[NOTE: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to the Hot Mamma Pastrama sandwich as the Vegan Reuben.]
The stuff in the Hot Mamma Pastrama at Locali is about as close to pastrami as Rick Santorum is to winning the Republican presidential nomination, but, unlike the former Pennsylvania senator, that doesn't mean it can't be a force for good.
Locali bills itself as a "conscious convenience store." It's so convenient, you often have to park in the nearby Mayfair Market and sneak over to the cramped strip mall that houses Locali. In practice, this ethos of conscious convenience means the shelves are stocked with healthy-ish energy bars, fizzy probiotic non-sodas, dried kale chips that look like dog treats and taste even worse, odd liniments and, occasionally, spectacular vegan treats like the chocolate-mint ganache from Cru. If dark chocolate frosting aspired to stark ideological purity, it would taste like this.
Locali also offers a basic menu of sandwiches and salads. Despite their vegetarian, gluten-free, organic, eco-friendly bona fides, they do serve meat. The typical sandwich variations on turkey, roast beef, chicken breast, grilled vegetables and hummus are just that: typical. They're large and hearty, nothing to complain about, but Locali is best known for their vegan Reuben. These days, they're also offering the Hot Mamma Pastrama. An inspired take on a classic Reuben, it's available at least for the next few weeks, possibly longer.
The Hot Mamma Pastrama is topped with a sprinkling of tart, peppery gardineria, a more finely minced version of the vinegary pot of cauliflower, carrots and peppers you might find at an Italian sub shop. Instead of cheese, you get a creamy indefinable paste (the sandwich can also be made in non-vegan style with regular cheese), included more for texture than taste. The rye bread is exactly as you would expect.
The heart of the sandwich is its "Hot Mamma" pastrami: thin slices of marinated tofu, a touch rubbery but, miracle of miracles, peppery and flavorful. Will it make a die-hard omnivore weep and repent every pilgrimage to Langer's? Hardly. But the whole sandwich, grilled and warmed like a panini, has a peppery, spicy kick that's more interesting than many Reubens, meaty or vegetarian.