The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

On The Table

June 5, 2013

Vegging out: Meatless entrees featured in seven-course dinner

Maybe it was the prospect of a seven-course meal with no animal products on the menu. Or maybe it was a sense of adventure, to see what kind of spin Instant Karma owner Jason Miller could put on some favorite dishes.
Whatever the reason, the restaurant at 527 S. Main St. had a full house Sunday evening for its first-ever vegan beer dinner.
 

High demand

"We've always had vegan and vegetarian items on the menu since the day we opened," said Miller. "We tried a vegan week four or five months ago, and it was so popular we decided to take it to the next level with a beer dinner, which we've been doing for a while.
"Interestingly, this one sold out in about two weeks. We're typically still selling tickets on the last day."
Miller said he created a menu that he would like to serve, then began researching ways to make each item vegan.
 

Beer pairings

Representatives from Mother's Brewing Company made the trip from Springfield to pair the food with a beer they felt would complement the flavor of each course. The beer, Miller said, is also vegan.
Globe staff writers Scott Meeker (who is always open to meat substitutes) and Joe Hadsall (a carnivore and confirmed skeptic when it comes to things such as beans and mushrooms) were in attendance and shared their thoughts on each course.
 

First course: Foie gras lollipop

Served on sticks, the "foie gras" is actually made from ground up portabella mushrooms, truffle oil, onions and vegan butter. Miller used agar agar -- a vegetable protein -- to help it set. It's served upon a plate of Pop Rocks candy.
Scott: I really don't have any frame of reference for this because I've never had real foie gras. But it's interesting. It does have a meaty flavor, and the Pop Rocks are a unique ... wait, are you actually scraping up all the Pop Rocks to eat?
Joe: Yes. They are Pop Rocks, and they are delicious. The foie gras itself reminds me of a savory pudding -- it has a creamy, earthy flavor. But Pop Rocks with every bite turn it into a sort of carbonated soda, and that helped me out tremendously. I categorically detest mushrooms, so this will likely be one of the rougher items for me to finish.
 

Second course: Bacon-wrapped Brussels sprouts

The "bacon," says Miller, is made from azuki beans, combined with buckwheat, liquid smoke and real maple syrup. They are served with a vegan peanut sauce.
Scott: The Brussels sprouts are perfectly roasted, and the "bacon" has a nice, smoky flavor to it.
Joe: Agreed. That was good fake bacon. The outer leaves of the roasted sprouts had a flavor that reminded me of sushi, and the peanut sauce tied everything together really well.
 

Salad: Carrot and zucchini noodle salad

One of our table mates, Mike Schmitz, is at the dinner as what he calls "an unofficial ambassador" for Mother's. He tries the salad and remarks that the almonds taste a lot like Cheerios. This prompts a lengthy discussion about favorite breakfast cereals. Honey Nut Cheerios are a favorite, and Joe loves the marshmallows in Lucky Charms. But back to the dinner.
Scott: This one is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It has a soy milk base, and is really light and refreshing.
Joe: Absolutely. I'm always intrigued by salads with no lettuce, and this one was delicious. Still, I couldn't help thinking during the dinner that the salad would have tasted even better slathered on a rib-eye.
Scott: The Farmhouse Ale goes really well with this dish, because both have light flavors that complement one another.
Joe: I've never had a beer with cucumber in it before. But it makes perfect sense. And just think: With a little dill, it could be a pickle beer.
Scott: Fun fact: During Columbia Trader's heyday, Joe was known by the staff there as "Pickle Man."
 

Soup: White gazpacho

The dish is made with soy milk, almonds, cucumbers and grape slices.
Scott: It's thick, but still light, if that makes any sense. It's like the most refreshing bowl of Malt-O-Meal I've ever had.
Joe: It amazed me how much difference the grapes made, and it makes me wish there were more grapes in it. The gazpacho's mealy texture took on a completely different character with the grape, unlike the cucumber. Overall, a surprisingly good dish. I'd make this alongside a flat iron steak. Or chicken. It would go really well with chicken.
 

Fish: Lobster roll Napoleon

Presented like a traditional lobster roll, the "lobster" is actually hypomyces lactifluorum, also known as the "lobster mushroom."
Scott: This is the first dish where I would have been completely fooled if I didn't know any better. It has a seafood-like consistency and flavor to it.
Joe: While it wouldn't fool me, the flavor was interesting. It reminded me of a lighter-tasting olive salad, yet had those strong seafood notes. But I could still taste the mushrooms, and mushrooms and I don't exactly get along.
Scott: By the way, Joe, the upcoming main course is made from something called "chicken of the woods." Here's a picture of it I found on Wikipedia. What do you think?
Joe: Ugh. It looks like that tree is sneezing. We're going to eat that?
 

Main course: Southern fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy

The "chicken" is an edible mushroom known as laetiporus. It has been sauteed in vegan butter and poultry seasoning, dipped in vegan buttermilk and a flour mixture, then fried. The gravy has been made from the pan drippings.
Scott: Texture-wise, it reminds me a lot of chicken. But it still tastes like mushroom to me. There's nothing wrong with that, but I couldn't see actually substituting chicken with this if that's what I was craving.
Joe: So, this is the "chicken of the woods?" In terms of texture, it's one of the most meat-like mushrooms I've ever tasted, but that's not saying a lot, because I avoid eating mushrooms like most people avoid eating fungus.
The frying gave it a crispy chicken skin-like texture that made it easier to enjoy. Still, I drenched every bite in the gravy, which helped cover up the earthy mushroom flavor. I loved the vegan potatoes, too. I would serve those alongside bourbon and brown sugar marinated tri-tip steaks.
 

Dessert: Sweet eggs Benedict

An absolute marvel in terms of presentation. Served on a small pastry with a red chocolate, the "egg" is actually made with a sweetened coconut milk and blended mangoes. Not only does it look like it should, the "yolk" actually runs when you cut into it.
Scott: This is fabulous. I know a lot of work probably went into the presentation, but this should be a permanent menu item.
Joe: What a perfect dessert. From the mango yolk to the icing drizzled across the plates, these looked as good as they tasted.
Scott: Again, a perfect pairing with the beer. The Foggy Notion has a sweet aftertaste that goes well with the dish.
Joe: I wasn't so high on the beer here. I didn't get that sweet aftertaste -- the overpowering brandy aroma and flavor washed away all the yummy mango too quickly.

Final thoughts

Scott: The absence of meat didn't bother me a bit. While I'm not a vegan, my recent push to try and find healthier alternatives dovetailed nicely with this menu. The portion sizes were perfect. After seven courses, I expected to be feeling stuffed, but this was exactly the right amount of food.
Joe: Did this convert me to a vegan diet? Not even close. But that wasn't Jason's mission with this dinner. I had reservations about this dinner because vegan entrees use a lot of beans and mushrooms, two foods I detest. But I trust Jason, and he didn't disappoint me. I cleaned my plate after every course.
While I never would order some of these entrees again, it has shown me that vegan eaters still have a vibrant variety of flavors available, so the entrees aren't as boring as I might have thought.

Dinner scenes

Lauren Bynum (green) takes a picture of her serving Sunday as she dines with (left to right) Bruce Akuna, Melanie Akuna, Constance Everitt and Kalani Akuna.
Globe | Joe Hadsall

Dinner scenes

Almost 50 people attended Sunday's vegan beer dinner at Instant Karma.
Globe | Joe Hadsall

Dinner scenes

Servings of lobster rolls Napoleon await diners during Sunday's vegan beer dinner at Instant Karma.
Globe | Joe Hadsall

Dinner scenes

Under the glow of heat lamps, Jason Millier, owner of Instant Karma, delivers plates of vegan Southern fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy.
Globe | Joe Hadsall

Dinner scenes

Jason Miller assembles the meal's final course, an animal free interpretation of eggs Benedict. Mangoes and coconut milk were used to simulate a fried egg.
Globe | Joe Hadsall

Dinner scenes

Each course in the vegan beer dinner was paired with a beer from Mother's Brewery. Though not all beers are animal-free, brewery officials said the recipes selected for the dinner were all vegan, including one flavored with cucumbers.
Globe | Joe Hadsall

Dinner scenes

Kolourz Voss pours samples of Foggy Notion, a beer from Mother's Brewery, served for dessert.
Globe | Joe Hadsall

Dinner scenes

Mike Schmitz, of Springfield, takes a picture of one of the vegan courses in Sunday's seven-course vegan beer dinner.
Globe | Joe Hadsall

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