CHICAGO - When Impossible Foods released its plant-based, chickenless nuggets in Chicago last month, they were as impossible to get as a pair of rare Air Jordans.
“Thank you for calling the Dog Haus, and we’re sold out of Impossible nuggets,” Roberto Samanamud would preemptively tell customers over the phone.
The fast-casual chain’s local director of operations answered the phone frantically on those early, frenzied days. Two of their three locations in the city remain the only restaurants in the area where you can find the coveted, deep-fried, vegan nuggets.
One morning, they sold out of their whole day’s supply with a 149-piece order placed minutes after opening at 8 a.m.
“The biggest order might have been 200,” Samanamud said.
They’re back in stock — for now.
The 200-piece order was for a catering event, but he’s not sure why customers seem driven to order these nuggets in such big numbers. After all, they also offer Beyond tenders, the chickenless competitor released in July.
“I’m not comfortable asking people why they order so many,” he added, laughing.
Burger King launched a test run of Impossible nuggets Monday, but only in three cities: Des Moines, Iowa; Boston and Miami. After an unspecified limited time, BK will decide whether to expand testing or release them nationally, according to a spokesperson.
Walmart and Heinen’s just started carrying bags of frozen Impossible nuggets. What’s interesting to note, though, is that the grocery store version recommends baking in a conventional oven. The back of the bags also show cooking instructions for air fryers, for which they’re surely destined, and, dubiously, by microwave.
Back at the Dog Haus, they deep fry, as God intended, in vegetable oil. You can order from the Lincoln Park or Loop locations by six ($6.99), 10 ($9.99) or 20 ($18.99) pieces, plus there’s a four-piece kids meal ($6.99 with fries or tater tots and a drink).
They’re available tossed in your choice of four sauces: barbecue, Buffalo, chipotle honey or Nashville hot.
But that’s not how most people are ordering them.
“Plain,” said Samanamud. “Out of every 10 orders, only one will be tossed with sauce.”
Ranch reigns as the most popular dipping sauce, but it’s not vegan. Dog Haus does make a vegan mayonnaise. They do indeed specialize in hot dogs, but they’ve got burgers and fried chicken too, plant-based and meat.
So how do Impossible nuggets taste to the one person who’s probably eaten more nuggets and tenders, chicken and chickenless, than anyone in the Chicago area?
“When I first bit into it, I was like, this tastes just like a chicken nugget,” Samanamud said. “You have to remember, I eat meat all the time. But I was like, wow, that’s crazy.”
Not that it was a rave review.
“I wouldn’t say it tastes like the greatest chicken nugget, but it has that flavor profile.”
When I was finally able to try the Impossible nuggets, my first impression was that they’re small, compared to a McNugget standard. By comparison, the Beyond tenders weigh in at nearly three times the size.
Hot out of the fryer, both have breading that holds up, with a solid crust. Their texture inside, though, feels just a bit too soft, like a poultry pate.
I’d like to see a Chicago-style, plant-based fried chickenless chicken from Harold’s or Uncle Remus, tossed in mild sauce and seasoned liberally with lemon pepper.
Now those would be worth a wait in line.
Cardinals 2021 report card: Pitchers were solid at the top
For several weeks he was on his own as the team’s only reliable starter. Wainwright (17-7, 3.05 ERA) ranked among the sport’s top starting pitchers while turning 40 years old this season. He ranked second in the majors in victories and third in innings pitched (206 ½ innings) while barely topping 90 miles per hour with his fastball. Then he capped his season with a brilliant effort in the wild card game.
For most of the season he was an elite set-up reliever. Then he replaced Alex Reyes as the closer at the end of August and handled that job with aplomb. Gallegos (6-5, 3.02 ERA, 24 holds, 14 saves) inherited 25 runners and allowed just three to score. He pitched 73 times, so some occasional rough outings — like his eight blown saves — were inevitable.
Before, between and after injuries he was excellent this season – 9-2 with a 3.22 ERA in 17 starts. But when he popped his oblique muscle the rotation crumbled and the team collapsed. After making just 26 starts the last two seasons, Flaherty must re-establish durability to regain his standing as one of the sport’s top pitching talents.
Garcia (1-1, 3.24 ERA, 12 holds, two saves) repaid the Cardinals handsomely for rescuing him from his Triple-A exile. With Gallegos moving into the closer’s role, Garcia stepped into higher leverage set-up work and helped stabilize the bullpen down the stretch. In August he worked 15 1/3 scoreless innings and allowed just six hits and three walks.
The Cardinals’ cattle call for pitching help found another gem with McFarland. He finished 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA in 38 appearances. He held left-handed hitters to a .167 batting average and a .496 OPS. His 62.3 percent ground-ball rate made him a popular choice to come into games with men on base. McFarland inherited 25 runners and allowed eight to score.
His season was derailed at the end of May by back spasms. He rebuilt his strength at Memphis and by season’s end he was earning high-leverage opportunities for the Cardinals. Whitley struck out 27 batters and walked 12 in 25 innings while posting a 2.49 ERA. Opponents hit .172 against him with a .497 OPS. But he allowed seven of his 16 inherited runners to score.
After this veteran left-hander arrived from Washington in a trade for outfielder Lane Thomas, he helped save the season. Lester went 4-1 with a 4.36 ERA in 12 starts after going 5-6 with a 5.02 ERA for the Nationals. The Cardinals won seven of his starts and he allowed two runs or fewer seven times. His winning pedigree and tough-minded approach strengthened the team’s make-up.
Max effort pitching takes a toll and Helsley became another victim of that. He threw gas for 51 outings before shutting down with elbow and knee injuries. He finished 6-4 with one save, 10 holds and a 4.56 ERA. He walked 27 batters and threw seven wild pitches in 47 1/3 innings, but he allowed just four of his 31 inherited runners to score.
Like his fellow lefty Lester, he helped stabilize the reeling rotation. Happ arrived before the deadline from the Minnesota Twins in a trade for scatter-armed pitcher John Gant. He made 11 starts for the Cardinals and they won seven of them. He went 5-2 with a 4.00 ERA in those starts and he was 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in five August starts. Given his 6.77 ERA this season as a Twin, Happ exceeded expectations.
This veteran left-hander was on the first wave of reinforcements who arrived to rescue the pitching staff. LeBlanc’s season ended prematurely due to an elbow injury, but he chipped in with four relief appearances and eight starts. The Cardinals won four of those starts while pulling out of their June swoon. He finished 0-1 with a 3.61 ERA.
After riding the Memphis shuttle and serving mostly as a mop-up reliever this season, Woodford (3-4, 3.99 ERA) did a solid job filling a rotation hole. In his final six appearances of the season, including five starts, he was 1-1 with a 2.51 ERA. He didn’t work more than 5 1/3 innings in those five starts, but the Cardinals won four of them.
His bottom line looks fine: 10-8, 29 saves, 3.24 ERA. Reyes overcame a litany of injuries to realize the potential he flashed all the way back in 2016. He did a stellar job closing for much of the season and he helped in his middle relief role during the team’s late push. But his downturn in July (1-2, 5.40 ERA) and August (0-3, 7.84 ERA) weakened the bullpen and his season ended badly with his playoff failure against the Dodgers.
He struggled with the Washington Nationals earlier this season, allowing five runs in just three innings, but he did OK here. Between injuries, Miller went 1-0 with one save and a 4.50 ERA in 18 appearances. He walked five batters and hit two others in 16 innings, which qualified as pinpoint control on this team. Miller inherited 12 runners and only two scored.
When he was on, Cabrera was one of the sport’s toughest relievers. When he was off, his pitches veered every which way. Cabrera (4-5, 3.73 ERA, 28 holds, three blown saves) walked 36 batters and hit five others in 70 innings. He inherited 43 runners and allowed 17 to score. By the end of the season he was hindered by a persistent fingernail issue.
His struggle with back issues undercut his ability to eat innings in the starting rotation, which is what the team needed from him. Kim went 7-7 with a 3.46 ERA in 21 starts and six relief appearances while giving the Cardinals a different look with his left-handed finesse. But he failed to complete five innings in 10 of his starts and he finished the season in long relief after the team upgraded its rotation.
His comeback from arm and then shoulder injuries came in fits and starts. Overall Mikolas was 2-3 with a 4.23 ERA in nine starts. He pitched five or more innings in his last five starts and the Cardinals won three of them. But he allowed five homers in those last five starts as he failed to locate pitches as consistently as he did during his breakout 2018 season.
He earned plaudits for his leadership in the bullpen, which leaned heavily on young hurlers for much of the season. But a $12 million reliever he was not. Miller was relegated to low-leverage work once the team finally got on track. In 36 innings he allowed 41 hits and posted a 4.75 ERA. He walked 16 batters and hit five others. On the plus side, he allowed just four of 16 inherited runners to score.
His high-end talent was evident again this season, but the Cardinals stunted his development by exposing him to repeated failure. In one relief appearance and then 13 starts, Oviedo went 0-5 with a 4.91 ERA. Then he went down to Memphis and finished 1-6 with a 6.29 ERA in one relief appearance and 12 starts. Will he be able to restore his confidence?
He got one more chance to provide bullpen depth and he struggled. For the second straight year Elledge faced 52 batters and allowed six runs in 11 ⅔ innings for a 4.63 ERA. But that bottom line was deceiving this year because he allowed eight of his 10 inherited runners to score. Opponents hit .302 against him with an .869 OPS.
He got the opportunity he asked for, moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation for 21 starts. But he worked just 89 ⅔ innings in those starts while allowing 80 hits, 61 walks and four hit batters. A series of Houdini-caliber escapes kept his bottom line (5-11, 4.42 ERA) from getting too ugly. Ultimately the Cardinals gave up on him, though, trading him and his remaining year of arbitration eligibility to Minnesota for J.A. Happ.
Before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, Fernandez once again failed to harness his raw power. He walked 15 batters and allowed 25 hits in 20 ⅔ innings over 18 outings. Fernandez posted a 5.66 ERA and allowed five of his eight inherited runners to score. He started this journey back in 2014 in the Dominican Summer League, so it’s fair to wonder how many more chances he will get.
He did his part to facilitate the June collapse by going 1-5 with a 10.87 ERA in six starts that month. He walked 19 batters and hit two others in 25 ⅔ innings. He allowed 31 runs on 35 hits during that span. Before suffering his season-ending thumb injury, Martinez offered a glimmer of hope while allowing just two runs in 9 ⅓ innings in his last two starts. But his bottom line (4-9, 6.23 ERA) will kick him into the open market as a free agent.
For 2 ½ seasons this lefty ranked among the team’s most reliable relievers. Then he lost command this season while walking 19 batters in 16 ⅓ innings. He often fell behind in the count, so opponents teed off on him for a .310 batting average and an .887 OPS. Webb and his 13.22 ERA were demoted to Triple-A Memphis in midseason, never to return.
Daniel Ponce de Leon
In two starts he allowed eight runs on nine hits (including two homers), five walks and two hit batters in just 6 ⅓ innings. De Leon was somewhat less terrible in relief (5.00 ERA in 22 appearances), but his injury-plagued run with the team ended ignominiously after a dugout run-in with Yadier Molina. His overall strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 24-to-22 added to this staff’s maddening wildness.
His comeback from surgical repairs was short-lived. He made just 10 appearances — walking 10 batters and striking out 10 in 10 innings — before shutting down again due to elbow soreness. So Hicks went back to the drawing board before launching still another comeback, this time as a starting pitcher.
Not all injury rehabilitations are the same. While Mikolas struggled to get back to 100%, Hudson returned on schedule to pitch big league innings before the season ended. In two outings he looked like a slimmed-down version of his best self. He walked just one batter and struck out six in 8 ⅔ innings in two outings. He allowed two runs on seven hits while penciling himself into the 2022 rotation.