steak" as there were no peppers. Peppers and wine are my two prerequisites for a pepper steak that could be vegan. Once again, the beer mushroom gravy was awesome. The underlying meat substitute was bland. Maybe find a way to add flavour before the cooking phase or use a slow cooked vegetable such as squash or meaty mushrooms. The side veg were ordinary and could have used seasoning. Adding a little extra salt and maybe nutmeg or cinnamon to the sweet potato mash would have made it sing. Collards always seem undercooked in this town. They were fine. But I demand that my vegetables exalted in a place that specializes in vegetables. I can get this grade of vegetable cookery at any steak house in the city and that pisses me off.

The pulled pork sauce was once again great but the shredded texture came more from the coleslaw than the meat replacement. There are so many other directions this dish could have taken. What was there went a ways to salvaging our meal but by calling it pulled pork, it drew unfair comparisons. If they had used cardoon, bamboo shoots, spaghetti squash, even slow cooked shredded mushrooms along with the coleslaw and called it shredded cardoon or whatever, it would have made the dish so much better. The coleslaw's acidity eventually eroded the taste especially since there was a dollop of acidity in the sauce. Acid on acid without respite. I like the sandwich and the sauce but couldn't get through the whole thing. We won't talk about the mac'n'cheese. Don't.

The dessert of fried apple pie with coconut ice cream that we split was one of the highlights. Other than maybe requiring carrageenan or something to thicken the mouthfeel of the ice cream, it was good.

It seemed that so much of the meal was avoiding meat in favour of fake meat that it missed the point. The sauces were great but there was nothing to put them on other than tasteless soy products. In today's cooking age of sous vide, marinades and international cuisines, there is so much to be gleaned from good cooking... It saddens me that I could call Black Hoof ahead of time and ensure that I could get an amazing vegetarian and probably vegan meal. Hell, I could get a better vegan meal at the Keg. To be clear, I fucking love vegetables and my dining companion was so apologetic that she promised to take me to Live who focuses on getting the best out of the veggies rather than paying homage to meat.

I like their spunk. I like their sauces. This place may appeal to converts to veganism but it does not appeal to me, a meat eater who loves vegetables and wants to try the kind of food that I would make on a winter's day when I am sick or feeling down. At least that is my definition of comfort. If they end their reliance on meat replacement and move towards vegetable protein that is vegetable forward, then I will try this place again.

The Hogtown Vegan on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. As a vegetarian, I'm not big on meat substitutes. But I'm excited to try their brunch!