Food & Drink

Prague’s hamburger haven Bejzment goes green

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Vegetarians Get a Taste of the ‘Nasty’

If you were wandering down Lesnicka street, you could pass by without noticing Bejzment. At first glance, the nondescript burger joint looks very similar to a lot of the restaurants you see in Prague 5. Inside, the brick interior resembles a college bar you would stumble upon in the United States with license plates, American flags and Jack Daniels posters adorning the walls.

Specializing in gourmet burgers, Bejzment is a destination for many meat-eaters. Waitresses shuffle through tables wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with In Beef We Trust. But now, vegetarians have a reason to partake. Since late November, the restaurant has been offering its customers the option to substitute any menu item for a vegetarian alternative.

Why? “Because I’m crazy enough to do it,” says owner Zed Střížek.

While many Prague restaurants are embracing the vegetarian trend by adding a few non-meat items to their repertoire, none are offering their entire menu. At Bejzment, patrons can order a veggie version of anything, from their burgers to their chicken wings to their hotdogs.

Střížek is self-professed a meat lover to his core. The husky burger master sports sleeves of tattoos that blend burger imagery with the works of Salvador Dali and the famous photograph of Rockefeller Center construction workers. He opened Bejzment in 2010 when he noticed a lack of craft burgers on Prague’s food scene, and then he founded Burgerfest in 2012, which quickly grew to be Europe’s largest burger and barbecue festival.

Once Střížek saw the growth in demand for vegetarian options at food festivals like Burgerfest, he realized he could offer something more than just the typical soups and salads. If vegetarians had more than just a few starters and one entree, they would come back to try new things. To him, going vegetarian made good business sense.

“These days everyone wants to be cool and green,” he says. “So I decided to do everything vegetarian. But not vegan. Vegans are a pain in the ass.”

The trick with veggie burgers is getting the texture and taste of the meat substitute just right. To do this, Střížek and his team create all their products in-house as opposed to ordering pre-made patties. Their recipe consists of around 14 ingredients, including chickpeas, beetroot, yeast and much more. No chemicals are added.

“It’s also about getting the veggie stuff to taste good,” he says. Fortunately, Střížek has a fan of vegetarian food in his daughter, who often taste tests his new recipes. “She’s my guinea pig,” he says.

Whenever Střížek is experimenting with new vegetarian recipes, he often finds himself looking at American websites, fitting in with the restaurant’s overall vibe. Before opening Bejzment, he spent several years in Atlanta, Georgia where he learned about traditional southern cuisine and barbecue.

He continued this passion when he returned to Prague and got a job as a kitchen manager at Hard Rock Cafe. Not caring for the corporate world, he left Hard Rock after a little over a year and went out on his own.

His exploits in the United States planted the seed for his deep love of American culture, shown in Bejzment with Route 66 posters, Mel’s Drive-In ads and other memorabilia from Střížek’s own personal collection.

There are 15 different burgers on the menu, and even more barbecue and starters. According to Střížek, every burger has a story.

One that might catch your eye is the Porn de Jeremy. Střížek got the idea for the burger when a brand ambassador for Ron Jeremy’s rum visited the restaurant a while back. Střížek and his baker came up with a, um, suggestively shaped bun and pitched the burger to the adult film star’s people.

“We are the only certified burger joint that can use his name,” Střížek says. And yes, you can order a veggie version. Just be warned. It is a lot to put in your mouth.

In the future, Střížek plans to introduce more veggie burgers at events like Burgerfest. His ultimate goal is to provide healthier options without sacrificing that mouth-watering taste. “I eat meat and I can eat the veggie burger no problem.” the meat lover says. “I want to give vegetarians the feeling of that dirty, nasty barbecue taste.”

Story by Nicole Ely.

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