Even in the heart of the Midwest, a growing number of people prefer vegetarian or vegan food for reasons of health, the environment, culture or simply taste.
For all of these, and because I am fighting both diabetes and cancer right now, I’ve been seeking out the best of Madison’s vegetarian options. Some fine vegetarian meals are good enough to make you forget about meat or fish — and in Madison, they’re definitely out there.
James Bloodsaw II’s JustVeggiez is a new “casual vegan” restaurant on State Street near the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Bloodsaw, an entrepreneur and former caterer who built his vegan-only business over six years, worked with GoFundMe to secure a brick and mortar location, open since July.
In mid-November, reps from GoFundMe celebrated Bloodsaw’s success with a customer appreciation celebration featuring free meat-free tacos, hats and a photo booth. I got hold of my vegan friend Eric Wermedal, and together we dropped by JustVeggiez for the first time during the party.
Meat-less, but meat-like
Like many American vegan restaurants (Sookie’s, for example, makes burgers), the vibe on the JustVeggiez menu is dominated by fake meat dishes built to look, taste and feel like their real counterparts. Getting the texture right is just as important as the flavor in this increasingly competitive food niche made possible by experimental plant proteins.
Such products have exploded in popularity in recent years at grocers as well as restaurants, and behemoth multinational companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods made vegan “hamburger” patties, sausages and or “tofurkey.”
I asked Bloodsaw if he used a third party purveyor for his fake meats, and he assured me it was all scratch-made in house. I found this to be very impressive. I am sure these processes must be elaborate, and I certainly don’t know how to create a meatless drumstick or fake steak.
Eric and I arrived hungry, so we quickly got the GoFundMe-sponsored photo shoot done with free hats in hand. The traveling San Diego-based GoFundMe crew was extremely friendly, as was the Bloodsaw family. (The tacos were free, but we paid for the rest of the menu items.)
Eric and I decided to share everything family-style, so that I could sample a wider range of dishes on behalf of my dear Cap Times readers. Tough work, but someone has to do it.
Our order consisted of one jackfruit taco, one “steak” taco and one “chicken” taco. On a normal night, that would have cost $14.99 total. We also ordered one Carolina Reaper chix (fake chicken) sandwich ($12.99), 3 BBQ drumstix ($10.00), and one dish of elotes grilled corn ($5.00), with sides of potato salad and Spanish rice.
All three tacos were well-seasoned and tasty, with jackfruit being the best. The fake taco meat came in small cube form and was sufficiently firm to the bite. My main complaint with all the tacos is that there was very little jackfruit or fake meat to be found inside the tortillas, though the flavors were spot on. According to Bloodsaw, the “chicken” in the taco was homemade using pea protein while the “steak” was made from pea protein and potato. (I would have liked more of it.)
Even better than the tacos was the Carolina Reaper chix sandwich, which had a healthy spice kick that was not overpowering (6/10 on the heat scale). The texture and flavor of the chix sandwich were superior to the “chicken” of the taco. The star of the show was the patty made of seitan, which is one of my favorite meat substitutes.
The best fake meat of the night was the vegan drumstix, doused in a shiny dark barbecue sauce with a sweet and sour Asian twist complete with sesame seeds. This item had the most meat-like texture and flavor of all thanks to the proprietary blend of soy and pea protein. It did indeed taste like chicken, and the Asian barbecue condiment was the most elevated sauce of the meal.
The potato salad was uniquely dill-forward, making it an interesting light green in color, which was just fine by Eric and me. The Spanish rice side dish was a bit bland and the elotes had a bit too much white “crema” sauce on it. The breadth of items on this extensive global menu could make it hard to consistently quality control them all.
A place at the table
For those looking for a lunch or dinner featuring scratch-made fake meat, I’d highly recommend JustVeggiez. I’m glad that this vegan venture is on the list of options for vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike. I would lean toward items like the Carolina Reaper chix sandwich and drumstix, as well as the other fake meat preparations conjured up by Bloodsaw you just can’t get anywhere else.
This week, JustVeggiez is also offering an all-vegan Thanksgiving catering menu with faux turkey and fixings, which looks highly interesting. Not every feast demands meat as the centerpiece.