Central Ohio vegans and omnivores alike now have another dining option. Chipotle, the national alt-Mex chain with an edgy image and a reputation for high standards, now offers Sofritas at all its Columbus-area locations. The spicy concoction of shredded organic tofu braised with chipotle chilies, roasted poblano peppers and a blend of aromatic spices first appeared in the company's California stores in Spring of 2013. Although Columbus has long been a popular test market for the fast-food industry, it is behind the curve this time as part of the last nationwide launch of the new product. Bob Fitrakis and I had the chance to try Sofritas this week at the Bexley location, 2484 East Main Street. Even we carnivores came away impressed. We were joined by Sarah Russell, Marketing Strategist for Central Ohio Chipotle locations, who gave us the skinny on the new meatless offering. “A lot of people do what you're doing,” she said, “combining Sofritas with another protein.” I had paired mine in a burrito bowl with steak, while Bob opted for the Sofritas straight up in soft taco form. Sarah explained that she was apprehensive the first time she tried the new product, but pointed out that Sofritas are not the “tasteless, little white cubes” that most people expect when they think of tofu. We were impressed with not only the tangy, savory flavor of Sofritas but the chewy texture, which was surprisingly similar to ground beef. The tofu mixture is probably not for the bland of palate, as it is more than a little spicy. Russell says the filling's heat index is designed to be on par with their green (medium) salsa. Clearly Chipotle had more than just the ever-expanding vegan market in mind when developing it's first new menu item in 20 years. “Sofritas is a very different kind of menu item, not just for Chipotle but for any fast food or fast casual restaurant,” said Steve Ells, Chipotle founder, chairman and co-CEO. “In creating the recipe for Sofritas, we wanted to produce something that would appeal to vegetarian and vegan customers, but that was delicious enough to have crossover appeal as well.” Russell says Sofritas are consistent with the company's philosophy of providing healthy, responsible food offerings. Chipotle has long promoted it's policy of using organic and locally-produced veggies and protein from free-range animals raised without antibiotics or growth hormones. And, while the majority of common tofu is derived from soybeans grown with genetically-modified seed, Russell points out that Chipotle's tofu supplier is Hodo Soy, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in organic, non-GMO tofu and artisanal methods of production. All Chipotle stores in the U.S. And Canada now offer Sofritas, and the company is trying to entice customers to try the new item with a “bounce-back” promotion. Customers who order Sofritas on January 26th can redeem their receipt for a free entree item upon a return visit.

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