The new plant-based meatball sub at Lion's Choice.
The latest addition to the Lion's Choice menu is totally meat-free. Though, if someone else plopped it down on your plate, you'd have no idea the plant-based meatball sub wasn't made with "real" Italian sausage.
The new sub is the product of a collaboration between Lion's Choice, a local fast-food legend established in 1967, and Hungry Planet, a St. Louis-based start-up founded in 2016 and dedicated to making meat alternatives that taste just as good as the real thing and are better for the consumer and for the planet.
Hungry Planet has partnered with a variety of local eateries, including Mission Taco Joint and Mac's Local Eats. But partnering with Lion's Choice held a special appeal for the company. Its sibling co-founders Todd and Jody Boyman have fond memories of hitting up Lion's Choice every Sunday after church.
"They made a choice to be vegan, and that took Lion's Choice out of play for a little bit," says Brad Johnson, chief commercial officer for Hungry Planet. "But now they're really excited to have this."
The two entities began exploring a partnership a year and a half ago.
Lion's Choice CEO Mike Kupstas says his company has been invested in expanding its menu to accommodate as many diets as possible. They added a gluten free breaded-chicken sandwich to its menu earlier this year. However, the company didn't want a vegetarian offering just for the sake of having one.
"Our internal mantra was, if it can't be ridiculously good, then we really don't have any business selling it," Kupstas says.
So all this begs the question: can a restaurant known for its classic, perfectly seasoned roast beef sandwiches deliver a plant-based meatball sandwich that is, in fact, ridiculously good?
The answer is yes.
The sub is made with St. Louis-based Hungry Planet's plant-based meatballs.
The sandwich is served in a toasted bun and drenched in a slightly sweet marinara sauce and gooey provel cheese; both are the perfect compliments to the fennel and sage flavors of the Hungry Planet Italian meatballs, which are soy-protein based. The whole thing is a little bit messy, as are all the best sandwiches.
As a longtime Lion's Choice fan, I could definitely see myself switching up my usual order of two roast beefs, instead getting one of the usuals and one of these subs.
The most remarkable thing about the sub isn't that it's plant-based but how light the sandwich is. This might be the first ever meatball sub that didn't send me into a food coma.
Johnson says that Hungry Planet is all about making great food with fewer calories and less fat. He says that even compared to other plant-based meat alternatives, Hungry Planet comes in at around 30 percent fewer calories and, depending on the specific product, 40 or 50 percent less fat.
Kupstas says that the new plant-based meatball sub will be another option for frequent diners to switch up their orders. "Our hope is this opens the door for some folks to visit us that haven't generally ever walked in the door," he adds.
The plant-based meatball sub will be available in all Lion's Choice locations later this fall. However, there will be a two-day tasting event this weekend, Friday and Saturday, at three St. Louis locations: Ballwin (14919 Manchester Road), Chesterfield (17294 Chesterfield Airport Road), and Brentwood (1605 South Hanley).