Though he’s enjoyed careers in higher education, psychotherapy and construction, Ray McMackin’s true passions have always been beer and vegan food. At his new gastropub, The Beer Plant, McMackin finally has the opportunity to make a living off those things.
“I’ve been eating vegan for 35 years, vegetarian for 45 years, and I’ve probably been drinking beer for about 50 years,” McMackin said. “So I’m combining my two biggest passions with this project.”
The Beer Plant offers a full menu of vegan appetizers, entrées and desserts as well as an extensive craft cocktail menu and over 40 beers on tap. The menu items are the result of collaboration between McMackin and vegan chef Lou Mustachio. McMackin said the process of getting The Beer Plant open this year was a multi-year process of full-time planning.
“I had a particularly steep learning curve, because I had never worked in the food industry before,” McMackin said. “Thankfully we brought together a great staff with a solid background in food to get this on the right track.”
The Beer Plant’s mission is to help mainstream plant-based eating and make vegan food approachable for everyone. McMackin attracts non-vegans to his restaurant by making a point of offering supple meals that will satisfy an adult’s hunger.
"We want to have food that’s very tasty and hearty,” McMackin said. “We don’t want to be scaring people off with light servings of rabbit food.
The food at The Beer Plant is satisfying in a way that vegan food usually isn’t for omnivores. The menu’s indisputable highlight, the buffalo cauliflower wing basket, is a dish that’s become popular among vegans and vegetarians over the past couple of years but has been perfected by the folks at The Beer Plant. A generous breading, house-made buffalo sauce and nut-based bleu cheese dip all come together to get these hunks of cauliflower as close to the flavor of a real chicken wing as humanly possible.
A more ambitious menu item is the vegan take on a gyro. The slices of lamb meat are replaced with garlic rosemary seitan and topped with a combination of fresh vegetables and house-made tzatziki sauce. This vegan gyro is a tasty sandwich, but it doesn’t really exhibit similar flavor to an actual gyro. The smokiness and garlic in the seitan stawnd out far past the other ingredients, making it clear that you’re not really eating a gyro.
While the seitan and tofu used in various dishes are undoubtedly tasty, The Beer Plant really shines when it uses firm vegetables as a meat substitute instead of a nut or soy-based product.
The reubenesque, which is their take on a reuben sandwich, is a particularly good example of this. The chunks of smoked portobello work as an exceptional substitute for meat, and they are perfectly complemented by the sauerkraut and tomato chutney included in the sandwich. Again, it doesn’t really taste like a reuben when all is said and done, but it still makes great use of a powerful mix of flavors.
The sides, while admittedly simple, are also done The Beer Plant’s healthier way. The fries, which are fried in sunflower oil, have a great fresh taste and ideal crunchy-to-soft ratio. What really puts them over the top, though, is the housemade ketchup that comes with them. The flavor of freshly pureed tomato tastes much better on a fry than any processed ketchup I’ve tried in my day.
The Beer Plant does a good job of making vegan food accessible for vegans and carnivores alike. The carefully planned menu, relaxing atmosphere and sizable alcohol selection make this a great spot for grabbing your weekly plant-based meal.