When James “Macky” Moberly started getting serious about the food at the Essex Street Pub (530 Rhode Island St.) in 2012, meat was the main attraction.
He crafted a smoker he calls Count Smoke-U-La, and used it to turn out barbecue such as baby back ribs and a house pastrami used in the popular PLT sandwich. Essex Street Pub’s hamburger was named best in Buffalo by Buffalo Spree, an honor shared with Soho Burger Bar.
Moberly soon realized he was getting a lot of questions from regular customers about vegetarian and vegan possibilities. “We get a lot of the two-wheelers around here, and they tend to be a little more conscious of what they’re eating,” Moberly said.
From the day he opened his rebuilt kitchen, there’s been a vegan offering to go with the beer. In May, that search for meatless satisfaction led him to the vegan club, a sandwich of crispy tofu fillet, smoked fresh coconut and housemade garlic tomato mustard sauce, served on toasted sourdough.
Moberly doesn’t pretend to have been struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration. “I pretty much saw it on the television and re-created it,” he said. “Trial and error with the marinade, and the sauce, and it turned out pretty good.”
All it needed was a few photos posted by vegan fans on Facebook, and it “took off,” he said. “It’s died down a bit but still selling steady.”
Moberly takes extra-firm tofu and presses it to extract water. Then thick slices are marinated in limeade, chili powder and cilantro for more flavor.
The quarter-pound soybean slab gets tossed in cornstarch and pan-fried to a crisp, “almost like a fish filet,” he said. It never touches the grill where pastrami is crisped and burgers charred.
The vegan club is topped with “fakon,” Moberly’s term for smoked coconut that adds a smoky, savory touch. To make it, fresh coconuts are broken open, their flesh extracted and reduced to strips with a vegetable peeler. Then it’s seasoned with salt, pepper and brown sugar before being smoked over hardwood until browned. The result is “sort of halfway between crunchy and chewy.”
Turns out a barbecue cooker can serve vegans, too.
For info, call 883-2150 or visit www.essexstreetpub.com.
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Foodie Find: Buffalo Brewers Festival, 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Canalside. Taste the work of 30 craft brewers while enjoying live music from The Steam Donkeys and other bands. Regular tickets $40. VIP tickets, including dinner of roasted heritage hog with sides by Osteria 166, $75. More info here.