Missing Mare of Easttown already? Then step right up to Buddy’s Steaks, where the tip jar is a 64-ounce Wawa travel mug, and if you ask Buddy Richter about the menu’s sole dessert item—Philadelphia water ice—you’ll definitely think he said “wooder ice.”
But what you’re really here for is a cheesesteak. With no cheese. And no steak.
Vegan cheesesteaks are all over Philadelphia—Questlove’s brand, made with Impossible Meat, is even sold at Phillies games—and certainly in Oregon as well. At Buddy’s, co-owned by Richter and Eem general manager Angela D’Occhio, the “steak” is made in-house by Richter, who already concocted meatless proteins while working at such establishments as Vtopia and the Mocking Bird. Buddy’s exists because Richter and D’Occhio hadn’t found any meatless cheesesteaks that lived up to their own pre-vegan, Philly native memories.
“Ang likes to call it ‘toy food,’” Richter says. “Even though it looks like it and all the elements seem to be there, the flavor, texture and nostalgia are all missing.”
Normally when you order a cheesesteak, the big decision is: whiz, American or provolone? For a Buddy’s cheesesteak, the choice is whiz or whiz. The cashew- and coconut-based liquid gold is available as both “cheddar whiz,” which is an especially radioactive-looking orange, and “provolone whiz.” They are certainly no more or less “‘authentic” than the stuff that comes from Kraft. (Less melty vegan cheese slices are also available for anyone with nut allergies.)
Also on the menu: egg rolls with steak, provolone whiz and onions ($7), a Philadelphia stalwart at both dive bars and high-end hotels; kale salad ($9); french fries ($3); and vegan mozzarella sticks ($8), which are more like fried Italian queso; and the aforementioned wooder ice, a Philly-Italian frozen concoction that falls somewhere between a sorbet and a snow cone.
As a non-vegan and fellow Philadelphian, I enjoyed my cheesesteak ($12) more on its own terms. It got better the more I ate it, as my brain moved past that first “I know this isn’t real meat” moment, as well as any notion that it might remind me of a favorite from back home. The Dos Hermanos roll is excellent—definitely better than Philly’s beloved, mass-produced Amoroso’s, a company for which D’Occhio’s father once made deliveries—and the meat-cheese-sautéed onion filling has an almost French onion souplike savor and umami.
For the fully trashy cheddar whiz experience, make use of the provided ketchup, but if your cheesesteak palate is more haute, get the provolone and add mushrooms ($1), hot peppers ($1) or broccoli rabe ($2). And don’t forget to take one home for Mare.
EAT: Buddy’s Steaks, 5235 NE Sandy Blvd, 215-694-8095, buddyssteaks.com. 3-8 pm Friday and Monday, noon-8 pm Saturday and Sunday, or until sold out.