Mushroom sandwich smackdown
SN&R’s vegan columnist tastes some of the city’s most innovative and delicious mushroom sandwiches
Portobello mushrooms have been restaurants’ vegetarian staple for decades due to its supposedly “meaty” texture. As a sandwich filling, portobellos can be good—great, even—but their ubiquity can also lead to fungus-based despair.
Thankfully, Sacramento restaurants have decided to stop feeding vegetarians like they’re wedding guests in 1992 and have come up with more creative offerings that expand mushroom horizons with innovative sandwiches.
The Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op’s foot-long Banh Mi ($14) is a two-mealer packed tight with oyster mushrooms on firm Pugliese bread with cucumber, pickled red onion, grated carrots, jalapeños and a Sriracha spread. The hearty, smoky mushrooms and crisp veggies contrast well. On the whole, it’s incredibly satisfying, but it’s also a bit of a bummer as most of the mushrooms are connected at the stem, which results in a bite that’s all mushroom, no veg.
I’ve never actually been able to eat Mother’s Po Boy ($10) as intended. It’s a favorite of mine, with crisp “chicken-fried” mushrooms meeting my need for comfort food without being greasy, but I’m not particularly skilled at eating it sandwich-style. I generally attack it with a fork until the sandwich is pared down enough to pick up. It’s at that point that I can enjoy the mix of mushroom, pickle, hot sauce and rémoulade as the softness of the roll soaks up the flavors. For me, this as Sacramento’s “real” mushroom sandwich.
I’ve ignored Pushkin’s Po Boy ($12) since it joined their vegan menu last year. I’d always assumed it was a consolation prize for gluten-intolerant folks who couldn’t enjoy Mother’s version less than a mile away. The thing is, it’s an entirely different sandwich—and it’s really good. If you’re a Po Boy purist—and if you’re vegan, obviously you’re not—Pushkin’s use of dense, thinly-sliced gluten-free bread will throw you. Otherwise, it’s excellent. The maitake mushrooms have great flavor and texture, and the rémoulade’s thick, creamy consistency compliments the mushrooms well. I can ignore my own irrational-yet-passionate dislike of iceberg lettuce as its crispness here, along with red onion and tomato, balances everything out.
Before discussing the newly reopened Oak Park Brewing’s vegan “cheeze ’steak’” ($10), a brief vegan vocab interlude: If you’ve already chosen the tired faux dairy “z”-spelling, you probably don’t need to scare quote the steak. “Vegan cheesesteak,” works, or “cheeze-fake” if you want to get cute.
Anyway, a hefty hoagie roll holds onions and red bell peppers, oyster mushrooms and vegan mozzarella, plus a mildly spicy comeback sauce. The sandwich is tasty, but messy as hell: The roll was so saturated by grease and sauce that the sandwich fell apart immediately. The salty, savory flavors were there, but I’m not sure you can call it a sandwich if it’s only a sandwich until you try to pick it up.
I’m thankful to have remedies to portobello burnout. The variety of preparation is a godsend to those of us who end up in places with only one choice on the menu. Here’s hoping the trend continues.