HD1 vegetarian experience

October 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

I love meat.  There’s no arguing that fact, and I think that what’s really great about meat is that there really aren’t any other things that can take its place texturally or provide the same pleasant satisfaction of protein.  Meat is complex and dynamic and wonderful, and it’s exciting to me.  It always has been.

On the flip side, I really love the wide variety of vegetables, and I’ve often found myself in the presence of vegetarian or vegan friends.  Since I’m an adventurous and social eater, I will eat as they do.  Restrictions can encourage creative solutions which often have interesting points of view and flavor combinations.

To those of you who wish to refrain from reading about meat in addition to eating it, you might want to skip the next paragraph and proceed to the veggie matter that follows.

So when I checked out HD1 the first night, I surveyed the vegetarian options to see what I could report back to my vegetarian friends.  While I was intrigued by the idea of the sous vide carrot–carrots are good and that could very well be interesting, there was no way that was getting between me and beef tounge, confit chicken, lamb, or much of anything meat on that menu especially at the same price point.  I certainly wasn’t thinking about carrots when the casing on the pastrami dog snapped under the pressure of my teeth with a flick of delghtful flick of spiced grease.  I was not pondering the quality of carrot in place of meraquez and wondering how it would hold up compared to the dense red lamb meat to the sweet currants.  I certainly was not fantasizing about carrots when the chicken wings’ flesh slid off the bone in a confit style I’ve been fantasizing about since I read about it in the Momofuku cookbook, but haven’t had the patience to make at home.   I was too busy being amused by the addition of Blais flair lemon curd and Szechuan peppercorn and wondering if it would be possible to be able to request having the Szechuan mala combination be amped up to be thinking about carrots.  My first visit to HD1 was a time for many questions, blissful bites, and musings, but it was not a time for carrots.

If I haven’t upset any vegetarians by the carnivorous fantasizing in the previous paragraph, hopefully they can stick around a little longer to see what I have to say about the substitutions that HD1 has to offer.  I took a seasoned vegetarian friend with me to force me to stick to my plan and gain some of her perspective on the matter.  I know she’s certainly had quite a few more veggie dogs than I have since she’s been a vegetarian most of her life, so her perspective is quite different than mine.

One thing I was thrilled to discover when I went for lunch on Friday and asked about the carrot was that they now offered a house made vegetarian dog substitution that I had not seen advertised or mentioned anywhere prior to arrival.  I was really relieved because as intrigued as I was, I had a few concerns about the carrot option.  First of all, was a carrot which has a very specific sweetness to it going to play well with most of the toppings on the other hot dogs that were designed for very specific sausages?  In an environment where every option seems carefully crafted, why is the vegeterian left guessing as to what their condiments should be?  Was I willing to pay the same price for, say, lamb as I would for a carrot?  Was the carrot going to be satisfying enough in place of a protein-laden option?

Fortunately, the addition of the house veggie dog substitute eased a lot of these frustrations, and we sampled the following things:

sous vide carrot, herbed creme fraiche, walnuts, sour grape relish

So there’s the carrot.  It’s been deceptively shaped to look like a hot dog, and even the coloring is similar once they’ve had their way with it.  I can say that after nibbling on the exposed edge, it also tasted pretty much exactly like a carrot slow cooked to the point of softening through while retaining a bit of firmness.   There was actually a slight mixup with our order and the original carrot dog was returned, but I did notice that the other one appeared to have a bit of char on the outside as if it had been grilled a little bit too.  This one did not have that same appearance, and I wonder if the finishing on the grill was rushed.  The flavors of the toppings were a nice combination, but perhaps there was a fault in selecting creamy, slightly herbal spiked with the sweetness of grapes and the earthiness of walnuts because they felt like references back to the carrot I was eating and not a more dynamic composition that some fatty meat would have provided.

One of the only things I can say that I think is a little frustrating when eating hot dogs in general is that it’s difficult for each bite to be balanced.  The inside either slides around leaving you with a bite of bread or the toppings fall off the top.  While I like the buns on the dogs at HD1 and find the texture to be soft with a nice toasting to them, they don’t provide enough of a pocket for the toppings, so they really fall off often.  This didn’t bother me too much when I was eating the regular dogs because the sausage stood fine on its own if that’s about all you got in a bite, but bites of just carrot and bread or mostly carrot were frequent and really boring to me.  I mean, I like carrots just fine.  I actually have been on a roasted carrot kick, but they just were not working as a substitution in this instance.

The resident vegetarian said that she liked the carrot fine, but it wasn’t necessarily quite interesting enough to prompt her return.  I can see that.  The likelihood of my ordering it again is pretty much zero.  Fortunately, there is now another option.

classic veggie dog with sauerkraut & HD mustard

Then there was the newcomer.  I was informed that this was crafted in house using potatoes, whole grains, onions, carrots, and lots of spices.   I went classic on the condiments for purity’s sake hoping that it would feel more natural that way.  I nibbled a bit off of the edge and I was very pleased to find that the texture felt right and did a nice job of mimicking meat to the best of its ability.  It certainly was more close to the texture of a rustic sausage than an over-processed hotdog, but allowing the texture to be a little more coarse was what sold it for me.  It was also satisfying on its own due to a blending of spices and flavors which the carrot clearly couldn’t accomplish.  The simplicity of the toppings helped a lot and were much less apt to falling off.  The sauerkraut seemed to have an enhanced acidity and the mustard was kind of alarmingly good.  Guest vegetarian said she doesn’t even usually like mustard that much, but she liked that quite a bit.  I don’t know if it’s simply because it’s house made and the general population has had our taste buds dulled by lame generic yellow mustard or if they’re adding some special spices to it, but it’s really nice.  I was very happy with this dog and so was the vegetarian.  She said that she would be significantly more likely to return for this version.

Of course, if someone over there could work some magic and mimic the casing snap experience and release a pleasant small burst of veggie grease on bite, I’m sure they’d win some kind of vegetarian award, but I’ll still count this version as a pleasant victory.

popped sorghum

Another fun little vegetarian item on the menu is the popped sorghum which is also sweetened with sorghum for a completely whimsical sorghum experience.  Who knew sorghum popped up like this?  I didn’t.  What’s difficult to gauge from this picture is the scale, but that bowl could easily rest on your palm.  It’s not a whole lot, and the kernels are quite a bit tinier than the popcorn kernels that you’re used to, but it’s a fun little nibble.  The balance of salty and sweet was spot on for me, and due to the syrup nature of sweet sorghum, this leaned a little bit more on the warmer side of caramel corn taste than kettle corn’s pure sweetness.

soft serve ice cream
vanilla with sea salt and charcoal dust (left)
chocolate with red hots (right)

I broke down and had the vanilla the first time I went too.  Soft serve ice cream has always been a pretty deep weakness for me as well, and I find these servings to be sort of the right amount to enjoy a treat but not feel too much guilt.  I actually generally like the tapas-like serving sizes here as they allow for sampling multiple things to suit your appetite.  This time around, the vanilla seemed to have a lot more charcoal and a little less salt, but it was still pretty tasty.  The vanilla flavor is nice and it’s just slightly interesting but still maintains a lot of its simplistic charm.  I like the charcoal dust visually, but I am a little perplexed as it doesn’t add much flavor.  Apparently it can help aid in digestion, though, so that’s helpful, I suppose.  The chocolate on the other hand, just didn’t make me quite as happy as the vanilla had.  It’s a very Wendy’s frosty tasting chocolate that’s got a mild chocolate flavor, and the candy shards of spicy red hots easily dominated the chocolate in the same bite.  It wasn’t quite as much my speed, but I wanted to try something different this time.

Final Verdict:

I love the meat options here, and I think in that realm, HD1 sails on plenty of high notes.  On the other side of things, I think vegeterians have a fair showing of tasty options even early on at HD1 as there are a few sides besides the sorghum such as the waffled fries with maple-oy, baked azuki beans with ginger and scallions, and African spiced boiled peanuts.  The addition of the veggie dog as a substitution is a tremendous help in reaching out to that crowd which will be nice since the evening bar-happy vibe will be able to accommodate a wider variety of patrons.  I am doubtful that the sous vide carrot is going to secure a permanent place on the menu, though.  Don’t worry, I still love you, carrot…just not in this particular arena.  You work much better ground up with your other buddies in the veggie dog.

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