Practically any Western New York restaurant has something they can offer vegetarians. At Merge (439 Delaware Ave., 842-0600), it’s the other way around. Meat is found in a few menu choices, if you look, like the coq au vin. But the rest of the menu lets herbivores graze comfortably.
One of the crossover threats – amenable to meat-eaters and veggie types alike – is the seitan wings ($7). Seitan is wheat gluten, a component of wheat flour, easily made into a dough that can become a favorite mock-meat foundation for many Asian dishes. At Merge, it’s transformed into a vegan spin on Buffalo’s classic appetizer.
There, wheat gluten is seasoned with celery and onion and formed into a firm dough that can be cooked, cut and deep-fried into a toothsome golden brown snack. Its surface readily takes on the flavors of Frank’s Hot Sauce, barbecue sauce or other applications. Served with housemade vegan ranch dressing, made with silken tofu and a tangy celery carrot slaw, it is hunks of chewy, meatlike goodness without any animal involvement.
“It’s like chicken, actually, except it’s not stringy,” said chef Karl Derry. Lots of people who order it a second time are confirmed meat fans, he added.
“It’s one of our staples. We sell it like crazy,” said Derry. “We’re constantly making it every day, so it’s always fresh when you get it.”
– Andrew Z. Galarneau