Tempeh is tricky. The brick of fermented soybeans has a nutty, mushroomy flavor that needs a good amount of seasoning to override. Also, tempeh is high in fiber, relatively low in fat and has zero cholesterol, which makes it pretty much the opposite of bacon. Nonetheless, it is frequently cut into strips, soaked in marinade and used as vegetarian bacon. Here are two tempeh takes on the BLT.
Restaurant: Main Street Deli
Name: Northender Veggie BLT
Description: Tempeh bacon, kale pesto, Idaho heirloom tomatoes, green goddess dressing.
Presentation: Wrapped in a straightjacket of white butcher paper, sliced in half and wound in another layer of paper, this hefty sandwich is an eat-half-now, eat-the-rest-later meal. It's also geared toward those on the run: It came flying out of the kitchen a few short minutes after I ordered it.
Bread: Fluffy white sourdough from Gaston's Bakery, untoasted.
Tempeh: Lightly smoked, organic Tofurkey-brand tempeh, sliced in quarter-inch strips and served in a single layer.
Toppings: Loaded with mixed greens and a few thick slices of pale tomato, this meal has the healthy crunch of a hybrid salad-sandwich.
Spread: The vibrant green goddess dressing is made with mayo, yogurt, sour cream and tarragon, with a little spinach thrown in for extra color.
Extras: A garlicky vegan pesto flecked with pine nuts, kale and lemon juice.
Verdict: Props for creating a vegetarian sandwich that magically feels healthy and filling at the same time. Points deducted for untoasted bread. More points deducted for the kale pesto's raw garlic bite, which helped me ward off vampires well into the evening.
Restaurant: 10 Barrel
Name: Tempeh TLT (BLT Style)
Description: Smoked tempeh, oven-roasted tomatoes, arugula, green goddess spread, Acme Bakeshop focaccia bread.
Presentation: Served on a square slice of focaccia, 10 Barrel's TLT appears more modest than Main Street Deli's, at first blush. Slivers of oven-roasted tomato and wisps of arugula drape down the sides of the large hunk of tempeh. It comes with a pile of french fries on the side.
Bread: The rich, rosemary-studded focaccia from Acme is barely charred on its white underbelly, leaving a pleasant crunch that stands up to the tempeh.
Tempeh: Soaked in a balsamic marinade and smoked in-house, it has a nutty, slightly loose texture and smoky flavor that lingers like great barbecue.
Toppings: The roasted tomatoes have a bright, lightly lemon flavor but could use more salt. The arugula provides a peppery bite but not much texture.
Spread: 10 Barrel's super creamy green goddess spread is packed with sour cream, parsley and basil. It has a mild tang and is liberally applied.
Extras: The side of crisp french fries were a welcome addition.
Verdict: Mega props for smoking the tempeh in-house—it imparts a meaty flavor that just can't be mimicked. Though focaccia is a decadent bread choice for an already rich meal, this was, by far, the most satisfying vegetarian sandwich I've ever had. Despite my moderate intentions, I wolfed down the whole thing.
WINNER:10 Barrel. Main Street Deli makes a stand-out veggie version—packed with plenty of zip and crunch—in a town that frequently overlooks vegetarians, but 10 Barrel's smoky, meaty sandwich appeals to herbivores and carnivores, alike.