I had my doubts about vegan barbecue. Despite glowing reviews of Vegan Mob’s plant-based soul food and barbecue by USA Today, Food & Wine Magazine and actor Danny Glover (who did an impromptu review of the walk-up restaurant in 2020), how good could it be? How could wheat gluten imitate fried chicken or brisket?
I won’t lie; it can’t exactly — at least not to the degree die-hard barbecue fans would consider authentic. But that’s not the point of the Vegan Mob barbecue truck, which recently arrived in Santa Rosa. Owner Toriano Gordon has made it his mission to celebrate the meat-based barbecue culture of his youth, but with absolutely no meat or dairy.
Just over a week after Gordon arrived in Santa Rosa, we rolled up on the lime-green truck parked at 13 W. Third St. for a meat-free feast of fully loaded Mob Fries, greens, candied yams, fried chicken drumsticks, Smackaroni and Soul Mob Rolls that were not just good, but lick-your-fingers and smack-your-lips decadent. The fries, loaded with vegan hot links, nacho sauce, guacamole, Mob Sauce and sour cream (all vegan), didn’t stand a chance against our flying forks.
The secret is in the seasonings, sides and sauces more than in the “meat” itself. Gordon understands that most plant-based proteins — seitan, konjac (a root vegetable that mimics the texture of shrimp) and other vegetables and starches that imitate meat — disappear into the sauces and crispy coatings.
The Da’Renz shrimp po’boy ($12) on a soft French roll is filled with breaded and fried “shrimp” that are hard to differentiate from the real thing. Topped with vegan mayo, creamy Cajun sauce, green onions and diced tomatoes on a bed of coleslaw, it’s a gut-buster that could stand up to any seafood sandwich competitor. Smackaroni ($7) is a worthy side, baked with gooey vegan cheese. Even the Southern-style collard greens ($7) are loaded with flavor despite pork not being a key ingredient (we did miss the bacon).
Vegan Mob is part of the newly minted Culture Experience Center, an indoor-outdoor entertainment hub with food, Mossed Juicery and Mocktail Bar, a boutique, kids’ space and an event venue that brings a much-needed community vibe to the area. Steven Anderson’s multicultural murals are another highlight.
The Vegan Mob food truck is open at 13 W. Third St. 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. veganmob.biz