I remember when I was young, maybe early teens, eating my first Arby’s beef and cheddar sandwich. I assumed it would be a classic Arby’s with a slice of cheese on top, but what I got was a sandwich drenched in thick, rich cheddar sauce that made me sick to my stomach.
I would return to the beef and cheddar occasionally over the years and eventually learned to like it (sort of), but mostly it was the classic Arby’s I stuck with during my teens and 20s. When I was an active high schooler, my parents would occasionally say, “We’re going to dinner at Arby’s, if you want to join us — but we’re only paying for one sandwich.”
You see, my parents weren’t rich, and I was a growing, active guy, so three Arby’s sandwiches plus curly fries and a large soda made my typical meal at the fast-food joint. Sometimes I could coerce them into buying me two sandwiches, but typically I had to pay for the extras myself (hey, I had a job, and fair is fair).
I haven’t had an Arby’s sandwich in years, having finally been turned off by the oddly-flavored Arby’s sauce that is almost required to go on every sandwich. But I hold distinctive memories of those sandwiches, including the beef and cheddar.
And, so, recently I heard about The Farby™ Meal at Morels Café, a new-ish vegan eatery at 619 Baxter Ave. Basically, it’s a vegan version of the Arby’s classic, complete with “cheese” sauce and a version of the tangy, red Arby’s sauce. What’s it made of? Even the menu is mysterious, saying it’s made with “braised roast beef” and “creamy signature cheese.” Is this a vegan place or not? It is.
I finally made my way down to Morels to try this Farby sandwich, mostly to satisfy my curiosity: Is it possible to re-create a mediocre, fast-food meat sandwich without using actual meat?
When I ordered my Farby sandwich, I asked the cashier point-blank what it was made of, and she was not shy about telling me that the “roast beef” is actually tofurkey that comes special to Morels in logs so that it can be thin-sliced on-site, just like at Arby’s. (Yeah, hearing Ving Rhames bellow, “We have the tofurkeys!” just wouldn’t have the same ring.)
The “cheddar cheese” sauce? That’s a blend of carrots and potatoes, while the red sauce is ketchup and agave nectar. No meat, no animal products of any kind.
So, I take a seat and, after a few minutes, the sandwich arrives with all the aforementioned ingredients planted on a toasted onion roll, just like at Arby’s. “Cheese” oozed forth and piled around the sandwich. Of course, I quickly noted that the “cheese” looked more like French’s yellow mustard. Nevertheless, I took a taste using my finger, and it was lighter and less dense than the Arby’s cheese sauce, but had a favorable flavor.
Then I snagged a morsel of the very-meat-like tofurkey and found it, too, had a pleasant flavor. Was it Arby’s roast beef flavor? Not exactly, but it was at least in the ballpark. So, I took a bite of this fairly convincing imposter. After one, two bites, no, I wasn’t getting the flavors I remembered — and yet, it felt like eating an Arby’s beef and cheddar, at least from a tactile perspective.
The “cheese” dripped, the “meat” became more familiar feeling and, about halfway through, I had an Arby’s moment — a moment perhaps spurred by tanginess from the red sauce that conjured an actual Arby’s memory in my brain and, for just a moment, it actually felt like I was eating a beef and cheddar from the fast-food chain.
Honestly, it was almost disconcerting. You see, I can’t imagine any scenario in which I would eat another Arby’s beef and cheddar — not even to research this column — but I have no beef (sorry) with The Farby sandwich. In fact, I realized I would definitely eat another Farby; next time, I might even get the Morels curly fries on the side.
I would even consider trying the Chick-faux-le, a spin on the Chik-Fil-A sandwich, or the Impossible Burger. But for now, The Farby is fine, because that weird loop back in time made my casual lunch an experience I hadn’t counted on. I guess the good news is that, now that I’m older, I only need one Farby, not three. And since I have a better job now, I don’t even need my parents to pay for it.