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TASTING THE IMPOSSIBLE: Tasting through the newest non-meat trend

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Surround the Impossible Burger with a fresh, fluffy bun and stellar toppings and likely never know the difference.

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If it looks like a duck, smells like a duck, and tastes like a duck, it’s probably … a plant-based burger?

MEATLESS WONDER : Winnie’s Impossible Burger comes topped with all ooey-gooey toppings, for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Photo by Tom Dorgan

MEATLESS WONDER: Winnie’s Impossible Burger comes topped with all ooey-gooey toppings, for vegans, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Photo by Tom Dorgan

The Impossible Burger tastes too damn good to be true, and veg heads (and meat eaters alike) can’t believe their tongues. So who’s responsible for making the meatless patty the mouthwatering talk of the town? All ketchup-covered fingers point to heme. Leghemoglobin protein, of course.

Here’s the deal: Thanks to an engineered yeast that’s been crafted to carry genes for the soy leghemoglobin protein (typically found in the roots of soy plants), the Impossible Burger comprises a vegetarian variety of heme. Heme is an essential part of all living organisms, and can be found in blood and muscle that gives meat its distinctive “meat” flavor. Once the scientists at Impossible Foods discovered a way to ferment genetically modified yeast and produce large quantities of heme with no animals in sight, they pulled out their buns to celebrate.

Enter: the vegetarian burger that bleeds.

Also making a special appearance in the patty: wheat and potato protein (which deliver nutrition and mimic a meaty chew), coconut oil and soy (for a fatty mouthfeel and succulent sizzle), and a few common binders. Alongside a mission to preserve animal agriculture, Impossible Foods has in fact done the impossible: make meat using plants. Garnish it with a brilliant marketing strategy where all-vegan medleys are put into the pans of professional chefs (including highly visible celebs like David Chang), as opposed to consumers, and it’s something everyone can really sink their teeth into.

And, thank goodness for ILM, the tasty trend has made its way into local eateries. The feedback has been wild. “We’re never taking it off the menu,” said my lunchtime server at Winnie’s Tavern. “We don’t want to lose the customers that have come along with it!”

The longtime, no-frills, hidden dive has become ILM’s flat-top haven—celebrated for putting out gloriously greasy drive-in classics guaranteed to cure any hangover known to man. The Impossible Burger has become a Winnie’s staple. An adjacent customer picked up a to-go order for the plant-based patty.

“With bacon,” he smirked. “It’s so good!”

What does this tell us? Even meat-lovers have come to accept (and apparently love) the IB. According to Winnie’s menu, diners can get it any “style” (vegetarian burger loaded with beef chili, anyone?), built to order (vegan cheese and mayo?), or for an upcharge of two dollars, enjoy it a la “Trailer Park” or “Station Wagon” (mushrooms, Swiss, onions).

My server convinced me to step into the trailer—and who am I to argue with Cajun fried green tomatoes, jalapeño pimento cheese, hickory smoked bacon, pickles and chipotle mayo? Let’s be real. She could have swapped in a sock for the Impossible Burger and I would have still demolished the masterpiece.

That being said, the overload of zesty toppings masked the patty so much on the first bite that I never would have known I wasn’t eating real beef. About halfway into my meal, it looked like an ooey-gooey pimento cheese bomb had exploded in my presence (yum), but as the assertive condiments slipped out of my handheld, I dug into the truth of IB’s flavor and texture more clearly.

While the nonmeat mixture did get crumbly toward the end, if I swiped a morsel of it through the spicy sauce and dotted it with a sweet bread-and-butter pickle, it was still game on. The best part? I’ve never left Winnie’s feeling so satisfied yet, at the same time, so light. Survey says: #winning.

The next stop on my IB mission was another well-loved eatery known for rocking the Wilmington (and Food Network) scene, Fork n Cork. As I cuddled up to a corner bar spot, owner James Smith stopped over to share his personal insight. The consensus? The protein-packed concoction is frozen—making it tremendously easy to keep in stock and available to customers (who BTW, are totally on board). He also reminded me the delicious science experiment comes with a higher price tag. Fork n Cork is flipping no profit here—just patties. It’s more important to Smith to have the item available for vegans and vegetarians, who otherwise might not have stepped foot inside his artisan burger joint, than it is to make money from the meatless wonder. Even as a self-proclaimed beef enthusiast, he was impressed with IB’s magic and ability to potentially be a game changer for the future of plant-based food.

When I learned Smith was forming the patties on the thick side to avoid them getting lost inside FnC’s brioche buns, I wanted to take a step back on the extensive garnishes this time around. I set my sights on the Lamb Burger (sub IB, of course) with feta, cucumbers, red onions, tomato, and housemade tzatziki. The garlicky white sauce and briny cheese were responsible for the prominent bursts of flavor; yet, suddenly, the well-crusted veg burger had a whole new attitude. The less complex combination of flavors and textures was light and refreshing, and I was able to witness the all-plant compound did, in fact, “bleed” pink. Though opting for less to dress it up does give diners more of a true-to-taste, plainer versions of the nonmeat meat showcase coconut oil mirroring the grease of a regular hamburger.

All in all, my short but sweet “impossible” journey can be summed up like this:  The first bite always resulted in “Wow!” Halfway through the meal, I was more inclined to say “meh” and reach for another onion ring. I was impressed with the overall edible experience and found it similar to that of a beef burger, just with a crumblier, less-salty product. As for our local establishments who have taken on the challenge, major kudos. It’s refreshing to see Wilmington’s chefs take a bold step in the direction of digging into their creative toolboxes for the often-overlooked vegetarian and vegan crowd.

My biggest takeaway? Surround the Impossible Burger with a fresh, fluffy bun and stellar toppings and likely never know the difference (other than the fact you don’t have to be wheelbarrowed back to your car).

Impossible Burger Hot Spots
Winnie’s Tavern
1895 Burnett Blvd.

Fork n Cork
122 Market St.

Epic Food Company
1113 Military Cutoff Rd.

Wrightsville Beach Brewery
6201 Oleander Dr.

Beach Bagels
7220 Wrightsville Ave.
5906 Oleander Dr.
5226 S. College Rd.

Ocean Grill and Tiki Bar
1211 S Lake Park Blvd.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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