What’s the verdict on A&W’s new plant-based breakfast sandwich?

Make no mistake that a breakfast sandwich from any fast food joint is not so much fuel to start the day, but more like a boulder of grease and salt that you’re chained to for the rest of the morning (and probably into the early afternoon). It’s something that should be consumed sparingly, reserved for hangovers or a post-workout treat.

But on a recent morning at The Star we ate two to three of them in one sitting, in the name of research.

We compared three of A&W’s breakfast sandwich offerings on a recent morning.
We compared three of A&W’s breakfast sandwich offerings on a recent morning.  (KARON LIU/TORONTO STAR)

Riding high from the success of the plant-based Beyond Meat Burger introduced last year (our restaurant critic Amy Pataki gave it a thumbs-up), this month burger chain A&W added plant-based breakfast sandwiches to its menu consisting of a Beyond Sausage patty that aims to replicate the taste and texture of a pork sausage patty. Wondering if this veggie sausage can meet (or meat?) the fatty, salty deliciousness of a regular breakfast sandwich, I asked A&W to send over a few sandwiches for a taste test.

The sausage patties are made by Beyond Meat, the same California-based company behind the Beyond Meat Burger, and is the latest example of the growing plant-based dining trend among consumers who want to eat less meat, but aren’t strictly vegan or vegetarian. The Beyond Meat Sausage and Egger comes with a fried egg and a slice of cheddar on an English muffin. There’s also a vegan version where the patty is sandwiched alongside lettuce and a slice of tomato. But A&W states on its website that the Beyond Meat patties are cooked on the same grill as the meat patties, so cross-contamination is a very likely possibility.

At first glance, the Beyond Sausage patty is slightly thicker than its meat counterpart with a more uniform puck shape. Other than that it has the similar occasional red pepper flake you’d find in a breakfast sausage patty and greyish-brown colour. Texture-wise it’s pretty similar to sausage but has a slightly spongier mouthfeel akin to seitan, another popular meat substitute. As for the taste, it has the same slightly peppery and very salty flavour one expects in a breakfast sausage. A&W also sent us their meat versions to compare, which I don’t regret eating for the purpose of this article, but kind of regret because I was ready to go to bed by lunchtime.

Once I sent out the email to my colleagues that there are free breakfast sandwiches to be had in the test kitchen, the feedback started pouring in. Overall, it was positive.

“If you hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have know this wasn’t meat,” says business reporter Josh Rubin. Deputy entertainment editor Debra Yeo says the texture is pretty close to pork sausage and says she’ll buy it. A rep for A&W tells me that the Beyond Sausage sandwich costs a dollar more than the meat version.

“It’s not as greasy and meaty,” says housing reporter Emily Mathieu. “It satisfies the junk food craving but the more I eat it the less I’m interested in it. At first you’re pleasantly surprised by the spice but then you realize that it’s a meat substitute. Maybe I’d mistake it for a diet meat product where all the fat is sucked out. I like the greasy salty richness of a regular sausage sandwich, the jus, and this doesn’t have it.”

Going plant-based doesn’t automatically mean a healthier diet. Nutritional info on A&W’s site shows that the meat and meatless sausage and egg sandwiches are fairly similar. The Beyond Meat Sausage and Egger has 540 calories, 33g of fat, 28g of protein and 680mg of sodium whereas the regular Sausage and Egger sandwich has 530 calories, 34g of fat, 24g of protein and 720mg of sodium.

“A big part of the flavour is the salt,” says team editor Barry Brimbecom. “It’s possible to make a veggie patty without that much salt when the goal is to have a good veggie patty rather than impersonate meat. It’s fine, but I don’t know if I’d pay a premium for it.”

So the Beyond Sausage sandwich does, for the most part, successfully mimic the eat-now-regret-later goodness of a regular breakfast sandwich, but don’t think of it as a healthier alternative. Consider this as a move towards egalitarianism as everyone can now indulge in the trashy delightfulness of this hangover treat.