I am excited to report on Sweet Annabelle’s, an all-vegan ice cream maker from right here on Long Island. I made the trip to Northport to meet the magical lady behind Sweet Annabelle’s and collect my baby-sized chocolate chip ice cream cake. But c’mon, an ice cream sandwich for the road? Yes, ma’am.

But first, Annabelle, the inspiration behind this all-vegan ice cream. Annabelle the cow (below) resides at Lewis Oliver Farm, a small farm with a deep history dating back to the 1800’s. The red shingled farm used to be a working dairy farm. Now it is a permanent home for its animal friends: goats, sheep, geese, chickens, ducks, turkeys, peacocks, bunnies and cats. Though many of its pens are dated and aligned more with its previous function, volunteers (like the vegan ice cream maker!) are morphing the grounds slowly, as funds allow, into a true animal sanctuary, crafting a space based on care and respect for the different temperaments and spatial needs of the animal friends.
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It is satisfying to see that the space had evolved from a dairy farm that profited from its animals to their safe haven. Not to mention I was here at the old dairy farm to buy non-dairy treats. Sweet Annabelle’s had a selection of pints, ice cream sandwiches, and ice cream cakes–all-vegan. When I sampled the salted caramel flavor, I knew Sweet Annabelle’s was the real deal. Creamy and delicious, and in that bright coconut white that feels so… ice cream-y. (As a long time vegan, my associations with early attempts at ice cream range from greyish to an off-putting beige.)
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Though we packed the baby-sized ice cream cake in a cooler, I took the “chipwich” to eat in the car. Two vegan chocolate chip cookies sandwiching a smooth blob of Sweet Annabelle’s vanilla. This was the perfect ice cream treat. The cookies were chip-heavy and were moist and chewy, just like I remember Chipwich being. They didn’t break and crumble with a bite; they gave in and joined the trip downward. Each bite had cookie and ice cream. That is the mark of a successful chipwich! So goood. PicMonkey Collage5

The cake was intact when we got home, which I worried about because of this oppressive heat. The fully dressed baby cake was adorable, with fork striping around its circumference, just like you know who.PicMonkey Collage4

A vegan ice cream cake?! Pinch me!
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This baby was classic chocolate chip with crunchies. It was fantastic for a couple of reasons: 1) it’s delicious vegan ice cream that you can eat with a fork, all fancy like and 2) It makes you feel great that veganism has come so far in its offerings. It’s a special feeling that emphasizes each bite. Do you want to feel special? You can order the cake you want from Sweet Annabelle’s website and arrange a pick-up at Lewis Oliver Farm. Or you can find pints and ice cream sandwiches at the Huntington Farmers Market on Sundays.IMG_0183

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This week’s gorgeous lunch photographed so well. Grilled tempeh, roasted beets, brown & wild rice pilaf with dill, cashew & diced red pepper, sautéed beet greens and Dino kale.
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Who wants to cook dinner in this sweltering heat? It was time to use my Asian market goodies and make some summer rolls. Inside: avocado, cucumber, carrot, daikon, ciliantro, and mint. Not pictured, the sweet chili dipping sauce with some hammered peanut. A big part of the summer roll is the dipping sauce.PicMonkey Collage

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So my roll got better as went along. The first few were pathetic. Reminded me of high school. Summer roll blunts.  DSC_0070

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The coconut oil tells me it’s sweltering out…IMG_0091

So happy to report on vegan soft serve in Freeport! Sunrise Vitamin and Health has Tofutti soft serve. Tofutti was been around since my early vegan days in the 90’s. I remember feasting on their now-discontinued Chipwich-like ice cream sandwiches. These early vegan delights stand tall in my memory. Moo-Moo’s, I think? The internet is no help with this information, oddly.IMG_0092

Cooling down with my favorite cocktail–vodka pineapple…IMG_9910

Freeport’s Nautical Mile, a entertainingly seedy outdoor bar cluster…
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Happy beach umbrellas against a bright blue sky…IMG_9943

Sitting on lily pads on the beach…IMG_9940

Having some quality cat time…
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Taking silly summer selfies…IMG_8335
Using up bananas so quickly ripened by the heat, capturing Frank in the background…IMG_0070

Ok, so I hadn’t realized I reported on so many of NYC’s veggie burgers until I counted them on my blog: 40 burgers! But times have changed since 2010 when I set out on a mission to find the best one (reporting briefly on 36 of them), then vaguely declared as Blossom de Jour. But there are new options sprouting up so often, foodie-minded options with attention and care to burger detail. It was time to revisit this quest.

 

This time around it’s a 16 veggie burger head-to-head battle. I’ve included several options from previous research that remain memorable, several brand new options, and a couple food truck options. The pink are Manhattan options; the teal are Brooklyn-based. I’m sure I am missing some great vegan burgers out there, yes. And I’m sure I’m leaving out a ton more that aren’t great. There’s some fine print about my research below, but feel free to skip to the showdown.

Burger Battle

Research Design: What makes a veggie burger a good veggie burger? It is hardly an exact science. However, I have a lot of experience deconstructing such things. Judgment, in general, is mostly based on the factors below. [Nostalgic associations, personal taste preferences, and (less so) an establishment’s ambiance, service, and overall value certainly hold enough weight to sway a decision, as they are part of the eating experience and, as such, part of my all-inclusive decision.]

  • patty, in general: A housemade patty is ideal. The base of patty is pretty darn important. Processed soy protein (soy science meat crud, usually frozen) is usually a sign of a burger the new NYU class from the Midwest would enjoy, not an experienced veggie burger master. #justsayin
  • taste: how the burger patty tastes and how the burger tastes with its accompanying veggies, sauces and bun.
  • texture: basically how my teeth enjoy the burger. Does is mush in my mouth like old Big League Chew? Can I actually chew a bite more than once or twice? Does it crumble and break? Are there completely intact Lima beans, peas and carrots in the patty? In the realm of veggie burgers, texture is the most important variable.
  • bun, in general: the burger:bun ratio is important and often relates to patty’s texture. But the bun itself is an important part of the burger.
  • accompanying sauces, cheeses, condiments, veggies: The dress counts. Again, housemade is ideal. Usually an eatery’s overall care is reflected in its sauces. Is there a housemade nut-based cheese? Are they simply offering packaged, processed food to top their patty? These things count tremendously simply because I can taste the difference. As far as veggies that crown the patty, this is more of a flexible decision.

Onward to the first Manhattan showdown:

Superiority Burger vs. By Chloe

IMG_0031In Manhattan’s West Village is By Chloe, a brand new all-vegan casual eatery headed by young Chloe Coscarelli–winner of Cupcake Wars, writer of vegan cookbooks Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen, Chloe’s Kitchen, and Chloe’s Vegan Desserts. I’ve been watching Chloe prepare for this opening via Instagram, excitedly. Her menu is basic but as thorough as it needs to be: burgers, fries, mac & cheese, cupcakes, and ice cream. Do you really need anything more than that?

IMG_0039Superiority Burger opened this summer in the East Village amidst a hefty serving of buzz from NYC culture vultures. But why? I don’t really know about this stuff. Perhaps it’s chef/owner Brooks Headley’s affiliation with Del Posto, the food star studded, highly accoladed restaurant where he was head pastry chef, receiving a coveted James Beard award for his work. Or perhaps it is Chef Headley’s punk cred–his work with a variety of 90’s indie / hardcore / emo bands. Either way, it’s translated to lines down the block during Superiority Burger’s early pop-ups and their now minimal hours of operation.

So this first showdown is a bit of a beauty & the beast: Chloe, with blue birds gently assisting with her dressing coat, Sandra Dee-style, vs. Brooks, disheveled, duct taped guitars leaning on his prep station. Here we go!

By Chloe:
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This is likely the most perfect dressed veggie burger this here vegan has ever eaten. I’m a fan of loading up a veggie burger with at least 3 or 4 additional servings of vegetables. Chloe’s toppings show her understanding that the patty is a vehicle for a delicious world of earthly tastes and textures: corn salsa, onion, guacamole, tortilla strips, chipotle aioli on The Guac Burger, and, more traditionally, pickles, onion, beet ketchup, and special sauce on The Classic. Because the space was loud, I wound up with the “wrong” burger the first time around. I had to go ahead and order The Classic after devouring The Guac. Just a few bites, I told myself after being handed The Classic. After all, it is pouring out and I’m without an umbrella. The Classic would be the competitor, facing Superiority Burger’s Superiority Burger. Once again, my first comment has to be about its dressing. The beet ketchup, with its signature stain mingling with Chloe’s dill-y special sauce, peeking out from a perfect-looking burger bun. Presentation of food aligns to the aesthetic of the adorably branded shop, all its little thingamajigs, and Chloe herself. Taste was just as impressive. A soft potato bun gave way to a hearty, thick lentil-tempeh-chia-walnut-based patty, far more sturdier than Guac‘s patty, that played a wonderful symphony with the pickles, lettuce and tomato and the her sauces. Her sauces pushed the burger to downright perfect. The special sauce, creamy with fresh notes of dill, was my favorite part. She nailed it. High marks on taste, texture, bun, patty, and dressings. It will be very difficult for Superiority Burger to knock By Chloe out of this competition.
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The Classic

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PicMonkey Collage1And I had to get a cupcake–raspberry tiramisu. Mmmmmmm

Superiority Burger:
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I was glad that when I arrived at Superiority Burger, just a few seconds before they flipped the “open” sign outward, there were a few folks on line. With the day’s on and off downpours, this was the day to head to Superiority Burger. The mixed crowd at By Chloe was majority female. The line before me, and then after me, was mostly male. This battle is turning out to be girls vs. boys! I ordered a vegan version of their house burger, the Superiority Burger, and a burnt broccoli salad, which I wound up ripping into savagely before even opening the burger. It was wonderful. But onward to the burger, which was tiny, maybe a diameter of 4″ or so. Its brown thick patty peeking out, its lettuce and tomato–it was like the cartoon version of a burger. Typical looking… but not typical looking for a veggie burger. I miss that look. It was dressed with a smear of tangy vegan white stuff–maybe a housemade mayo. Whatever it was, it was fantastic. The bun, soft and supple, along with that white stuff would make for its own delicious sandwich. Which brings me to the patty, it was mushy–oozing out from the bun with my first bite. Two large chunks fell to the tray. I’d eat them after inhaling what remained in my hands. It was very quinoa-y and on the moist side. It might fare better being a bit thinner, or with more binding… This is my only criticism. It was pretty damn good. And the bare bones energy of the place, its roller coaster like tables, and a busy Chef Headley in full view in the tiny space, along with various schmoozing dudes. It’s a very New York experience.
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So burger showdown #1 is complete!

And the win goes to By Chloe. A very close first battle.

But it was the texture of Chloe’s burger base that triumphed. Lentil, tempeh, and walnut, with Chia, a fierce gobbley goo binder. Ever since eating SUNY New Paltz’s cafeteria tempeh burgers in 1995, when this vegetarian high schooler was dating a college guy (Hi Barno, I saw you UPS-ing in Deer Park one day.), it’s been my favorite veggie burger base… and with good reason. It’s hearty; it absorbs flavor but isn’t a wet, buoyant sponge. Tempeh along with the combo of the hearty lentil and the walnut, all of which could singularly be burger bases on their own–though suffering their own drawbacks, work together to master texture in plant form. Moist enough to keep together, hearty enough to chew and stand up to bun and condiments, and… delicious.

Back before I was as obsessed with vegan food reporting, I simply ate at vegan spots and didn’t write about it— I know: gasp! That and this here blog didn’t exist. But I still collected menu mementos of some of the spots I ate. Here are some throwbacks from early travels.2005-X040

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I like to hunt vegan options, near or far. And though the mall is not even the 326th place I would choose to have a meal, it is a matter of convenience that brings me there on occasion. To prepare for those times, I decided to check out Roosevelt Field Mall‘s “Dining District,” the overhauled food court options which include some upper-crust food chains with more healthful options. These new options align with the mainstream’s trending embrace of more mindful food. And in this capacity, I like to stay abreast of these kinds of options. I have been watching options broaden since going vegetarian at 15 when I worked at Burger King. It’s a bit of a sociological fascination; that’s how I feel about “the mall,” in general actually. IMG_9980

The Little Beet has a lot going for it. It’s completely gluten-free. It’s vegetable-heavy and includes fresh juice choices. It has an easy and flexible ordering system that allows you to customize a complete vegan meal, acknowledging plant protein as, in fact, protein. The Little Beet’s plant protein options are tofu and a veggie pattie. And though its sides’ ingredients are displayed, I would appreciate vegan notations. It is the kind of place that presents itself as more vegan friendly than it is.  IMG_9983

On paper, all of that is great. But the delivery… that’s a bit more difficult. Seasoning and texture suffer greatly from by buffet style prepping of dishes. Below is my Beet Bowl, a bowl of marinated portobello, tofu, avocado, pickled slaw and ginger (minimal ginger present), nori (missing), wasabi (missing) and a un-vegan sauce I omitted after I first saw its opaque egg-based-ness squirted all over the veggies. (The counter gal made me another sweetly, though she left certain things off. I think she worried about their veganness.) The result was a pile of veggies. It was nothing thrilling, nothing terrible. But the thing is, I know how thrilling a pile of veggies can taste. A meal like this kind of reinforces the misconception that vegan food is lacking in some way. So though convenience and location may grab those with a growing interest in eating more plant-based, the meal doesn’t bolster that interest. Again, I understand this is a mall and this is a food chain that deals with the masses–and related challenges. It’s a step up, but I’d like a bigger, tastier step. And oh, I had to pay extra to have actual beet in the “Beet Bowl.”  True, most of their customers probably don’t have as much love for the beet as I do, but I was hoping the little beet was more than a name / cute logo. IMG_9992

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Next, something it is hard to get wrong: potatoes. Potatopia, yet another beautifully created scrolling website that puts a chef face and bio behind the food. These are the new food chains, but the formula is clear. Fun, friendly websites–a personality, even–with core values clear, commitments to freshness, yadda yadda yadda. Unfortunately, freshness is not 100% feasible in fast food. And despite marketing appearance, this is fast food. Better fast food that faces the same production and delivery challenges that regular fast food does. I appreciate the effort; I really do. But firmly believe these places need my plant-based consulting. So this is the first consult, free of charge.IMG_9985

Diced veggies are exciting to look at, however they just don’t taste like much… I don’t know why exactly, but can assume they were diced a very long time ago and refrigerated for some time. IMG_9988

Despite this potato’s pile of veggies, herbs and garlic, no taste. It was strange. These vegetables have been castrated. The garlic was barely perceivable. I don’t want to call it garlic. I know garlic. I smell it on my fingers, taste it on my breath for hours after using it. IMG_9996

Without seeing the chili underneath the veggies, I wouldn’t really know it was there. Again, no taste. Why? Well, it’s like everything else: food, music, movies: mass-produced, made for the masses = poor quality. It’s the challenge that all these newish fast food places have to take head on: is there a way to produce healthful, quality food with quality, unprocessed ingredients to a mainstream audience in a high frequency location without compromising taste?  I am going to keep trying while they work on getting it right. But it may just be a rigged system… IMG_9998

I feel like I haven’t made food in weeks. With a stretch of no travel, it was time to get back in the kitchen. For an ambitious lunch for the week, I tried out milkingalmonds‘ fantastic (fish style) parsnip filet recipe. Such a great idea! And as it turns out, parsnips’ fibrousness contribute greatly to the finish product’s texture. So good! Unfortunately the parsnips at my grocer were super skinny, which made these more like fish sticks.PicMonkey Collage

Breadcrumbs. When you want little pieces of bread all over stuff. I used gluten-free breadcrumbs… because, heck, why not?!IMG_9898

Of course I had to sample the meal. To see if it would do for the week. Superb! Two filets served with pepitas cous cous and roasted squash. IMG_9902

For dessert, homemade banana whip soft serve, made from bananas I froze and the Vitamix. And some chocolate chips. This is way too easy.IMG_9906

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Dear New York City,
I know I’d sooner drive hundreds of miles to a remote vegan option over state lines than hit your streets sometimes. The unfortunate truth is: you’re not who you used to be to me: escape, inspiration, excitement. Now, you are diluted, castrated even. I resent you a little… but because I held you in such a high regard. Because I loved you.

Going to the East Village, resentment is at its highest. All the landmarks of my youth have gone away, replaced by homogeneous offerings disguised as unique: spiritless offerings for those that don’t know better, those who don’t know at all, and, worse, don’t know that they don’t know. The New New York.

But from afar, say from a bridge or a ferry, I see you in a different way. I step away from your corners where I dwelled to see you wholly. Your empire of steel. Your manmade majesty.IMG_9630

And I feel special again by you. Feel proud to be by your side, remembering our adventures together. And what you endured. PicMonkey Collage

On a bright blue summer day, I love you again. In that way that a bright blue summer day can make you love most things. Variably, like a weather pattern.IMG_9680

Then we ate at Korilla, the Korean fusion food truck’s brick and mortar location in the East Village with the clearly labeled vegan options. [These are the new success stories of New York. No chain store backed by corporate headquarters in Colorado shelling out the exorbitant commercial rent for the lucrative sales potential in the NYC market. Homegrown.] If you’re ever craving a bowl (or burrito) of small piles of super delicious veggies and sauces—different textures, temperatures, tastes—stop in Korilla. Besides this, their staff knows where the fish sauce is even if you haven’t studied the menu as well as you should. I went for the purple rice bowl with its blend of forbidden rice, barley, brown and short grain sushi rice along with baked tofu, sweets n’ beets (sweet potato and the beloved beet), sweet corn & snap (peas), pico de gallo, and their Korean hot sauce.IMG_9598

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Next, settling into the new Zamperla-ized (masters in amusement park gentrification) Coney Island for drinks, friends, and fireworks. We sat rooftop at Tom’s Coney Island, where the old boardwalk dive Cha Cha’s used to be. I was pleased to see you can fancy up Coney Island’s offerings but you cannot break her weirdo spirit. Coney Island is the collective energy of her inhabitants, pure Brooklyn. And they’re going to beat out your plans for wholesome family entertainment. Thankfully. Keep Coney Weird!IMG_9692

Some highlights from the lights show, which really reels ‘em in.IMG_9735

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Thank you, New York.

Hawley, Pennsylvania is a resort town in the Poconos Mountains Lake Region located just far enough from the thriving metropolis New York City to feel like you’ve entered an entirely different habitat. Though most of the area resorts are for various outdoor adventuring, The Lodge at Woodlach, the area’s high-end destination spa, is a space for more quiet, mindful reflection. So it is no wonder the menu at their restaurant Tree offers spa-goers daily vegan options for all three meals. And luckily they extend this menu to pestering vegans off the street, like me. We arrived in style, ate a wonderful breakfast and explored some of the beautiful grounds. IMG_9142

It is so satisfying to see noted vegan options in unexplored, unexpected corners. Thinking I’d be stricken to Wasa and jam for the morning hour eats, I certainly did not expect to have this kind of breakfast. Along with our a la cart dishes, we enjoyed an unlimited breakfast buffet, including chia steel cut oat meal, fruits and some non-vegan things.PicMonkey Collage1

We order everything vegan on the menu. I love doing this. First, a mix of roasted red pepper, mushroom, and tempeh with perfect farm greens. It was light, clean, and well-portioned, like you’d expect in a spa. I needed a bit more kick, perhaps garlic? But I am not taking this dish for granted. Thank you, Tree.IMG_9114

Next, the Heirloom sweet potato medley and kale hash: Tuscan kale, shallots and the egg on a separate plate for my friend. Another delicious combination of the Earth’s best gems. Three types of potatoes? Yes, maam.IMG_9118

Finally, their chia seed and oatmeal pudding—blueberries, Medjool dates, Marcona almonds and maple syrup made this a big step up from the buffet’s oatmeal.IMG_9119

I would have loved to have returned to catch a glimpse of vegan lunch and dinner options, but we had dinner plans inside the great outdoors. But first we explored the tranquil natural setting The Lodge had to offer. IMG_9300

Hitting the road in the Miata, we needed potent coffee for the plans we had for the day. We hit Cocoon Coffee House, right outside the posh shops at the Bellemonte Silk Mill. Don’t expect much of options if you’re vegan, even though it feels like they would have some. Inside the Mill, cute shops, including a small grocer with vegan-friendly items from Natural Contents Kitchen. IMG_9148PicMonkey Collage2

After some thrifting for evening dresses, we were back at the homestead, pillaging the property’s garden for our lunch and dinner plans. What a joy to roam about overgrown veggie heaven to pick our meal. I even got to pull carrots out of the ground.PicMonkey Collage3

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We finally set up camp, stationing next to Forest Lake on the tremendous private property of Forest Lake Club. It was a perfect day for evening gown camping. IMG_9316

We evening gown-kayaked with our guardian pooch Knuckles.IMG_9322

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We also evening gown-swam before a fire-blazed meal of veggies, leftover pakora, and sticky rice, all emblazoned with the char of the fire.PicMonkey Collage6

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Another gorgeous lakeside sunset.IMG_9510

Dessert time: toasted Dandies and a banana s’more, stuffed with almond chocolate bark and some mushy marshmallow.PicMonkey Collage9

In the morning, the pancakes I prepped the day before got toasty on the flame. Melting my cooler-packed Earth Balance. Delicious morning!IMG_9579

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After two packed days, it was time to head back to New York. Till next time!

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