THE GREAT SANDWICH renaissance of the last couple years has been more than generous to us meat-eaters: Bunk's pork belly; Kenny and Zuke's pastrami; Meat Cheese Bread's flank steak; Lardo's porchetta; and Big-Ass Sandwiches' big-ass piles of flesh. That isn't to say that these eateries haven't thrown the less savage among us a bone (or, you know, the cruelty-free equivalent). Most of these places have at least a vegetarian option or two—but I can't help but think that Portland's legion of vegetarians and vegans have felt a little left out.
And then comes Brass Tacks Sandwiches.
Not to say there aren't a great many meat-and-cheese-free delicacies in this town—Brass Tacks clearly isn't reinventing the wheel—but there's something to be said for a sheet of crisp brown butcher paper ripped from the spool and wrapped around a split roll that can hardly contain its fillings.
The daily menu at Brass Tacks features four solid meat options—roast beef, maple-glazed ham, Genoa salami, and oven-roasted turkey—but what sets them apart is that right-hand column of vegan items. Admittedly, to my mind, there's no real substitute for meat on a sandwich, but these substitutions come close. I was especially impressed by the agave-smoked "ham" that came on my Velveeta Underground (a ciabatta roll adorned with smoky cashew "gouda," caramelized onion, Dijon, aioli, and lettuce). The "ham" was made from seitan (wheat gluten), and had surprising tang; it took on a lot of the agave flavor.
The Captain Nemo is a faux-meatball sub served on a Fleur De Lis French roll with a house-made marinara, garlic aioli, and basil chiffonade. The "meatballs" are made from white beans, and though the flavor is all their own, the texture replicates its carnivorous counterpart pretty well. I added pickles and caramelized onions to the sub (they're happy to let you add any vegetables or condiments you fancy for no extra charge). I can't say that part of me wasn't longing for some melted mozzarella, but ultimately it was a more than satisfying meal.
If I were just planning to pick up a roast beef sandwich, it'd be hard for me to pass up Chop's just a few blocks away, but Brass Tacks certainly holds its own. The meat is juicy and tender, but the real winner is their spiced tomato jam, which I'll be looking into getting a jar of. It also comes with a balsamic reduction sauce, Dijon, mushrooms, red onions, lettuce, pepperoncinis, and pickles.
All sandwiches are $7.99 and come with a small pile of potato chips just greasy enough to stain that brown butcher paper. In addition to the set menu and the build-your-own options, they seem to have a pretty healthy rotation of specials. On a recent visit, they were serving up a spicy pulled pork, and on my next visit I'm hoping to try a roasted beet sandwich with mint pesto, toasted almond, and garlic potato spread.
So: A vegan restaurant that was funded through a Kickstarter campaign and some indie-rock benefit shows, who counts on a base of bike commuters coming up and down the N. Vancouver/Williams thoroughfare. Whether that sounds quintessentially or nauseatingly "Portland" to you is probably something of a Rorschach test. But whether you're embracing or ignoring that spirit, you'll eat a pretty damn good sandwich.