Brian White makes a mean veggie burger. Only, he doesn’t know it.
The grill cook at J. Selby’s, the hot new vegan comfort food restaurant in St. Paul, is a meat-eater, and that’s how it’s going to stay.
“To be honest, I haven’t tried it,” said White, looking a little squeamish. The cook was brought on after the restaurant briefly closed this spring due to overwhelming popularity and understaffing. Turned out, there was a wild demand among faux-meat foodies in the Twin Cities for yummy classics without the animal products. And to keep up with that demand, some non-vegan cooks came aboard.
Among the menu’s most popular items is White’s specialty: the Dirty Secret. Two non-meat patties, special sauce, lettuce, “cheeze,” pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun. In other words, a Big Mac, done up for the plant-eating crowd with Herbivorous Butcher wheat-based “beaf” patties, a slice of yellow coconut oil cheese and egg-free mayo.
The Dirty Secret is the latest over-the-top dish to be featured in our video series, Outta Control. Watch past videos about the battle for the best Juicy Lucy here and another on circus-themed adult milkshakes here.
J. Selby’s is just one of a slew of vegan eateries to take the Twin Cities by storm recently. Vegan butcher shop Herbivorous Butcher has had lines out the door for their meatless brats and ribs and cheese counter. The brand-new Eureka Compass Vegan Food in St. Paul has a morning bakery stocked with vegan croissants.
Meatless options suddenly abound, but for the vegetarians and vegans who might still yearn for a Big Mac now and then, J. Selby’s Mickey D’s knockoff is as close one can get to the fast-food favorite.
It’s the restaurant’s number-one-selling entree, “by far,” said front-of-house manager Lindsey Johnston.
It’s such a good replica, that most of the restaurant’s guests aren’t vegetarian at all. Some, Johnston said, don’t even realize it’s a vegan restaurant. There are no juicers and piles of sprouts giving it away.
“This is not a health food restaurant by any means,” Johnston said. “We’re showing that you can incorporate plant-based foods into your diet without going out of your comfort zone.”
Other dishes from the world of bars and fast food that are now on-limits to vegans: buffalo wings and ice cream.
The “wings” are actually nubs of deep-fried cauliflower, tossed in a butter-free spicy buffalo sauce and served with a side of soy-based ranch for dipping.
The “Soyclone” is a knockoff of the Friendly’s Cyclone (or a McDonald’s Flurry or Dairy Queen Blizzard, etc.). It’s soy-based soft-serve with a selection of mix-ins. While icier than typical soft-serve, the taste is spot on. It’s the only item the restaurant sells more of than the Dirty Secret.
Even the grill cook eats it.