A few years ago I couldn’t buy a vegan breakfast sandwich in Portland for love or money, and now at least five places sell them. The sandwiches reflect a wider boom in vegan breakfast taking place across the city. From sandwiches to tofu scrambles to pancakes and doughnuts, it’s become easy to eat vegan in the Forest City for the first meal of the day.

While a traditional breakfast sandwich is laden with animal-based eggs, cheese and meat, this new wave of sandwiches is plant-based. Chefs have turned to tofu, tempeh, seitan and non-dairy cheeses, seasoned with things such as nutritional yeast, liquid smoke or the sulfurous kala namak (black salt) to give these vegan ingredients umami flavors.

The vegan Soy Veh! breakfast sandwich at Forage Market. Photo by Amanda Bell

One example with much buzz online is the breakfast bagel called the Soy Veh! at Forage Market on Washington Avenue’s restaurant row. The sandwich is a staple at the restaurant’s Lewiston location and arrived in Portland when Forage Market opened its doors here in August.

“The sandwich is a vegan variation of our really basic meat and egg sandwiches,” said General Manager Georga Morgan-Fleming. “The idea behind it is wanting to make an awesome sandwich that anyone can try.”

According to Morgan-Fleming, the Soy Veh! is a steady seller, including among employees. “All of our staff loves this sandwich and very few of us are totally vegan,” she said.

Forage makes its vegan eggs and meat from scratch. The eggs are made from mashed tofu, nutritional yeast, turmeric and spices including kala namak; the ham is sliced from a house-made seitan roast. The tofu mixture is formed into rectangles and fried, then set on a bagel that is spread with vegan aioli (used on all Forage sandwiches) and topped with slices of the plant-based ham, local greens and tomatoes.

Baristas + Bites in the Old Port recently began offering a vegan breakfast sandwich. It too makes all the components in-house, owner Amy Alward said. A fried slice of tofu marinated with the same seasoning as the restaurant’s popular vegan egg salad stands in for the egg. For bacon, Baristas + Bites marinates tempeh slices with seasonings and liquid smoke and then fries the strips. The vegan cheese is made using coconut milk.

Breakfast frittata. Photo by Nadine Horn and Jörg Mayer

Over at Simply Vegan by Silly’s, also on Washington Avenue’s restaurant row, breakfast sandwiches come with tempeh sausage or vegan chorizo – both made in-house – or commercially made vegan eggs.

Other places to get a vegan breakfast sandwich include LFK in Longfellow Square during Sunday brunch and the Totally Awesome Vegan Food Truck when its out and about.

Oatmeal is naturally vegan friendly, as classically it’s made with oats and water. But many restaurants gussy it up with butter, milk, cream or honey. In recent years, these more luxurious oatmeals from all-vegan ingredients have started to show up on Portland menus. At Tandem Coffee + Bakery in the West End, the porridge is vegan “because it’s the best-tasting way to make oatmeal,” Tandem’s head baker Briana Holt said.

Before the bakery closes each day, the crew at Tandem mixes steel cut oats from Maine Grains with coconut milk and spices – including turmeric and cinnamon – brings the mixture to a boil, then takes it off the heat and lets it soak overnight in the refrigerator. When a customer orders the oatmeal in the morning, a portion is scooped out and heated. Maple syrup and golden raisins are mixed in, and sesame seeds and cacao nibs are sprinkled on top.

Back on Washington Avenue’s restaurant row, Portland Pottery also does a brisk trade in vegan breakfasts, with a tofu scramble, a vegan oatmeal and a vegan burrito on the menu.

“We sell a lot of tofu scramble,” said Margaret Pickles, who works at the cafe. “Lots of people come in to get the oatmeal, too.”

Pickles told me the cafe’s location next to a pottery cooperative draws many artists, many of whom like vegetarian food. The vegan oatmeal is cooked with fruit juice, and topped with dried and fresh fruits (including brûléed bananas), while the scramble adds artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, roasted red peppers and spinach to sautéed tofu.

Other places to find tofu scrambles in the city include the original Silly’s, Simply Vegan by Silly’s, Local Sprouts Cooperative, Sinful Kitchen and LFK.

Traditional bagels are made from flour, yeast, water, salt and sometimes malt. Still, enough egg-based bagels exist in the market to make vegans wary. They needn’t worry at Rose Foods, Mister Bagel, The Works Cafe and Union Bagel, where the bagels are egg-free, and diners can find plenty of dairy-free spreads.

Union Bagel Manager Michala Bunten said that the bagel shop, which has locations on Cumberland Avenue and Veranda Street, attracts a lot of customers looking for vegan food. Vegan schmears include two housemade tofu spreads, hummus, Earth Balance or peanut butter and jelly. Union Bagel recently received a window decal from online vegan restaurant site Happy Cow, which distributes the stickers to eateries that score high marks from reviewers.

But that’s not all.

For people who prefer to drink their breakfast, Portland is home to six juice and smoothie bars. Vegan pancake fans can head to Local Sprouts on Congress Street. While an all-vegan doughnut shop is getting ready to open its doors in Kittery, Portlanders can already satisfy their vegan doughnut cravings at the two Holy Donut bakeries in town.

There’s no question that in 2019 Portland is developing a more sophisticated vegan breakfast scene. Now the difficult task becomes deciding where to eat.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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