Match #3 of the V.V. Burger Showdown Semi-Finals: Class Warfare.

Toad Style vsCandle Cafe

In this third semifinal battle of burger supremacy we witness the clash of New York City’s dichotomous nature. The upper crusty Upper East Side faces Bedford-Stuyvesant, a Brooklyn neighborhood with a mythic claim on class division. But alas, tides turn, the sun rises and sets… and realtors find new neighborhoods to gentrify. Along with these shifts: new places to eat. Perhaps some day soon Bed-Stuy will be just as boring as the Upper East Side?

Besides neighborhood contrasts, the food style of both of these eateries are also different. Candle is an old school vegetarian fixture, born decades ago, back when vegetarian food was not as ubiquitous. They serve quality, healthful food done well. It is nostalgic, paying homage to the past by not fixing what ain’t broke. Toad Style, opening last year, also relies on quality. But they are part of the new school. They harness nostalgia in their menu selections as well, capitalizing on its comforts, but they impart a strong attention to detail to their menus–especially to the little details: the scratch made sauces, locally sourced buns and housemade cheese sauces. They attend to foodie sensibilities. Sensibilities that are evolving constantly as vegans’ tastes grow more and more discriminating with each new available quality eatery. It’s a process I’ve witnessed firsthand as a vegan in New York and a vegan in the world.

But let’s get down to brass tacks. Neither of these eateries are running through neighborhood, reputation or ethos alone. This is about the burgers.

Toad Style’s Cheeseburger:

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When a new eatery opens, there are kinks to be ironed. There are practices, initially, born of theory. There is no way of telling how what may have taken a lifetime to develop, a venture built thoughtfully and carefully, will translate into daily practice. Since my first visit in August of last year, Toad Style has solidified their daily practices. I’ve watched their fantastic specials in Instagram, read their rave reviews on Yelp, and I kind of been crushing on them from afar since first bite.

I loved their cheeseburger a lot my first visit. This visit, this battle, I loved it a bit less. Why? A few concerns about their patty, which is a moist mushroom and lentil-based patty was almost double in thickness than my first visit. Its thickness makes it hard to cook thoroughly, affecting temperature. And thickness also turns a patty into an inch-thick smear of hummus-like creaminess. The bun, also different from my first visit, is thicker and more powerfully sends the soft patty running to the left and the right. Dare I say I prefer the soft, white fast food-reminiscent sesame seed bun more than these? I do. Thinning out the patty and cooking this thinner patty to add caramelization about its surface would send this burger over the moon & back. They’ve done it before when they kicked Champs’ a**. Luckily, this burger is a lot more than a patty and a bun. The crisp veggies and cheese are huge highlights.

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Candle Cafe’s Chipotle Black Bean Burger:

Candle’s burger is a good one, a bit deceptively good as at a glance the patty seems sure to be dry and crumbly. It presents like a patty of yesteryear. But this is Candle’s charm. The patty is actually a moist one, with bite. And it tastes great in that good, clean way. But its bun, a whole wheat porous flatbread that is hardly an appropriate vehicle of deliciousness, reminded me of Pepperidge Farm or some such bagged, store bought item. Though I imagine Candle caters to many carb-conscious ladies, the form doesn’t do the trick for me. It’s like a burger between two slices of bread. You can’t help but feel like you’re missing out. And though their aioli is a nice contrast, it seemed like Vegenaise mixed with some adobo. Altogether, Candle’s black bean burger belongs in this battle, slaying lesser quality burgers easily. But the semi-finals is the end for this Upper East Side eatery. Toad’s style inched them out slightly by merit of their housemade fixings.

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The winner of the 3rd Semi-Final battle: Toad Style!

It’s important to note how close this battle between Toad Style and Candle Cafe was. Small details are getting magnified and I have several thousand fine tooth combs on my tongue, ready to identify the good, the bad, and the ugly. Toad advances to the finals to face Cafe Ghia, who went far quickly thanks to the total fail from the Blossom franchise. That means all remaining battles are Brooklyn-based. You best bring it, Brooklyn.

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It took a while for spring to spread her green. But she’s here, finally.

Wild life in the backyard.IMG_0383

Clematis blooming.IMG_0406

Iris parade on the side of the house. Rose bushes also showing signs of green.IMG_0405

Garden still contained. IMG_0506

Anticipating these tomatoes IMG_0507

My lucky 7 sunflowers. These are the only Heirloom Titan seedlings that survived. In the graves of the eaten seedlings, I planted some Mammoth Russian Greystripe today.PicMonkey Collage

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Sometimes I get girly-girl. But for my lifetime, I am way out of practice. As a child, I gave my Barbies haircuts that challenged society’s standards of beauty. As a teenager, I tried in the ways I could–dying and bleaching my hair constantly, heavy-handed use of many shades of black eye liner, plucking out my eyebrows with no sense of symmetry. My favorite way to style my cropped hair was to wash it in the evening and then fall asleep on it. Now that I’m an adult, there are times I wish I knew how to do certain girly-girl things better. Now that I get VeganCuts’ Beauty Box, I get all kids of goodies delivered monthly. And I get to experiment once again without having to research a ton of ingredients. Here are some products I am enjoying:

Nail polish is pretty much toxic and scary to me. Though I go for manicures and pedicures on occasion, I’m always freaked out by the sharp odor of toxic fumes in a nail salon, the face masks. As I sit there within the disproportionate mechanical rollers of the massage chair, watching a low-paid woman cater to my feet, I get more tense.  I am not enjoying myself.  After receiving a full-sized JoShik nail polish, I was very excited. I can do it myself now! Joshik is a certified vegan company. And–polishes do not contain any of that scary stuff. It’s “5-free”: No Formaldehyde, no Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), no Toluene, no Formaldehyde Resin, no Camphor, no Parabens, no Xylene & no Triphenyl Phosphate (TPHP). I was so happy with the discovery of JoShik that I ordered 3 other colors, as well as a base coat and a top coat.
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The White Whale of vegan beauty care: Good vegan shampoo. I don’t know about you, but I am always underwhelmed by vegan shampoo. The lathering, the conditioning, or, really, the lack of both, reminds me just how much animal and chemical is used in regular shampoo. Having to use a friend’s shampoo or a hotel travel size, I’d be reminded. No one got this vegan shampoo thing right! Then I tried Tara Smith. Vegan Cuts included her Shining Moment Glosser in a box and I quickly bought a full size of it, along with a shampoo and a conditioner. As far as I’ve tried, they’re the best vegan hair care products. And, not to sound like an informercial, several colleagues and friends complimented my hair and asked if I had done something differently. IMG_0422

These are not beauty products, but they are beautifully delicious. ChocAlive! is a line of raw and vegan chocolate truffles. Their potently chocolatey without being too rich… smooth, wonderful texture. And that powerful lingering chocolate taste in your mouth is a great base for… a pretzel. That is how I enjoyed them. So maybe that is a great direction for their next flavor. Salt.
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There is a place where vegans can get French macarons, pretty chocolates with caramel inside, pretty/decadent things… in New York City. Finally! The funny thing is that they’ve been available in New Paltz for quite some time. It’s Confectionery: the East Village home of Lagusta’s Luscious and Sweet Maresa. (Not really Makki Deli & Grocery)
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Everything is pretty, tidy and delicious. These craftswomen are the best at their trade.PicMonkey Collage1

The vegan French Macaron. I am very satisfied with making all my own baked goods. But macarons? Maresa really has mastered these. Hands down. And I am glad she is here. IMG_0175

I bought a box of 6: absinthe, toasted coconut, peanut butter churro, vanilla, peanut butter brownie, and peanut butter & jelly. Perfection in texture, flavor, creativity, and delicateness.PicMonkey Collage2

I also picked up a Lagusta S’mores Bar. Toasted Sweet & Sara marshmallows and graham cracker covered in chocolate. IMG_0189

This thing was crazy thick and potent, but I ate it all in a few bites. I loved the toasted taste and slightly browned look of the marshmallow The graham had a nice saltiness that helped this hit all the necessary notes. But I thought the chocolate coated was too thick. Am I crazy? Kinda.PicMonkey Collage3
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Hope they can stay on top of East Village rent!

A while ago, Vegan Cuts gave me a full sized bag of brown rice noodles. I hate to have things sit around too long, so I decided to make Pad Thai for my lunch this week. There are a ton of vegan Pad Thai recipes out there, but I trust Isa. Despite this being in Isa Does It, this Pad Thai isn’t easy-breezy. But it is well worth it. Start with browning the tofu patiently. IMG_0306

Don’t pull the tofu off the heat too soon. You need browning. Underdone tofu just mushes everything up. IMG_0309

The next time I had a hand free to take I picture, I was done! Look how lovely. The sauce is the real star in this recipe, very complex and the perfect heat level. You got to get the really good tomato paste, that one in the tube.
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Pad thai is only half done once it’s off the heat. It needs a bunch of accoutrements like chopped peanuts, mung bean sprouts, lime wedges, and fresh cilantro. Though this was the week’s lunch, I ate a day’s portion. I couldn’t resist.IMG_0328

And because it’s her favorite day, here’s Addie. She is such a special kitty. Never met one like her. She’s smarter than most people I know.IMG_0257

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Trader Joe’s now has vegan marshmallows. That’s how Trader Joe do. They buy formulas and sell ’em under their brand. So it’s important to understand that these marshmallows are really… Dandies. The deal is helping spread vegan joy through Trader Joe’s massive distribution. IMG_0267

Now that they are so cheap, I’m going to find more uses for marshmallows! My first, chocolate chip cookies stuffed with marshmallow. It’s an easy addition to your favorite cookie recipe: just engulf the dough around the marshmallow and bake as usual. IMG_0285

Then, if you want, you can put them on fancy plates.IMG_0288

Marshmallow explosion!IMG_0296

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Ok, it’s important to note that when I want a sweet treat, The Electrician drives 40 minutes to get Sweet & Sara‘s. So having these Trader Joe’s less than 3 minutes away is a lot easier when a craving strikes. But since I had Sweet & Sara‘s in the fridge, I asked The Electrician to do a blind taste test with one of hers and the Trader Joe’s/Dandies. The winner was Sweet & SaraIMG_0274

Match #2 of the V.V. Burger Showdown Semi-Finals: A Fall From Grace.

By Chloe vsChickpea & Olive

Ok, I’m back in the burger battle again! We’re at the 2nd of the Semi-Finals of the V.V. New York City Burger Showdown!  I know I said this before… But it’s been awhile: what’s great about this burger battle is that consistency counts. With repeated visits and, in this case, months passing, a burger’s true strength is revealed. And unlike other “best-of” lists compiled in one moment in time likely by someone with a relatively tiny portion of my vegan expertness, I know what makes a good burger.
I also know what makes a bad veggie burger. I’ve eaten them for years. I’ve tasted evolution bite by bite. So sometimes, in honoring that PicMonkey Collageprogress, I got to be the heavy. I have to “keep it real” like that woman on the Chappelle Show who had someone messing with her phone. It’s a role I can take on easily because I care about quality above all. In everything. In food, yes, but even more so in vegan food. I don’t sing the praises of something simply because it’s vegan. This here is not a rationalization I present when I’m about to rip something apart. Its pretty much my MO in all departments of life.

So let’s move it along here. Veganism’s sweetheart By Chloe vs. Chickpea & Olive, the vegan pop-up that could. Like Match #1 of the semi-finals, my soapbox is going to come out.

By Chloe’s Classic Burger:Ch1Here it is: By Chloe’s basic burger downright bombed this battle: a huge upset for a burger that had promise. The burger that knocked Superiority Burger out in the first round wouldn’t scratch it had this second burger been served. The patty was cold, dry (high school cafeteria dry), and lifelessly limp. I didn’t detect any flavor. The bun was pleasing until its end which was crunchy and sharp. The beet ketchup, which I loved on my first visit, was way too vinegary and its taste was off putting. And I swear, I wasn’t searching for criticisms. I entered into the battle with enthusiasm… And it lasted through the long line to get my food. I had food-fantasized about By Chloe’s burger since my first visit. I did foresee that burger beating all others.

So what happened? A chef’s food became a brand. A cute font, a beautiful face, a marketing niche, press and airtime all over the place, multiple opportunistic new locations and endeavors carefully chronicled by social media. It’s all hot and trending and appears exciting. But… being immune to vapid, millennial spectacle, the food is all I care about. The quality. I cherish it like the lost art it is. Though it saddens me to say, I am fearful that this is the end for the Classic Burger… that probably wasn’t made by Chloe.

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A definite highlight: the loaded disco fries that are not on the menu: chorizo, onion, swirling cheesy sauces. These received many headturns. And I inhaled them.Ch4

Chickpea & Olive’s Phatty Beet Bacon (no Cheddar) Ranch:
I regard myself as an introvert. Crowds are psychically draining, especially crowds in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Every time I have had Chickpea & Olive‘s eats, I’ve been at Smorgasburg–hot, surrounded by caricatures. Those negative associations can kill a bit of the ambiance, but they are not factors if you visit the Lunchtime Under the Archway in DUMBO. For one, you’re under an Archway and out of the sun. Two, there are plenty of tables and, because it’s weekday lunch, the table turnover is swift. I stopped by to finish this semi-final battle off, ordering their well-loved phatty beet patty… with some eggplant bacon and some of their Ranch sauce, leaving off the Daiya cheddar which may be on the outs soon as they are experimenting with housemaking a cheese. Yay!

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The burger is an enjoyable one. It’s a flavorful patty than is wet and messy in a good way. It’s got chew, not like those patties that feel more like dry mashed potatoes. The bun–top notch–which is super important. And as a vegan, I always appreciate a contrasting opaque, creamy sauce. But since the patty has so much moisture, the sauce just offers more wetness. It’s a bit of a lost opportunity. I wish the Ranch had more of a tangy punch. The eggplant bacon blends too much with the patty’s texture. These constructive criticisms are minor. But at this point in the battle, stakes are high!  IMG_0228

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The winner of the 2nd Semi-Final battle: Chickpea & Olive!

A clear winner has emerged from this battle: Chickpea & Olive’s phatty beet burger. Brooklyn advances to the Finals!! This may very well be Brooklyn’s for the taking, considering Cafe Ghia might be up against Toad Style in the semi-finals! We’re almost at the end now!

This battle is dedicated to Pickle Shack who would have kicked both By Chloe’s and Chickpea & Olive’s toasted buns. Rest in peace. 

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For research design, click here.

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http://www.belovefarm.com

Cafe Gratitude:

On my recent trip to Los Angeles, my friend and I were looking into where to eat. Cafe Gratitude came up. They have been doing plant-based for, like, decades. But recently, vegans have boycotted the collection of vegan restaurants owned by Matthew Englehart, including Cafe Gratitudes in Los Angeles, Newport, Venice and San Diego, Sage Vegan Bistro (which I really enjoyed), also in Los Angeles, as well as Gracias Madre in San Francisco. Why? Owners are not vegan anymore. In fact, Englehart proudly posted a video of himself eating his first hamburger in 40 years, justified by his wife’s nonsensical babble:

Cows make an extreme sacrifice for humanity but that is their position in God’s plan as food for the predators. Cows maintain the grass, predators maintain the herd by culling the weak and sick. We can be part of that sacrament. Sacrifice is part of life. As in the passion of Christ, we all have to spill our blood for humanity to know the Father. The cow’s sacrifice was been ordained, ours we must choose. ~Terces Engelhart

News article here.


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http://justanotherveganin.wix.com

Bamboo Garden:

I used to love Bamboo Garden when I lived in Seattle. True, that was a lifetime ago, when I had weird eating habits. It always remained in my mind as a part of food past and it was probably one of the first places I took pictures of my dinner.

But in recent news, they have been subject of a shocking expose that includes dumpster diving and scientific food analysis. This very comprehensive report and pictorial blew it up. They have been serving non-vegan food, perpetrating a front. Kind of sickening.


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Pure Food & Wine:

And finally, Pure Food and Wine’s Sarma was apprehended recently. She had been missing for quite some time after not paying her employees and running off with investors’ money. But even more scandalous than that, she and her husband were busted after receiving a delivery from Domino’s Pizza.

News article here.

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It’s been awhile!

But I’ll be ready to declare a winner in this first battle by the end of the month!

So Chickpea & Olive was on a seasonal break but has returned for Spring. My beloved Pickle Shack, who certainly had what it takes to get to the finals, is no longer able to fight for the win. They closed abruptly in late February, leaving the winner of By Chloe vs.Chickpea & Olive able to advance straight to the finals. Do I wish I can throw Superiority Burger back into the mix? Or M.O.B. for that matter? Yes. But all’s fair in love and vegan burgers.

So, stay tuned for the end of Battle 1… and the start of Battle 2: Summer 2016 edition.

Meantime, this is where we’re at. Burger Battle_Battle10

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