While the novelty food industry is mostly concerned with how to make cookies taste like sandwiches, protein powders taste like breakfast cereals, and chips taste like fried green tomatoes, the larger and finer culinary scene is chasing after something much more serious – plants that taste like burgers. The recent push in plant-based meat alternatives is lead not only people advocating for animal rights, but using less resources and reducing gas emissions to limit humans’ carbon imprint. Perhaps there’s no bigger player, at least from a hype standpoint, than Impossible Foods, who spent five years perfecting a burger that uses 95% less land, 74% less water, and creates 87% less greenhouse gases than cows, while being free of hormones, antibiotics, and artificial ingredients. And oh yeah…it bleeds.
Since the release of this breakthrough burger technology its availability has been fairly limited to high end, often reservation-only engagements with daily limited quantities, until Umami Burger launched The Impossible Burger at 14 of their California restaurants as a regular menu item. For their spin on the buzz worthy burger, Umami combines two Impossible patties with caramelized onions, American cheese, miso-mustard, house spread, dill pickles, lettuce and tomato.
Let’s cut to the chase and call this burger exactly what it is – the iconic In-N-Out Burger Double Double Animal Style wearing Birkenstock’s and smoking a joint. The smaller-sized patties and grilled onions squished into American cheese is immediately recognizable as the California classic, and I think it was a very smart move to release something that is instantly crave-able to those who cannot or will not eat meat. Upon its arrival the burger is very appealing with melty cheese oozing out the sides and nicely charred patties with some glistening pink poking through the grill marks.
Biting in is very impressive. Umami’s stunningly soft Portuguese-style bun begins the experience with a soft yet firm chew that reminds me of brioche and leads to crisp butter lettuce and the huge flavor of sweet onions and salty cheese. Eaten as a whole, if this had been served to me wrapped up like at In-N-Out I wouldn’t have bat a suspicious eye, as the profile is super on point, not too salty, and full of moisture and flavor.
When I pick off a piece of just “meat” and eat it on its own it’s apparent that it isn’t beef, as the inside has a bit of layered texture I know from tofu or tempeh that’s a touch softer and wetter than actual beef. The outside has a very nice caramelized crust that resembles a properly seared patty, and while it’s much closer to medium well than the medium rare I like on my burgers, it’s very impressive and without a doubt the most convincing veggie patty I’ve ever had. No one cooks a ground beef patty and eats it straight forward, just like no one eats an un-toasted plain English muffin, and the composition of this burger is delightful and will no doubt be a treat for anyone who can’t indulge in the real thing.
If I were fault The Impossible Burger in any way it’s that the item as a whole isn’t vegan. In fact, a lot of the crucial elements aren’t vegan and Umami Burger doesn’t currently have any suitable replacements for them. The bun, cheese, and spread all have some form of dairy in them, and rather than have a different bun and cheese on hand to make the substitution, vegans have to skip out on cheese and wrap the burger in lettuce, which kind of defeats the purpose of indulging in a new, rare, and pricey burg. With the amount of bread that exists without eggs or milk and the abundance of non-dairy cheese in mainstream grocery, it would be in Umami’s best interest to keep some alternatives on hand to really up the ante on this cutting edge exclusive beefy substitute.
Found at: Umami Burger San Francisco ($16.00)