Heard on the Hill

Try a little fake blood with your Jazz in the Garden

If it looks, tastes and smells like meat, it might not be meat

Jazz in the Garden is a summer standby in Washington, but it’s not above a little meatless improv. (Kathryn Lyons/CQ Roll Call)

Granite and concrete edifices aren’t the only art on display this summer at the Sculpture Garden. When you head to Jazz in the Garden at the National Gallery on Friday, look for a trendy, glistening newcomer: the Impossible Burger.

It looks like meat and smells like meat. The middle is convincingly pink. Bring a bib: It bleeds a little.

Even if you don’t agree it’s a work of art, you can’t deny it’s a work of science. The beefless burger, which requires more of an empirical explanation than I have the Ph.D. for, is a product of Impossible Foods.

“Heme is what makes meat taste like meat … our plant-based heme is made via fermentation of genetically engineered yeast” is what the company’s website says of their juicy miracle. Throw in a few more science experiments, and you have a new alternative for vegetarians, vegans and anyone feeling a little “adventurous.” 

The culinary team at the gallery, however, is more focused on the sizzle than the science. “The chef, Edward Verber, had tried it … and found it to be a great addition to a grill menu because it’s something that can be grilled and holds its taste and texture,” explains Johanna Kearns, general manager of the Pavilion Café, which gets especially busy on summer Fridays for the ever-popular free concerts in the Sculpture Garden.

impossible-burger
Beef? Think again. It’s a teriyaki Impossible Burger on a brioche bun, topped with pineapple chutney. (Courtesy Pavilion Café)

While the decision to add the newest menu item was a practical one, it also has a personal flavor. The teriyaki seasoning was influenced by former Pavilion Café chef Anita Cheong, whose Southeast Asian roots also inspired dishes like Asian chicken salad and Thai chicken flatbread.

The Pavilion Café has featured a vegetarian option for several years, but not because garden-goers are predominantly plant people. “The pulled pork sandwich outsells the vegetarian burger, of whatever sort we have, by about five to one,” explained Kearns. The menu also features other meat options like a beef brisket sandwich and banh mi turkey burger.

What about the latest buzz surrounding an Impossible Burger shortage due to an increase in demand? (Thanks, Burger King.) It poses a slight pickle for the Pavilion Café, but it’s not really a big dill. “We have a backup burger called the Beyond Burger … with the same teriyaki flavor,” reassures Kearns.

Sink your teeth into the unknown Friday evening, as the band Futurist plays Jazz in the Garden. Or try the Impossible Burger wherever esoteric plant-based items are sold — or more specifically, at these 30 D.C.-area restaurants.

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