There are few conversations I can’t derail and forcibly redirect toward the topic of Buona’s plant-based Italian Beefless sandwich. While in groups of people chatting about fall plans, movies, and the weather, I’m always quietly running an audit in my head of which members of the group have already heard my Buona spiel and which ones have yet to be regaled with a thorough account of the Beefless. I then lob some prepared remarks carefully calibrated to pull focus to plant-based diets or classic Chicago foods—and then I’m off to the races.
These efforts are a labor of love on behalf of one of the best sandwiches I’ve eaten this year. Buona, an Italian-beef-focused chain with locations across Illinois, Indiana, and Colorado, introduced its Italian Beefless back in April of this year, and its debut signaled another advance in the evolution of plant-based foods. Could strips of seitan (processed wheat gluten) really imitate thinly shaved beef, with all its savory complexity?
As we found out in our taste test, it could. In developing the vegan offering for its menu, Buona demonstrated a keen understanding of how to replicate the juicy, fatty flavors people crave from their Italian beef, replacing animal fats with plant-based ones like olive oil. The result was a rich, indulgent, giardiniera-heavy sandwich that I can’t wait to return to. And now, it appears that I can head back to Buona for another whenever I wish, because according to QSR magazine, Buona has made the Beefless a permanent addition to the menu, citing “overwhelming positive response.”
“Our plan was to see if people loved the Plant-Based Italian ‘Beef’ as much as we did – and the good news is that they loved it even more than we could have imagined,” Candice Jordan, director of marketing with Buona, told QSR. “The outstanding support of the vegan community really helped make this a permanent menu item. It has become one of our most popular menu items and that is really great to see.”
In addition to restaurants, Buona will start selling frozen packages of the seitan-based “beef” at Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme and Jewel-Osco grocery stores this November. It’ll come with vegan gravy packaged on the side so you can assemble a quality Beefless at home. (Hopefully there’s enough gravy to really saturate that bread. Gravy bread is a beautiful thing.)
Jordan noted that the vegan community has been instrumental in ensuring the success of the Beefless, and that Buona is proud to feature a more inclusive menu that has something for everyone.
“I’m confident this won’t be the last vegan offering we bring to market,” she said. Maybe we’ll see a Meat(less)ball Marinara in the future?