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Superlative Veggie Burger at J. Alexander's

It's hard to find a decent veggie burger. Many have a fall-apart texture and odd ingredients, others are dry and flavorless. But the veggie burger at J. Alexander's, the Nashville chain with a few locations around South Florida, is actually very, very good. Even to a meat eater.

I caught wind of this great faux pattie from my vegetarian friend, Tara, who relayed a message through her boyfriend: "This is the best veggie burger I've ever had," the communique went. So I decided to investigate last week, and here's what I found.

I trekked to J. Alexander's in Fort Lauderdale during a lunch service and found the place bustling with business men and women on their lunch hour. Inside, the restaurant is all dark wood and exposed brick, with heavy wooden rafters stretching up to the vaulted ceiling. There's a framed American flag on one wall, in case you're wondering what the menu inspiration is, and a long bar that takes up one whole side of the large dining room.

The menu is full of typical American plates like spare ribs, burgers, and salads. When the waitress comes over I snag just a veggie burger with fries ($11) and an iced tea (since the beers on tap are pretty much awful). When the burger arrives, it looks great: the patty has the authentic appearance of ground beef, though the color is a little off. It's topped with a melted slice of Monterrey jack cheese and the standard burger accoutrement of lettuce, onion, and tomato. The bun is a sturdy roll studded with sesame seeds and toasted slightly.

I cut the burger in half and dig in. The flavor is excellent. It's actually juicy, like a real burger is. And the patty has a very hearty quality, owing to a texture that's shockingly meaty. Inside there's a mix of rice, soy, very finely minced veggies, and herbs. But it's the small grains of rice that duplicate the texture of ground meat.

Another bonus: the patty doesn't disintegrate when I bite into it, like so many other veggie burgers. It holds up to the bun and stays in one relative piece. Although a few chunks fell out as I manipulated the burger, I found myself doing something surprising: I picked the piece off the plate and popped them in my mouth. I didn't think that would ever happen with a veggie burger.

Is it the best veggie burger ever, as Tara asserted? It's hard to say. My personal favorite has always been the Morning Star Farms black bean burger, but this is a good one too. At $11 a pop, I probably wouldn't go out of my way to order one, but then again if I was a vegetarian I might. Some vegetarians, though, might not be looking for authentic meat texture in their faux patties. Either way, it's worth checking out if you're into fake meat.  

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John Linn

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