Metro Vancouver's new burger options go beyond just meat

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      Juicy news for burger lovers: there are new options in Metro Vancouver, and that goes for vegans and meat lovers alike.

      Beyond Meat burgers—years in the making by a SoCal company and backed by the likes of Bill Gates and Leonardo DiCaprio—have made their way to Vancouver, thanks to Meet restaurants being first in line for Canadian distribution.

      What makes these plant-based patties stand out from other veggie burgers on the market is that they mimic beef in appearance, texture, and taste.

      And even though a few misleading media stories have led to an assumption that they “bleed” like real meat—which might be cool-sounding, unless you happen to be the kind of vegan or vegetarian who is completely creeped out by it—it’s not the case. The cholesterol-free patties contain beet extract, so they do have a pinkish, medium-rare kind of look, but there’s no oozing or dripping of any red juices.

      There’s no soy or gluten, either. Peas make up the burger’s protein source (20 grams per patty), while coconut oil and potato starch help give it its moist chewiness.

      Although not all vegans want to bite into something that brings to mind real meat, Meet’s newly introduced menu item has largely been a hit.

      “Most vegans love it. Most omnivores love it,” says Meet co-owner Jason Antony in a phone interview. “That’s really our goal, to make it easy for people to have a restaurant experience that has plant-based options and they don’t have to think about it being a vegan or nonvegan place—it’s just food.

      “It’s a great transition product, a great choice for people who are meat eaters but want to have a veggie burger from time to time or for the person who wants to explore veganism,” adds Antony, who has been vegan for 14 years. “It’s meaty in taste and texture, and that satisfies a lot of people who want that. These types of choices are transformational when it comes to our food system.”

      At Meet’s three locations, the Beyond Meat patty is served simply on a kaiser bun with lettuce, tomato, and pickle, along with fries and leafy-green salad topped with shredded carrot and beet (about $15). Melted coconut-based Chao “cheese” adds a creamy, fetalike flavour.

      If the Beyond Meat burger doesn’t do it for you, Meet’s house-made and -smoked burgers don’t disappoint. A wheat-and-veg-based patty can be given the same classic treatment as above (the Main) or indulgently amped up: beer-battered, tossed in buffalo sauce, and topped with guacamole and ranch dressing (Angry Burg), among other variations. A marinated and grilled portobello mushroom makes a pure, starch-free veggie burger, while black beans form the base of the Mucho Gusto, loaded with guacamole, pico de gallo, lettuce, chipotle mayo, house-made queso, and taco strips.

      If, on the other hand, you’re a meat eater who seeks out high-quality, ethically sourced, and sustainably raised beef, chances are you’ve heard of Two Rivers Specialty Meats. Some of Vancouver’s best restaurants—including Fable, Royal Dinette, and Hawksworth—rely on the local company’s products, which are free of antibiotics, additives, and hormones.

      With the opening of North Vancouver’s Two Rivers Specialty Meats--the Shop (180 Donaghy Avenue) late last year, you can now order a dry-aged beef burger, which, as far as burgers go, is pretty much the ultimate. Husband-and-wife team Jason Pleym and Margot Millerd-Pleym run Two Rivers, partnering with small farms in B.C. and Alberta, where they can stop in and see for themselves how animals are fed, raised, and treated. For their burgers, they source meat from Cache Creek Natural Beef.

      Most meat is wet-aged in plastic wrap, according to the shop’s head butcher, Pasqual Stufano. Dry-aged beef, on the other hand, is exposed to air under tightly controlled temperature and humidity levels. If the space is too humid, bacteria can grow; too dry, and the meat loses moisture too quickly and toughens. Proper dry-aging allows enzymes to break down and create natural amino acids that enhance and deepen flavour.

      “Some people compare the flavour to blue cheese or a baguette fresh out of the oven,” says Stufano, formerly of West Vancouver’s Sebastian & Co. Fine Meats and Armando’s Finest Quality Meats on Granville Island. “To me, it’s yeasty and earthy; done well, it’s like buttered popcorn.”

      Two Rivers' Specialty Meats' burgers are made with dry-aged beef from local, sustainable farms.
      Gail Johnson.

      Two Rivers’ dry-aged cheeseburger ($13), aromatic and toothsome, is cooked over flames and served on a fresh Terra Breads bun with charred tomatoes, leafy lettuce, crunchy house-made pickles, American cheese, and a smooth beef-tallow aioli. It needs nothing else. Fries are cooked in beef tallow and sprinkled with herbed sea salt for a full-on decadent meal.

      There’s lots more on the menu, with another knockout being the Knuckle Sandwich: molasses-brined house-smoked beef on a soft baguette with melted Swiss cheese and sauerkraut. Chewy chunks of pork belly are dusted with a barbecue spice rub; natural, hand-ground beef tartare comes with a sunny-side quail egg. For balance, there are coal-roasted beets—extra-earthy, semi-firm, with silky whipped feta and rosemary granola—and farro tabbouleh with preserved lemon and sweet peppers.

      With indoor and outdoor seating, Two Rivers Specialty Meats carries a rotating selection of local beer (like Bridge Brewing and 33 Acres), wine (perhaps Quails’ Gate and Hester Creek), and cider (Left Field). I see it as the perfect spot to plant yourself after a walk or bike ride along the North Shore Spirit Trail or hike up the Grouse Grind.

      It has a full butcher shop, too, so you can take home elk salami, beef-and-chorizo skewers, dry-aged duck, dry-aged Tomahawk (a French-trimmed rib steak on the bone that will wow dinner guests), an ever-changing roster of freshly made sausages (turkey breakfast with grilled lemon; barbecued duck with beet), spatchcock chicken (boneless except for the wings and drumsticks, marinated in sauces like jerk or Maui rib), chicken Kiev (with Paris butter and Brie), beef-and-pork meatballs with pancetta and salami…

      At the very least, you won’t be left wondering what to do for dinner.