You're Going to Want This Tofu Banh Mi at Hearth & Dram

Housemade tofu makes this banh mi unique.EXPAND
Housemade tofu makes this banh mi unique.
Mark Antonation
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For a restaurant that uses "Meat, Whiskey, Rock ’n' Roll" as its tagline, Hearth & Dram shows a surprising dedication to tofu. In the hands of executive chef Adam Vero, tofu rises from bland meat substitute to a sandwich filling packed with flavor and crunchy texture.

Vero came to Hearth & Dram six months ago after six years with the TAG Restaurant Group, most of that at Mister Tuna and Guard and Grace. Hearth & Dram has been known as a meat-lover's destination since it opened in early 2017 at the foot of the Hotel Indigo downtown, and Vero continues to build that reputation using the restaurant's wood-fired grill, visible in the open kitchen from the cavernous dining room.

Vero's time at Mister Tuna gave him experience with cooking over wood as well as exposure to Asian flavors, both of which he uses to advantage on his Hearth & Dram menu. But at lunchtime, among the Reubens, Cubanos, burgers and fried chicken sandwiches, a surprise hides in the form of a Vietnamese-inspired banh mi. What makes this sandwich stand out is that Vero makes his tofu from scratch, starting with whole soy beans. The beans are soaked, puréed and strained to make soymilk, and then a coagulant is added to make bean curd. (The method is similar to making cheese, the chef explains.) Once pressed into familiar blocks, Vero smokes the tofu lightly. To create the sandwich, thin slices of smoked tofu are breaded and fried to create crunchy, smoky meatless cutlets.

The banh mi, built on Hinman's Bakery ciabatta rolls, comes stacked with colorful layers of cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, aioli and pickled carrots and daikon. Each bite is bright, crunchy and surprisingly packed with heat. The housemade tofu is the kind of touch that isn't necessarily trumpeted on the menu, but is part of Vero's approach to making each dish special. "You'll find all kinds of little surprises, especially on the dinner menu," the chef notes.

A light and fresh banh mi may be perfect for a solo lunch, but Hearth & Dram also goes big. Gather a group of carnivores and dive into one of the restaurant's Whole Beast Feasts, which must be ordered five days in advance. Six or more diners can indulge in multi-course menus of pig, duck, lamb, beef, goat or seafood.

Hearth & Dram is located at 1801 Wewatta Street and serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily, with dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Call 303-623-0979 or visit the restaurant's website for reservations.

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