V.V. Burger Showdown: Match 1: Everybody Wants Some [Superiority Burger vs. By Chloe]
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.
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:
In 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?
Superiority 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!
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.
The Guac Burger
And I had to get a cupcake–raspberry tiramisu. Mmmmmmm
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.
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.