Finally, a mainstream restaurant chain has taken a step toward embracing the dietary choices of vegetarians and vegans.
And, lucky us, it’s not just any old restaurant chain — it’s the world’s largest.
After a lengthy campaign from the good folks over at Compassion Over Killing, Subway announced last week that eight of their Washington, DC area restaurants would be testing out three new subs.
The Malibu Greek, the Italian Black Bean, and the Sweet Riblet are their names, and these new subs aren’t just vegetarian — they’re 100% vegan.
Why this matters
It happens to us all.
Even the most prepared of vegetarians will find themselves five hours into a long car ride, or sitting in the airport looking for something to eat besides a wilted salad and a roll. Most of us prepare by bringing snacks, homemade sandwiches, or following tips for traveling as a vegan, but sometimes the only option is to grab something on the road.
Finally, there’s a glimmer of hope from a major chain. That’s why Subway’s test, of just three subs in just eight locations in just one city, matters.
Subway is the world’s largest restaurant chain, with over 25,000 restaurants in the United States alone. In overall revenue, Subway places second, behind only McDonald’s, among fast food chains.
To put into perspective what having these options in a restaurant chain this large would mean for vegan eaters, let’s look at what the current options are. Here is the breakdown of available main menu items in the top three fast food chains.
McDonald’s: Side Salad (hold the cheese). Yup, that’s it folks.
Subway (in all but the test locations): Veggie Delight on select vegan breads. This is a sub that consists of only veggies.
Burger King: Side Salad (hold the cheese) and french fries.
Many health-conscious vegans will thumb their noses at sub made with a processed vegan patty. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t typically eat this way. But we’re talking about fast food, convenient food, the kind of food you eat when you have no another choice. Or, every so often, when you just want something that tastes like fast food did back when you used to eat it.
The Compassion Over Killing campaign, We Love Subway, was vocal, and Subway was listening. Making vegan options like these readily available at nearly every major interstate exit would not only make our lifestyle more available to a larger community, but would compel other restaurants to react. Times, well they are a changin’, and restaurants are finally starting to change along with them.
But how do they taste?
Now for the fun part: a review of the subs. Before we get started, let me make one thing clear. When I say something was “really tasty,” or “not so bad,” I’m making these statements with the understanding that we’re talking about fast food.
The plan was to order a 6-inch version of all three vegan subs to split between myself and my fiancée. I ordered all three exactly the same way: on Italian bread, with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers.
1. Malibu Greek
This was by far my favorite of the three subs. Dubbed as the only organic option (I can only assume they were referring to the patty only, not the vegetables), this sub was light, refreshing, and flavorful.
After biting into the once fried, falafel-like patty, you are able to both see and clearly taste all the herbs and finely chopped veggies that make it up.
For the anti-soy folks out there, you’ll be happy to know that organic brown rice, water, organic corn, organic carrots, organic onions, organic green peppers, organic rolled oats, and organic red bell peppers all come before any mention of soy protein on the ingredients list.
2. Italian Black Bean
This one is basically a spicy black bean veggie patty cut in half and added to a sub. To be honest, I have no idea what makes it “Italian.” While not bad, this sub leaves something to be desired.
I typically don’t mind black bean patties, and I’ll often suggest them when someone else is buying veggie options for a cookout. But throwing one on some bread isn’t exactly my idea of a delicious footlong. Subway has a decent idea here; it’s just executed poorly.
As far as the ingredients go, black beans and brown rice top this ingredients list, with soy coming in third.
3. Sweet Riblet
In the “tastes like meat” category, this sub actually scores pretty highly. In the “fresh, whole foods” category, it finished somewhere in the back of the pack.
When the Subway Sandwich Artists made this sub for me, I was immediately turned off by the process. The worker pulled out a sealed plastic bag of “riblet” drenched in sauce and threw it in the microwave. After a minute or two of heating, he slapped it on the bread and loaded up the toppings. From the beginning, the pile of brown slob did not look appetizing.
But — I grew up in the south and have always loved the taste of BBQ sauce. And this sub had plenty of it. The texture of the “meat” was a bit chewy, but it did in fact resemble (what I remember to be) ribs. The flavor of the sauce combined with the fake rib taste actually worked.
This one won’t appeal to those who don’t like the taste or texture of meat (or things named “riblet”), but could work for those in transition to a plant-based diet, or for the meat-eater looking for something different than the typical Subway sub.
As expected, it was clear that Subway is new to this whole process. When I approached the counter and asked the worker which breads were vegan, the woman making the subs looked at me like I was a total nut.
Thankfully I knew a few of them were vegan (Roasted Garlic, Sourdough, Light Wheat English Muffin, Hearty Italian and Hearty Italian White), so this wasn’t a big deal. What probably would be, to most vegetarians, is that workers’ gloves were not changed out between meat and non-meat subs, and I even think they used the same knife. Make sure you request that they change or wash them when you order if that’s a deal-breaker for you.
The woman at the register told me that Subway is planning to choose one of the three options for national distribution. I would gladly take any of these options over the current Veggie Delight, and would be very pleased just to know that Subway has another vegan item on their menu.
I can only hope that the test run here in the DC area goes smoothly, so the next time I’m stuck deep within the depths of nowhere Pennsylvania in need of a 12 inch meal, I’m not trying to piece together something from a dirty gas station’s convenience store.
Where you can find Subway’s vegan subs
Here are eight locations that are currently testing the vegan subs. If you’re in the area, get out there and give them a try, to let Subway know how much we appreciate what they’re doing.
555 13th St NW, Washington, DC 20005 — 202-347-4616
455 Massachusetts Ave, NW (1st Floor) Washington, DC 20001 — 202-638-0348
550 First St., NW, Washington, DC 20001 — 202-661-6639
8145 Main St, Ellicott City, MD 21043 — 410-418-4330
5520 Research Park Dr, #107, Catonsville, MD 21228 — 410-455-5222
300 Sentinel Dr, #100, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701 — 301-490-6553
320 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314 — 703-879-4321
2361 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria, VA 22314 — 703-879-4321
Top photo courtesy Compassion Over Killing.