Lobster In a Pinch

As a Connecticut native, I have a lot to say about lobster rolls. While I can’t claim to have been a big fan, it was an absolute, irrefutable fact that one such sandwich could ONLY be made with melted butter and steamed claw meat stuffed into a split-top bun. Served anywhere further than a mile from the shore, it should be regarded with suspicion. Better yet, it should be enjoyed at the beach for best results, with sand between your toes, wind in your hair, and the ocean filling the silence while you eat wordlessly with your lover.

Outside of that dreamy romance, as I got older, I found that the real world has other ideas. It turns out that there’s also a so-called Maine lobster roll that’s instead tossed with mayonnaise for a creamier, cooler richness, though that too should be a spartan affair. If you add things like chopped celery, onion, pickles, or carrots, let’s be honest: You just made expensive, luxury seafood indistinguishable from tuna salad. Some people call this Rhode Island-style, but I just call it an abomination.

Given there are so few ingredients and no where to hide extras, how can one accurately recreate the experience of a fresh, plump lobster roll without any animal products? To that, I say, “hold my bun and watch.”

Thick Sugimoto Donko shiitake mushroom caps offer the ideal meaty yet supple texture once rehydrated. Though smaller than Koshin, they’re the perfect size for tucking into a sandwich and filling every square inch with nuanced, umami and tanmi flavor. Making this recipe suitably lavish, tender artichoke bottoms join the party to replicate that buttery yet mild bite of fresh seafood. It’s a bit of a splurge, as a proper lobster roll should be.

On that note, it’s interesting to look back on how far such a humble crustacean has come. While lobster has become a prized delicacy in America since the early 1900s, prior to that it was so despised and devalued that it was literally served to prisoners. The general public regarded it as “sea trash”, with such overwhelming numbers washing up along the east coast that much of the catch was used as fertilizer. I have confidence that once word gets about plant-based lobster, it might enjoy a similar rise to fame and fortune.

And why not? Infused with the oceanic flavor of kelp and seasoned simply, these fresh vegetables taste downright decadent. Once you have the main meat of the matter ready to go, you can turn it into a Connecticut dream or Maine game in a snap- or both, if you can’t decide. While you could also go off the rails down the Rhode Island route, just don’t tell me about it. I won’t yuck your yum, but I think there’s no reason to mess with perfection here.

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I Like Ike’s

It’s not fine cuisine, but then, when can you ever say as much about the humble sandwich? Even at its most ambitious heights, fully stacked with the utmost care, it’s still a bread-bound vehicle for gooey, drippy, sloppy savories that otherwise defy handheld consumption. Sometimes it feels silly to order a sandwich when eating out, for the simplicity of this basic premise, but certain eateries do it right. Ike’s has been a bay area cult classic for many years, winning advocates of both carnivorous creations and meatless monsters. Offering a generous selection of vegan options, with endless opportunities for customization, it’s hard to resist the lure of this diverse selection when passing by one of the numerous outposts. Dozens, if not hundreds, of combinations are possible, even if not listed on local menus. After a few birthday freebies and random indulgences, I do have a few recommendations to make.

First of all, across the board, ALWAYS ask for dutch crunch bread. No excuses, no questions; Nothing else will suffice. Ask for pickles on the side to prevent a briny blowout. Specify “vegan” even when ordering something with “vegan” in the title, because not everyone gets the message behind the counter. Beyond that, as a general rule for life in general, add avocado whenever possible.

Sometimes I’m a Vegetarian: Grilled mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, pesto, and cheese.

Tom Brady: Avocado, cheddar, garlic and herb sauce, mushrooms, vegan breaded chicken.

Meatless Mike: Marinara, pepper jack, vegan meatballs.

XXX-Tina: Vegan breaded chicken, buffalo wing sauce, cheese.

Zenobia (SF Exclusive): Sriracha, hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, vegan steak.

For a place where the stated goal is to “make sandwiches as unique as the individual ordering,” Ike’s stays true to that mission, from top to bottom bun.

Son of a Butcher

Snaking past the illuminated case of thin-sliced meats and artisan cheeses, spilling out the door and onto the sidewalk, the line is already at least 15 deep, and it’s not even noon yet. Any respectable food establishment in downtown Berkeley will inevitably experience the usual lunch rush on any given day, but The Butcher’s Son is guaranteed to be more or less a mob scene no matter the hour. After a year and a half of slinging sandwiches to these hungry hordes, their popularity shows no sign of waning, nor the excitement from dying down. Eavesdrop on the masses already tucking into their oversized sandwiches for encouragement to endure the wait; exclamations of deep, primal joy echo off the walls, speaking louder than any formal review.

Salads and fried snacks round out the menu, but make no mistake, it’s all about the sandwiches here. Overstuffed with plant-based meats and dairy-free cheeses, these generous assemblages transcend the boundaries separating vegans and omnivores. Scores of staunch meat eaters have been shocked to discover that this old school deli is entirely flesh-free, even after devouring a full meal. There’s a certain finesse to the casual fare that reveals dedication to the craft that can only come from passion and attention to detail.

Each towering creation is a feat of culinary architecture. The Fried Mozzarella & Meatball could comfortably satisfy two diners, and the Roast Beef Reuben piles on thinly shaved beefless slices and sauerkraut with the same enthusiasm.

Bestsellers include the BLAT, a classic combination of bacon, lettuce, avocado, and tomato, straight to the point and sure to satisfy any nostalgic cravings. It’s tough to leave without ordering the Pulled Pork though, a saucy, smoky barbecue sensation that’s crowned with tender strings of caramelized onions and creamy coleslaw.

Groaning, straining within the confines of one’s previously well-fitting pants, it would behoove the average diner to reach for a takeout box early on. Resist the temptation of cleaning the plate, no matter how strongly the urge strikes. Besides, there’s still dessert to consider. Don’t overlook the pastry case, stocked with a rotating selection of pies, cheesecakes, cookies, doughnuts, cannoli, flaky croissants, and all variety of other sweet surprises. Just in case you need a meaty fix throughout the week, cold cuts and cheese are sold by the pound, right alongside house-made sour pickles.

Come hungry and early to secure a table, especially for the epic weekend bunch menu. This isn’t your average delicatessen, but the overall experience wouldn’t lead you to think it was any different.

The Butcher’s Son
1941 University Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704