Can the Impossible Burger Win Over Chicago?
By Moira Lawler / November 2, 2017 9:00 am

In theory, Chicago is the last place for a meatless burger.

We like our meat, thank you very much. It’s our best stereotype — which makes us precisely the crowd Impossible Foods wants to win over.

If you’re not familiar with the Impossible Burger, it’s about time you acquaint yourself. It’s the Silicon Valley creation that looks like meat, tastes like meat and even bleeds like meat … but isn’t actually meat.

Just don’t call it a veggie burger.

Impossible Burger

“Veggie burgers are basically vegetables put together in burger form, and this is a really different approach,” says Jessica Appelgren, VP of Communications at Impossible Foods, the company behind the burger. “The Impossible Burger is basically meat reverse-engineered at the molecular level to really understand what makes it meaty, and then recreated from plants.”

It took about five years for scientists, chefs and farmers to perfect this so-called “impossible” burger. The a-ha moment? Figuring out that the protein heme is what makes meat taste meaty, and — the real clincher — it’s found in plants, too.

So what they’ve done is mix heme with other ingredients like wheat, coconut oil and potatoes to do the impossible: form a meat-free burger that’s like the real thing, minus the environmental blow. The folks at Impossible Foods say the burgers use 95 percent less land, 74 percent less water and produce 87 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional beef burgers.


Bareburger

But here’s the thing: even though the burger qualifies as vegan, Appelgren says it’s not really intended for vegans. “They’re kind of turned off by it because they’ve limited their intake of that flavor profile, so it’s kind of jarring to them,” Appelgren says.

It’s more for carnivores (of which Chicago’s got about 2.5 million). “Since day one, we only wanted to launch with restaurants and chefs that were absolutely meat-centric,” Appelgren says.

Hence why it’s now being offered at a handful of burger joints around Chicago — plus the University of Chicago, which is the first school to offer it. Each place sources the patty and then puts their own spin on it. Your correspondent tried it at Kuma’s Corner, the legendary burger palace known for being very much not vegan.

“Times are changing for sure, and there are a lot more vegans and vegetarians out there,” says Ron Cain, president of Kuma’s Corner, of their decision to offer it. “We’re just trying to adapt with the times and to honor a lot of the metal bands we know are vegan,” he says.


Impossible Burger

Kuma’s Converge burger, named after the band Converge, blows out the vegan-ness. It’s topped with vegan cheddar cheese and vegan roasted garlic mayo, along with cherry tomato jam, avocado mash, baby arugula and red onion. If anything, you’ve gotta appreciate how the kitchen gave the Impossible Burger the same amount of thought as other burgers on the menu, with the inventive toppings and a six-ounce patty that stands up to the big vegan pretzel bun.

I was shocked at how much the burger looked and felt like meat. It wasn’t like a crumbly veggie burger at all: it really did taste, well, meaty. If I didn’t know better, I still probably would have guessed I was eating a regular beef burger, though I have to attribute most of that to the toppings.

Like Kuma’s, Bareburger also decided to keep its version of The Impossible Burger vegan. In the non-vegan corner, M Burger is serving it as a cheeseburger with their signature mayo-based sauce, and Umami Burger’s take has two patties with American cheese, miso-mustard and a house sauce. 

As for how it’s been received? My server at Kuma’s said she’s gotten a lot of orders since launching, and Appelgren says Umami Burger’s is the most popular burger on their menu right now.

So much for that stereotype.

Main Photo: Umami Burger