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A Super Bowl… of Vegetables

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MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages
MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/GettyImages

Is it blasphemy, or divine inspiration? The L.A. restaurant Street – which specializes in global street food – is serving up a special Super Bowl Sunday menu…that’s entirely meat free. Rico catches up with chef and co-owner Sasha Alcher, and demands answers. Turns out, you can just as easily score tasty – and gloriously UN-healthy – veggie food.

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Sasha Alcher: Well, we are focused on doing a lot of veggie and vegan foods here at the restaurant. We’re not exclusively vegetarian, but we do have a strong veggie following, and when you go out there there’s so little available to vegetarians and vegans even more so.

So we were just trying to think of, you know, “It’s Sunday, it’s Superbowl, I’m not a football fan but tons of people are.”

Rico Gagliano: Perish the thought. You’re cooking a Superbowl and you’re not a football fan?

Sasha Alcher: I come from football family, so I appreciate the Superbowl, but I myself will be cocktailing instead. But it’s so hard to find just those common foods that you want, grub food to eat on a day like Superbowl, and we wanted to offer that.

Rico Gagliano: All right, well the first thing that I saw on this that interests me is that you have a three bean chili dog. I have never had a veggie hot dog that stood up to a real one. What is your claim to being able to pull it off?

Sasha Alcher: Trial and error. That’s our claim. I don’t know, I think one of the things we’ve been playing with is seitan, which is a vital wheat gluten product.

What comes from non-vegans making vegan food is we screw it up all the time, and in those screw-ups we happen to make different flavors and different textures that come about, and this was one of those things.

So it is seitan-based. It actually came about from us testing something for a Chinese dish, and it ended up being the base for this hot dog.

Rico Gagliano: So I’m hearing you talking about seitan, we’re talking about beans. To me- my theory is the reason why people eat so badly at the Superbowl is that it is our way of punishing ourselves in the ways that the players are getting punished on the field.

So that at the end of the day, we’re each kind of like rolling out of the Superbowl party all in pain and slightly sick. This is not gonna happen with these. Can you really say that this is Superbowl food if it doesn’t hurt me?

Sasha Alcher: There’s a common misconception that because it’s vegan it’s healthy for you, and I would say that these dishes, even though they are meat free, are definitely nowhere near healthy. I don’t think a seven-layer dip whether it’s vegetarian or not is going to be anything but junk food.

Rico Gagliano: It is not Weight Watchers.

Sasha Alcher: Right.

Rico Gagliano: All right. Let us try one of these dishes. This would be the spicy black bean veggie burger. You wanna try that out?

Sasha Alcher: Yeah, we’re gonna make you a veggie burger right now.

Rico Gagliano: All right we’re in the kitchen and I’m standing next to the wood fired stove. Is anything on the menu done in the wood fired stove? That seems kind of Superbowly like fire.

Sasha Alcher: I don’t actually think so.

Rico Gagliano: All right.

Sasha Alcher: It’s all fried- fried and grilled.

Rico Gagliano: Well that’s good. Maybe I’ll take one of the fried and grilled things and throw it into the fire for a second just to make it more macho.

Sasha Alcher: You’re pushing me towards the unhealthy you know.

Rico Gagliano: Sorry. All right, so you’re taking-

Sasha Alcher: So this is Earth Balance. Earth Balance is a vegan butter. So I’m spreading the bread with that so we’re gonna get a nice golden crust on the outside of the bread.

Rico Gagliano: Oh man, so this is gonna be a burger on grilled bread.

Sasha Alcher: Yeah, it’s on griddled sourdough bread.

Rico Gagliano: And the patty which has been pre-prepared, that’s- I’m assuming that’s all like homemade. What’s in there?

Sasha Alcher: Lots of whole black beans, corn, peppers. The base is a brown rice and farrow base and tons of spices.

Rico Gagliano: And this is an award-winning veggie burger.

Sasha Alcher: I don’t know about award-winning. It just kicks ass. I think we pay attention to the texture and the flavor a lot. All the ingredients are spread throughout the bun.

We’re not one of those places where you get the burger and there’s like a little tiny dollop of sauce in the middle and like nothing else has flavor, so it’s really saucy, it’s messy, it’s goopy, it’s everything you want a burger to be.

Rico Gagliano: Why is it that we like goopy messy things for Superbowl watching? It’s like you’re going to be gazing up at a television instead of down at your plate, and yet we want the stuff that’s gonna fall all over if we’re not careful.

Sasha Alcher: I don’t know. I want gloopy, gloppy messy food all the time, not just for Superbowl, so-

Rico Gagliano: So tough.

Sasha Alcher: So tough. So we cook our patties in a cast iron pan. That gives it this nice outside crunch and sear, so it gets really, really crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Rico Gagliano: I can see it. It actually is looking surprisingly burgery, and a moment ago it looked very vegetal. And you’re putting a sauce on there- is that a vegan sauce?

Sasha Alcher: This is a vegan mayonnaise and we season it just with a little lime, salt and pepper, then we use smashed avocado, and that Singapore hot sauce. So it’s definitely juicy, definitely messy. Instead of lettuce we use a baby pea shoot.

Rico Gagliano: Again, I have to say anything with the word baby in it doesn’t feel quite Superbowl, but I think this big- ’cause this burger I must say is enormous. So maybe it will dwarf the baby and it will sort of be like we’re watching a tackle on the plate.

Sasha Alcher: I think you’re gonna be surprised.

Rico Gagliano: All right, so here we are. We’ve got this burger. It is- oh man. I just picked up the sandwich and already my fingers are covered with goop. It’s good that you’re holding the microphone for me ’cause I’d damage my equipment. Here we go. Wow! It is truly delicious. It has a sort of Mexican feel to it.

Sasha Alcher: It’s got a ton of cumin in it, it’s a mishmash of Asian and Latin actually. It has no place anywhere but we love those flavor combinations.

Rico Gagliano: And then if you eat it in front of the Superbowl it becomes instantly American.

Sasha Alcher: Right.