When my wife was growing up and her grandparents lived in “Nord‘east,” it was not a hip, happening place. It was a bunch of separate Minneapolis neighborhoods sorted by ethnicity. Kinda different now.
Katharyn’s father grew up a short block from where the Indeed Brewing Company and Taproom now anchor the hipster mecca that is Northeast. As a boy he walked the 1-1/2 miles each way to school on Nicolette Island.
If you ask Google Maps for Northeast Minneapolis, you get the border on its bottom-left corner running along the railroad tracks that would be Second Avenue, if that road existed. On closer examination, the actual border of Northeast is 1st Avenue — presumably the middle of the road — because that’s where the cross streets, such as University Avenue, switch over from their SE designations to NE.
We ventured into Northeast to visit The Herbivorous Butcher (yeah, it sounded unlikely to us too) at 501 NE 1st, just inside the border. The place opened last month to widespread buzz, incuding in the international press. There the brother-and-sister founders claim to be producing vegan and gluten-free “meats” and “cheeses” unlike any others experienced (or suffered) by those in search of alternatives to food raised on the hoof.
HB’s marketing message says: “We have carefully crafted 100% vegan, cruelty-free meat and cheese alternatives that capture the best flavors, textures, and nutrients most people are used to without their negative impacts on health, animals, and the environment.”
We wanted to find out for ourselves what the excitement was all about.
Inside, the place is clean and modern, indeed resembling a butcher shop, complete with a butcher-block wall devoted to cleaver art. It was crowded with excited young folks — all much more hip than we are.
The roster of available small-batch food items changes daily at HB, and is listed on the website and Facebook page. The day we visited the feature was a rolled, stuffed “pork loin” and we snapped up the next-to-last one of those ($20), along with some maple “bacon” ($7) and a heart-shaped “mozerella” ($4.30), our visit being just ahead of Valentine’s Day. Oh, and a fresh-from-the-oven baguette.
We had the “pork loin” for dinner that evening and… neither one of us finished what was on our plate. We discarded the remains of the “roast.” Taste was disappointing. Texture was not entirely pleasant. Color was subtly off. What can I say? We tried the “mozerella” for dessert with a fruit sauce and it followed the same disspiriting pattern. The maple “bacon” is in the freezer and one day we’ll prepare it in a recipe where it is not the soloist but is a supporting player. Hope does spring eternal.
The baguette was excellent.
We are not vegans by any stretch: “enthusiastic omnivores” is more like it. Perhaps those who eschew meat would find The Herbivorous Butcher’s products more to their liking than we did.
Personally I’ll wait for a crop of Silicon Valley startups to weigh in. Over $300 million in venture money has poured into support for a growing roster of agricultural ventures (try this Google search to get a taste), many of which are hard at work trying to replace animals as the source of meat in our food supply.
Here is a lengthy profile of Impossible Foods of Redwood City, CA, a typical Valley startup bent on hacking the hamburger. This company claims to have cracked meat’s molecular code — it has analyzed and is able individually to control the nearly one-thousand elusive compounds that constitute the taste and texture and savor and sizzle of beef. Their goal is “Beef that’s better than any beef you’ve ever tasted… because we can turn all the knobs — anywhere we want. And a cow can’t.”