Vegans, vegetarians and folks who simply don’t like meat have an increasing number of options in Syracuse when it comes time to have a burger with the gang. Vegetable-based burgers and sandwiches never tasted better.
Veggie burgers date to 1982, when health food purveyor Gregory Sams created the VegeBurger, a mix of sesame seeds, soy, vegetables, wheat and oats. But vegetable patties have been around since the late 19th century when John Harvey Kellogg, of Kellogg’s cereals, created the first meat substitute: Nuttose--a seasoned peanut and flour mixture.
In 1939, vegetarian-food company Worthington Foods began producing artificial meat, sold today as Morningstar Farms veggie burgers and veggie patties, part of the Kellogg conglomerate. Another popular brand is Boca Foods Company, which joined the meatless bandwagon with their Sun Burger, in 1979.
Locally, plenty of options abound for those who want to enjoy a burger without the beef. The Burger Deluxe at Sparky Town, 324 Burnet Ave. (422-8401), is made with Boca’s Original Vegan Burgers (vegan-friendly, very low in fat, low in saturated fat and cholesterol), including soy protein, wheat gluten and sesame oil. The burger is served with lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and either home fries or a house salad on the side, says Linda “Sparky” Mortimer, chef and owner of Sparky Town, a restaurant with a vintage look, which opened three years ago.
Some people microwave or pan-fry the Boca patty, but chef Mortimer grills and serves it on a wheat bun, or Italian, sunflower, ezekiel (sprouted grain) or wheat pita bread. “It gives the patty a much better flavor, a roasted grill flavor,” she says. Customers can spice up their burgers with mustard, ketchup or vegan mayonnaise.
Initially a menu special, the Burger Deluxe soon became a regular. “It’s very popular. I make two or three burgers every day,” Mortimer says. But the real veggie star on Sparky Town’s menu is The Jocko, named for the vegetarian owner of neighboring More Sound Recording Studio, Jason “Jocko” Randall.
Mortimer combined Randall’s ideas—“He felt he wanted certain flavors,” she notes—with her culinary talent to create the sandwich. Following a hard day’s work in the studio, young musicians often crave this grilled tempeh sandwich, combining the soy- and wheat-based product with lettuce, tomato, artichokes, roasted red peppers, red onions, black bean sauce, sun-dried tomato and avocado spread. “It’s a rockin’ sandwich,” Mortimer says. “Everybody loves it, from a musician to a young hipster, to an old hippie.”
Meanwhile, Zebb’s Deluxe Grill and Bar, 2803 Brewerton Road, Mattydale (455-5131), offers the “Very Veggie Burger,” a black bean and salsa mixture from producer VeggieLand, served on a regular baked roll or house-made rye bread, with sautéed onion, mushrooms and melted cheddar cheese on the side, according to Brendan Lane, manager of Zebb’s. Burgers come with salsa and french fried Idaho potatoes on the side. “Idaho potatoes have a starch content that we like,” Lane says. “When you fry them, the starch comes out and they’re crispy outside.”
Ana barbu Zebb’s veggie burgers are quite flavorful. “When I eat them I don’t use the sauces because the veggie burgers are slightly on the spicy side from the seasoning in them,” Lane says. But customers can choose from Zebb’s famous toppings bar: lettuce, tomato and onion staples or peppers, jalapenos, dill pickles, sweet pickles, pico de gallo, sweet relish and sauces, such as mayo and vinegar. Cheddar cheese can be replaced with American, provolone, pepper jack, asiago and Monterey jack cheese, Lane adds.
Served since Zebb’s Mattydale location opened roughly 26 years ago, veggie burgers have had a steady stream of customers.
“Surprisingly enough, we sell a lot of them,” Lane says. “There’s not one main audience. We have people that will order a cheeseburger one week and a veggie burger the next.”
It probably also helps that Zebb’s staff won’t give you weird looks if you order a breadless veggie burger. “A lot of people are carbohydrate-conscience and they take the bread out,” Lane says. It’s especially yummy atop a side salad, with a drizzle of dressing.
Nearly three years ago, Joel Capolongo and Nicholas Ryan opened Strong Hearts Cafe, 719 E. Genesee St. (478-0000), to address the lack of vegan restaurants in Syracuse. Their vegan menu includes a soy-based “Chicken” Salad Sandwich and tofu patty-based T.L.T., among others. Vegans and meat eaters who want healthier, leaner lifestyles are drawn to the dishes. “Most of the people who come here eat meat, but the food is accessible, it’s affordable,” Capolongo says.
Those who just can’t let go of the meaty taste, the “bacon”-based “B.L.T.” sandwich will trick their taste buds with its soy-based consistency and seasoning, according to Capolongo.
Sandwiches are served on grilled white, wheat, rye or pumpernickel bread and customers can load them to their hearts’ desire with five additional veggie toppings, such as pickles, tomatoes, green, red or banana peppers, jalapenos, mushrooms, black or kalamata olives and pesto.
To celebrate the cafe’s two-year anniversary last May, Ryan and Capolongo introduced The Reuben, with “very thinly sliced seitan, sauerkraut and homemade Thousand Island dressing,” Capolongo says. “We wanted to add something new to the menu. That’s what people were asking for, so we decided to give it a try.” Seitan is a wheat gluten-based protein, providing a soy alternative to vegetarians.
“Right now, I’ve been recommending the Reuben,” Capolongo adds. “It’s the same as the meat one, only healthier.” Daiya, the vegan cheese in the sandwich, “melts like cheese and tastes like cheese.”
Cathleen Kelly, owner and founder of Speedy Greens, 8169 Route 11, Cicero (752- 0333), added a raw, vegan Sunburger to her menu this year. The sunflower seed-based burger includes red peppers, onions, carrots, celery, basil and walnut mustard powder and is served on a lettuce leaf. Kelly uses flax and water to turn the mixture into consistent patties, which she bakes in her high-end Excalibur dehydrator. “We went for the good stuff,” she says.
“Three years ago, I decided I needed a healthier place for myself and others to eat,” Kelly adds. A holistic nurse who provides reflexology sessions at her adjacent health center Holistic Horizons, Kelly created Speedy Greens’ menu, featuring organic dishes with all-natural ingredients.
“All folks can have the Sunburger: Vegans, vegetarians, meat eaters and raw eaters--super vegans who eat vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds,” she says. Addressing the public’s increasing gluten awareness, the Sunburger is carbohydrate-free. “Many people are getting tested and realize gluten and bread are making them sick,” she says.
Those allergic to soy can safely order the Sunburger as well. “You could use mushrooms, rice or beans, but they’re not raw,” she says. “We like basic and healthy.”
Lean and tasty, veggie burgers and sandwiches cost between $6 and $9. Don’t be afraid to cross over to the veggie side; you’ll enjoy them even if you’ve got your heart set on meat. And your heart will thank you, too.