Drop Bear veggie burger. Photo by Josiah Pensado.

Go Beyond the Impossible

The art of the homemade veggie burger is alive at these restaurants

The art of the homemade veggie burger is alive at these restaurants By Henry Houston

A pound of veggies might not equal a pound of flesh, but when mashed together and slapped on a grill, a veggie burger can be just as satisfying as its meaty sibling. 

Vegetarians, vegans or people who just want to cut down on the amount of meat they eat (you know, because of the health benefits and environmental pluses) usually have limited veggie burger options. Sometimes restaurants offer processed veggie burgers or a slab of portobello mushroom. Both great options, but the art of the fresh, in-house-made veggie burger is thriving in some Eugene restaurants. 

Chef Tiffany Norton of Party Bar has a veggie burger on the menu that for the most part has been perfected, experiencing only slight tweaks over time since it was first offered more than 12 years ago, back when the restaurant was a food cart. And she doesn’t mind sharing some of the (vegetarian) sausage-making because, as she says, no one in their right mind would go through this process in their home kitchen. 

Norton isn’t wrong that her recipe is complicated. It’s a long process of smoking cremini mushrooms, sauteing with onion, soaking with pinto beans, grinding it all in a grinder, baking and then a few more steps later ends up on a flat top grill in some garlic oil. 

“You don’t feel like you’re eating, like, a patty of refried beans,” Norton says. “The mushroom gives it a lot of texture.” 

Back when Norton was working on the veggie burger at Party Cart, Impossible and Beyond burgers weren’t available. And with an ethos of offering homemade foods at the cart, she says she didn’t want to rely on the mass produced veggie burgers that were around. 

But it took time. Norton says she struggled with the veggie burger and its texture, but looked to falafel for inspiration. With falafel, you have to soak chickpeas overnight, so she applied that to other beans, as well as grinding the beans, forming patties and then baking them. 

The basic veggie burger option at Party Bar comes with bread and butter pickled onions along with a cashew-based white tangy barbecue sauce that Norton says is similar to Alabama ranch — a mayonnaise-based horseradish sauce. 

And the burger can be dressed up with culinary creativity. Currently, the veggie burger special can be offered as a Nashville hot, filled with fried green tomatoes, garlicky aioli, shredded lettuce and dill pickled zucchini. 

Just a few blocks south of Party Bar is another restaurant where the art of the in-house veggie burger is alive. 

Staying true to its focus on in-house prepared dishes, Claim 52 Owner Mercy McDonald tells Eugene Weekly via email that the restaurant tried out the Beyond Meat patty, a pea protein-packed alternative, when it was first released but customers weren’t happy with it. “It was too much like meat and grossed people out,” she adds. 

Claim 52 has been experimenting with its veggie burgers. McDonald says they’ve tried out a mushroom-centric version, but the current black bean and quinoa blend is the most popular so far, offering a solid consistency and flavor and goes well with a variety of toppings and sauces. 

Making veggie burgers in-house takes more time for the kitchen than slapping a mass produced veggie patty on the grill, but McDonald says they can still offer the in-house veggie burger at a good price point and offer customers a whole food — which makes it OK to gorge on the tater tots.

To get a taste of a homemade veggie burger with a Down Under perspective doesn’t require a trip to Australia. Just go down south on Willamette Street to Drop Bear Brewery. 

Drop Bear Brewery owners Lorraine and David Lehane are vegans and have firsthand experience of what it’s like eating at restaurants where plant-based alternatives are an afterthought. So they made sure their restaurant embraces veganism, from its in-house brewed beers to their veggie burgers. 

The Drop Bear veggie burger is a black bean- and mushroom-based patty, along with secret spices, Lorraine says. “We wanted something that’s full of flavor but doesn’t fall apart when you bite into it. And something that people will keep coming back for.”

Being from Australia, both Lorraine and David say they were surprised with how American restaurants throw so much sauce on a meat or plant patty. Typical burgers in America are spiced with salt and pepper and then have some sort of sauce on it — whether that’s a ketchup, mayonnaise or a thousand island-like sauce — but Drop Bear Brewery follows the Australian method. 

“We have a tendency to put spices on it,” Lorraine says, hinting at a secret blend of spices but keeping the recipe secret. “You can eat our black bean burger on its own and it would be very flavorful.” 

Since opening last year, Drop Bear Brewery is working to become a hotspot for vegans. The restaurant is still working on increasing its in-house made veggie burger offerings — possibly one in the near future that’s lighter and quinoa-based. 

“We’re getting known in the vegan community,” Lorraine says. “We’ve had so many people come in and go, ‘Oh, we didn’t even know you were here.’”

Party Bar is at 55 W. Broadway. Open 4-9 pm Wednesday and Sunday, 4-10 pm Thursday through Saturday. PartyEugene.com

Claim 52 Brewing is at 1203 Willamette Street, hours are noon to 9 pm Sunday through Wednesday, 11 am to 9 pm Thursday through Saturday. Claim52Brewing.com

Drop Bear Brewery is 2690 Willamette Street. Hours are 4-9 pm Wednesday and Thursday, 4-10 pm Friday, noon-10 pm Saturday, and noon to 8 pm Sunday; closed Monday and Tuesday.