There was a span of years when, from Monday to Friday, the only thing I had the time to grab for lunch each day was the Spinach, Feta, and Cage-Free Egg White Wrap from the Starbucks next door to the office. The price hovered under $4, it felt reasonably healthy, and I could hold one end inside the paper bag and scarf it discreetly above my keyboard. I know I’m not alone; when you mention this wrap in conversation, a ripple of knowing nods suggests we’ve all made it through a harrowing Monday thanks to this Starbucks utility player.
After so many years, though, that utility is all you can taste. The wrap ceases to become a saving grace; instead, it’s utterly optimized, 290 calories’ worth of Hump Day fuel tucked into a whole wheat wrap that really is quite dry, something becomes glaringly obvious when you look away from your monitor to focus on what you’re chewing. The other sandwiches on Starbucks’ menu, meanwhile, just don’t offer the same compact practicality: the croissants are too crumbly to eat at your desk, the turkey bacon is too rubbery to tear into politely with your teeth, and the other wraps are too heavy, too caloric, and too expensive. But Starbucks finally has a menu item that might solve for X, Y, and Z all at once: the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich, made with an Impossible Foods plant-based sausage patty, a cage-free fried egg, and aged cheddar cheese on ciabatta bread.
Procuring the sandwich from my newly reopened neighborhood Starbucks was an adventure in itself. What was promised by the Starbucks mobile app to be a six-minute transaction turned into a half-hour waiting game—and to be clear, that’s not the employees’ fault. Since mobile orders can no longer be grabbed right off the counter (the entire point of a mobile order), you have to bother someone halfway through their latte-crafting in order to retrieve your bounty. Plus, it’s no longer feasible for baristas to loudly project the name on the order to a cafe full of expectant customers. As more and more people came streaming through the door, hitting their socially distant but increasingly nearby marks, it wasn’t lost on me that this would be the most unnecessary reason in the world to risk COVID.
Let’s talk about the bread first. Ciabatta was the right call here: it’s sturdy without being heavy, and not so firm that biting into it will cause the filling to slide out the other end. It stands up to an enthusiastic bite, is what I’m saying. While the English muffin and whole wheat wrap of the other sandwiches feel like functional exterior, the ciabatta tastes like something you might want to eat all on its own. A good start!
The aged cheddar cheese and cage-free fried egg are elements we’re all familiar with by now; they’re old Starbucks standbys. And why not? They add protein and heft to every item on the menu in which they feature, and while they could stand to have a bit more flavor (I’m not tasting a whole lot of age in this cheese), the color and texture never disappoint.
Tying all these elements together is the Impossible breakfast sausage patty, and we must give all due credit to this marvel of meatless engineering. The public has spoken, and it loves Impossible Foods, at least when it comes to meats, like ground beef and sausage, that can be reasonably swapped out for pressed vegetable proteins. (Bacon and steak, meanwhile, might be tougher to replicate.) When I lifted the patty off the sandwich and bit directly into it, I could sense the slight sponginess that gives most vegetarian and vegan products away, but the patty has managed to replicate the flavors of animal fat to a not-disappointing degree: a few slightly salty, spicy notes offer just enough counterpoint to the egg and the cheese, the pair of which would feel insufficient on the ciabatta without this patty in the mix.
There are downsides, sure: the bread becomes a bit tough after the sandwich has been sitting out for longer than 10 minutes, and the sponginess of the patty becomes more evident as it cools. Since it’s an Impossible Foods product, it also carries a higher cost: I paid more than $5 after tax, which feels a bit steep for something I can eat in a few quick bites, though not out of step with Starbucks’ pricing on the whole. It’s not a perfect sandwich, but if you bought it for lunch every day and ate it mechanically over your keyboard, it would take a long time to get sick of it.
That’s the true genius of the Starbucks menu: every item approaches, but never passes, its own sweet or savory threshold, remaining just interesting enough to keep you on the end of the line, but not so delicious or indulgent that you actively consider whether or not to place your fourth order in a week. I’d probably get another one soon, but I prefer to keep my (social) distance at the moment. By the time I finally got my order and retreated to the relative safety of the outdoors, weary with relief, I was so hungry that I ate half of my Impossible Breakfast Sandwich before I remembered to take a picture.