Subculture Vegan Hot Chicken Sandwich

With a name like Subculture, it’s no surprise that Subculture Urban Cuisine and Cafe often stays a little bit under the radar. The tiny Nolensville Pike restaurant puts some amazing creative food out of their kitchen, and Pablo Bonacic and his family staff have won numerous accolades for the special sandwiches, tacos, burgers and more that they come up with for various competitions.

For a restaurant that doesn’t have “hot chicken” in its name — and is located less than a half-mile from the OGs at Prince’s — Subculture has amassed a dedicated following of fans for its presentations of the Nashville favorite, ranging from a traditional sandwich to tacos to ramen bowls.

Subculture's latest iteration of the fiery fowl isn’t, in fact, fowl at all, as they have spent a long time working to perfect a 100 percent vegan hot sandwich. Bonacic was inspired to start experimenting when his vendors from Cheekee Greens Farms brought him some beautiful lion’s mane mushrooms to play with in the kitchen. Lion’s manes are large mushrooms, considered gourmet ingredients with a texture and flavor often described as being similar to lobster or crab.

Bonacic has experimented before with substituting mushrooms for meat to make vegetarian or vegan versions of some of his more popular dishes — like the shiitakes in his ramen — but the lion’s mane lent itself to being the star of a new dish. Available at heat levels from mild to excruciating, the new SC Hot (not chicken) Sandwich is prepared in a very similar way to the traditional version. Bonacic uses Subculture's house-made buns and tops the sandwich with creamy avocado slices and the delicious tangy/sweet and crunchy sesame slaw made with cabbage, carrots, pickled onions and maple syrup. He also makes a special vegan aioli to accompany the sandwich.

The “meat” of the sandwich is made by cutting longitudinal slices off the massive mushrooms and breading them with a vegan egg batter and flour. The ’shroom is then fried in a separate fryer so that there is no cross-contamination for vegans to be concerned about. Subculture does not fry its french fries in animal fat, so that system was already in place.

The result is a sandwich that could fool a strict carnivore, but that’s not the point. The golden crust is still shatteringly crunchy and carries the seasoning well, and the fibrous mushroom offers a delightful mouthfeel that is similar to chicken, and not at all mushy. It certainly does taste a lot like chicken, but that nice earthy sweetness of the lion’s mane does offer a hint of lobster character.

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If you’ve ever been disappointed by someone offering you a huge grilled portobello sandwich with the promise that “it’s just like a burger” or bitten into a fried Buffalo or Nashville hot cauliflower dish only to have it explode into a million nodules, this sandwich at Subculture may disabuse you of notions that vegan food can’t be as satisfying as the “real” thing. In fact, the SC Nashville Hot Lion’s Mane Sandwich is its own thing that may just be a better thing! It officially hits the menu for the first time today, so head down to 5737 Nolensville Pike to try it out, and let us know what you think in the comments below.

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