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