Photo by Caitlin Abrams
Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, Minnesota
By now you may have heard that Northeast Minneapolis is home to the nation’s first vegan butcher shop. The opening in January drew lines around the block and media attention around the world, including the BBC and Jimmy Fallon. Hold your cynicism: Brother-and-sister owners Kale and Aubry Walch have created something new and zeitgeist-y that’s worth the chatter.
As an avowed burger eater, I was curious about this meat-free meat shop. Early samples weren’t great, so I gave them a month, then popped into the cute shop on First Avenue. I picked up sriracha brats, smoky house BBQ ribs, Korean ribs, and a porterhouse steak. These items mostly comprise vital wheat gluten dough flavored with plants and spices, then shaped to look like actual meat. Nearly everything in the deli cases looked fine and quite close to form, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy the maple bacon, which brought to mind a large pink bandage.
I cooked the ribs and brats first, throwing them in shallow pans of simmering water, as advised. The brats were my least favorite, in part because they didn’t have the kick promised by the “sriracha” in the name. The BBQ ribs had a nice smokiness and their sauce was solid, as was the dark sesame glaze on the Korean ribs. With each of the above, I struggled with the texture, which was uniformly dense and cake-y. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t something I wanted to keep eating.
And then there was the porterhouse, of which I was most skeptical due to the oddly lumpy shape (we eat with our eyes, too!). I seared it in a hot pan with olive oil, simmering thyme, and garlic, then seasoned it and flipped it a couple of times to ensure it warmed all the way through. Though a little too tomato-y sweet for me, I kept going back for more. It had a nice crusty exterior, and the texture was surprisingly close to a rarish cut of meat, with a softer density and an appealing ruby-red coloring. I liked it, though halfway through I cheated and added a knob of butter to the top, which made it way better (once an omnivore . . . ).
I get it: These products are meant for people who have given up meat entirely, but maybe have a meat memory they’d like to revisit once in a while. Herbivorous Butcher is great for that. Working in small batches with good flavors, the owners are charting a course for veganism that moves past preachy shaming toward mass-market viability. As far as certain health claims go, I can’t quite make the stretch of substituting protein for mostly wheat gluten. And as far as meatless Mondays go, I’d rather just eat veggies. But then again, I’m not their target. If I want to make a meat memory, I’m reaching for the real deal. 507 1st Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-208-0992, theherbivorousbutcher.com