This month, the staff of fast-casual chain Bryn + Dane’s wheeled a grill out in front of its 915 Lancaster Ave. location in Bryn Mawr and threw on some Beyond Meat. It wasn’t long before the smell of a backyard cookout drew customers looking for samples.
The event was an announcement that Bryn + Dane’s had added Beyond, the beefy-tasting meat substitute made from pea protein, to its four suburban Philly locations. On that afternoon, co-owner Bryn Davis was struck by how many customers of all ages ate a sample, then went inside to buy either a Beyond quesadilla or a “Bryn Mac,” a wrap made with lettuce, plant-based cheese, and pickles.
“This has been our most successful launch of a new product,” he said.
Considered hipster food not long ago, Beyond Meat now is sold in more than 35,000 establishments around the world. Similar soy and potato protein-based meat made by Impossible Foods is available in 7,000-plus locations. Beyond Meat made a record-breaking stock market debut this month, and Impossible is growing so fast the company is struggling to fill orders.
Both companies say their “meat” is more sustainable than beef because it is made with less water and produces fewer emissions. Red Robin, TGI Fridays, and some fast-food giants are on board: White Castle debuted Impossible sliders last year; Burger King recently announced plans to roll out Impossible Whoppers nationwide. Last month, Qdoba launched Impossible bowls and tacos in Philadelphia stores and is adding them to stores nationwide throughout May.
At the Hard Rock Cafe at 11th and Market Streets, Impossible burgers are served to tourists visiting nearby sights. Topped with an onion ring and served with fries, the burgers were added to the chain’s menus in January, prompted by growing demand for meatless options. Dave & Busters on Columbus Boulevard also sells them.
Impossible and Beyond meats, both of which are vegan and gluten-free, aren’t cheaper than beef — in fact, they often cost more. The “meat” has much less cholesterol but about the same number of calories as beef, so most acknowledge it’s not exactly “health food.” The texture, not to mention the juices that “bleed” during the cooking process to mimic meat, can be turnoffs for vegetarians. But proponents say they’re not necessarily meant to appeal to those customers.
“It’s about trying to reach a larger demographic,” said Davis of Bryn + Dane’s. “It’s about persuading meat-eaters that plant-based products don’t suck.”
Craig Williams, head of the culinary team at Bryn + Dane’s, developed the “Bryn Mac” to evoke the flavors of a McDonald’s Big Mac by using charred Beyond burgers and adding pickles, shredded lettuce, and sauce made from vegan mayonnaise and ketchup. The wrap is far from an exact replica, but for some customers, Davis said, it’s enough to satisfy a junk-food craving.
“We want to recreate the fast-food experience as much as possible,” Davis said.
At BurgerFi, a chain with a location on 12th Street across from Reading Terminal Market, Impossible burgers are on the menu next to beef burgers and traditional veggie burgers. Bareburger on Walnut Street offers Beyond and Impossible burgers alongside quinoa, black bean, and sweet potato patties.
Other restaurants are experimenting further. Silk City, the diner at 435 Spring Garden St., reimagined the Impossible burger as a patty melt with mushrooms, Swiss cheese, vegan Thousand Island dressing, and rye bread. Phillies fans and other visitors to Citizens Bank Park can now opt for an Impossible cheesesteak created out of a collaboration with Questlove, an early investor in the company.
Baby Buns in the Bourse food hall on Independence Square sells Impossible sliders with truffle mayonnaise. Owner and chef Sylva Senat said the product became one of his favorite menu items after testing it against other vegetarian options.
“It’s truly impossible to tell the difference once you grill it,” he said.
Impossible meat isn’t yet sold in stores, but several local grocers carry Beyond products, including Whole Foods, Acme, and smaller retailers. They’re easily prepared at home over the grill or in a skillet.
Backyard BBQ Burger
¼ cup purple cabbage, shredded
¼ cup green cabbage, shredded
1 carrot, shredded
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise (optional)
2 Beyond burger patties (1 package)
2 slices cheddar or vegan cheese
8 ounces barbecue baked beans, canned
2 brioche or potato hamburger buns
Jalapeño slices for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat and clean grill.
2. Finely shred half of the purple and green cabbages and place in a large mixing bowl. Add shredded carrot, mustard, vinegar, and mayonnaise if desired, and season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Set aside in the refrigerator.
3. Using a small pot, warm baked beans on stove over a medium-low setting, reducing heat if they start to bubble.
4. Grill the Beyond burgers for 3 minutes per side. Internal temperature should hit 165 degrees.
5. Remove burgers from heat and top with cheese.
6. Apply a layer of baked beans on the bottom of each bun. Add burger and top with coleslaw. Finish the burger off with a drizzle of BBQ sauce and jalapeños, if desired.
— Beyond Meat