City Paper is not for tourists
The Dish: Vegan Shrimp
Where to Get It: Smoke and Barrel, 2471 18th St. NW
What It Is: A vegan version of popcorn shrimp. Instead of using actual crustaceans, Chef Logan McGear blends cooked root vegetables like parsnips and sweet potatoes with sea kelp, and binds the ingredients together with vegan mayonnaise. He molds the mashed vegetables into the shape of shrimp, which are then dressed in a Victory Prima Pils beer batter and deep fried. Each “shrimp” must be fried separately or else they stick together and form a clump. It’s a labor-intensive process, but the result is rather miraculous. Not only do fried the veggies resemble fried shrimp and taste a little briney thanks to the addition of sea kelp, but the texture is a match. And like real shrimp, the vegetable equivalent pairs perfectly with cocktail sauce.
The Story: McGear is known for creating vegan versions of traditional BBQ fare, like chicken wings, chili, and spare ribs. He has even made vegan pork rinds called Snacklins. As his menu changes periodically, he is always looking for fresh ways to veganize classic American fare. In an attempt to push the envelope, he began experimenting with creating vegan seafood.
Why Even Meat Eaters Will Like It: Some meat eaters and pescatarians stay away from shrimp because of its high cholesterol content. Here, you get the flavor, texture, and satisfaction of popcorn shrimp in a slightly healthier format. Plus, these crispy nuggets taste as delicious as the originals. The yeasty, crunchy shell combined with the chewy, oceany filling is finger-licking good, and tastes great with a cold beer.