Upton's Breakroom Puts "Wheat Meat" Front and Center

August 21 2013 - 9:00 AM


Black, styled hair. Sloping mustache. Piercing eyes. Bold red jacket and bow tie.

The face that welcomes guests into Upton’s Breakroom, a recently opened vegan eatery in Ukranian Village, overlooks a slim, white-walled, minimalist space. This all-vegan cafe is shiny, new, and closely hugs Grand Avenue at the corner of Hoyne.

Upton’s Naturals, maker of seitan (SAY-TAN) since 2006, couldn’t have better timed the opening of their restaurant. National Public Radio (NPR) recently published a piece, declaring that “even carnivores are putting more fake meat on their plates”. Market research firm Mintel notes that “meat alternatives reached $553 million in 2012, up 8 percent from 2012”.

Even though NPR chose to describe meat alternatives as “fake meat”, Upton’s is clear that their own product is “a real alternative to meat, made from real ingredients”.

Seitan, often dubbed “wheat meat”, is far more ancient than many assume. The story goes that vegetarian, Buddhist monks in China stumbled upon this culinary chameleon when they “accidentally soaked wheat dough for a bread they were making”. Voila! Seitan is what remains after starch is thoroughly rinsed out of the flour. It’s stretchy, dense, and packed full of protein. A kitchen accident gone incredibly well. And that was way back in the 7th century.

Atop the menu exclaims, “Every single thing on this menu is vegan!” As a vegan, this one line was very much welcome, allowing me to peruse all the dishes without asking, “Is that vegan?”

Glancing up and down the offerings, eyebrows furrowed, I was conflicted with what to order. The woman at the cashier suggested the Italian Sandwich, served Chicago-style with giardiniera or the Breakfast sandwich, adorned with grilled tofu, hollandaise sauce and a few veggies.

Ultimately, I landed on the BLT – Bacon seitan with lettuce, tomato, and house made mayo on wholegrain bread, along with a side of their classic mashed potatoes and gravy. I wish I would have taken her advice. A BLT is tough dish to mimic when the seitan isn’t the least bit crunchy like bacon. Lesson learned.

However, the brown, hearty gravy drenched on the potatoes was a side dish worth serving at a Thanksgiving dinner. I did snag a few bites from my friend who ordered the Fried Bacon Mac, mac and cheese with bacon seitan. That side dish, fellow readers, is a must. Even if it’s your main entree, Upton’s mac and cheese stands easily on its own.

Vegan eats in Chicago are diverse and plentiful and Upton’s Breakroom is a welcome addition to the city that was once known as the “hog butcher for the world”.

Upton’s Breakroom is open Monday-Thursday, 7am-9pm. Friday, 7am-10pm, Saturday, 8am-10pm, and Sunday, 9am-7pm. Take a look at their menu at