Published On: Thu, Jun 21st, 2018

What does The Star’s restaurant critic think of A&W’s new veggie burger?

Pink juices leak from A&W Canada’s new veggie burger.

The decidedly realistic patty, made from legumes and stained by beets, will be rolled out across Canada July 9.

Meatless Beyond Burger at A&W Canada, supplied by U.S. company Beyond Meat, available July 9 across Canada.
Meatless Beyond Burger at A&W Canada, supplied by U.S. company Beyond Meat, available July 9 across Canada.  (NO CREDIT)

The Beyond Burger, $ 6.99, uses plant-based patties from Beyond Meats, a Los Angeles company in which Leonardo DiCaprio and Bill Gates have invested.

It is Beyond Meat’s first foray into Canada, although a company spokesperson confirmed some patties have “leaked” into Toronto’s Summerhill Market.

Beyond Meat aims to replicate America’s 80/20 ground beef, which contains 80 per cent lean meat and 20 per cent fatty. That lands somewhere close to Canada’s standard for medium ground beef, defined by a maximum fat content of 23 per cent. (Lean is a maximum of 17 per cent.)

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The A&W patty is custom made, 3 ounces instead of the 4-ounce Beyond Meat supermarket version. The raw ingredients were laid out at a press event yesterday like an altar to the goddess Ceres: mung beans, brown rice, peas, sunflowers, potatoes, halved pomegranates and cracked coconuts.

The patty is meant to emulate every aspect of a beef burger, including the sound it makes while cooking.

“When the samples came in I thought ‘Yeah, right.’ Then I heard it sizzle on the grill,” says Kathleen McGuire, director of A&W’s North Vancouver-based test kitchen.

That’s all well and good but how does a Beyond Burger taste?

Two words: Just. Right.

The texturized patty is seared, like all A&W burgers, on a 360F griddle and sprinkled with paprika-based seasoning mix. Then it’s slid into a toasted sesame bun with iceburg lettuce, red onion, tomato, pickles and ketchup. Mayonnaise appears twice, once on its own on the top bun and again when mixed with mustard on the bottom bun.

The patty has just the right amount of fat — nobody wants a dry burger — due to coconut, sunflower and Canadian canola oils. The nubbly texture, arguably the hardest part of a meat-less burger to replicate, is pretty accurate; none of the competition’s soy or gluten here.

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As someone who remembers A&W carhops, the veggie burger is a pleasing mix of familiar toppings with cutting-edge fake meat. It’s not interchangeable with the Mama burger I later eat for comparison, but with a cold mug of root beer, the Beyond Burger does the trick.

A&W’s Susan Senecal said she expects the burger to have broad appeal.

“I’ve already eaten nine,” said the newly appointed president and chief executive officer.

Beyond Meat founder and CEO Ethan Brown said when Chicago’s eight-location chain Epic Burger adopted the patty, it soon counted for 12 per cent of sales.

Whatever the financial outcome, the Beyond Burger is a welcome replacement for A&W’s current veggie patty, a rubbery disc of rice and mushrooms.

Amy Pataki is a Toronto-based restaurant critic and reporter covering all things hospitality. Follow her on Twitter: @amypataki

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What does The Star’s restaurant critic think of A&W’s new veggie burger?