In 2018, Tempeh’s Temptations Are More Than a Trend

Awang Kitchen is a bright spot on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. Literally: It’s lit so strongly, you can spot it from afar while you drive hungrily down the street looking around for parking. The small space has a sushi bar to your right when you walk in, but everyone comes for the Indonesian food. Elmhurst has long been known as the neighborhood in the city to go to for beef rendang and mie goreng, as well as tempeh, and Awang, which opened in 2017, has become the neighborhood’s shining star.

What most Americans know as a meat substitute that usually sits next to the tofu dogs in the vegan section of the supermarket is actually a staple of Indonesian cuisine. There it was first made by wrapping soybeans in hibiscus leaves; the mold Rhizopus oligosporus adhered to those leaves naturally, and the hot and humid climate was a perfect incubator. Tempeh became both a staple of the diet and a protein substitute for anyone who couldn’t afford meat. In its Americanized life, it’s turned into hamburgers and bacon, an adaptation seems strange to Pat Tanumihardja, the Jakarta-born author of Farm to Table Asian Secrets—Vegan and Vegetarian Full-Flavored Recipes for Every Season.

“When I first came to the U.S. [from Jakarta] for college in 1992, I only saw tempe [its Indonesian spelling] on menus at vegetarian or hippie restaurants and also in health food stores. It wasn’t even sold at the Asian markets,” she tells me over email. “Over the years, I noticed tempe at mainstream supermarkets … vegetarians and vegans were using it as a meat substitute and turning it into odd foods like burgers, tacos, salads, and stews. I was so used to seeing it cooked Indonesian-style.”

Chef Siliwanga at Awang Kitchen

At Awang Kitchen, that’s what you get. Chef Siliwanga serves two tempeh appetizers: a lightly fried pillow called tempeh mendoan, which is served with a palm-sugar-sweetened soy dipping sauce dotted with chopped scallion, and a deep-fried version, served sans sauce. The former, he says, is very traditional to his home of Java, while the latter was was put on the menu for those who might find softer tempeh off-putting. While they look similar enough on first glance, the mendoan brings the intense mushroomy flavor of the protein to the fore, complemented by the nice salty-sweet balance of the sauce.

“On one hand, I’m glad Indonesian food is getting its fair share of recognition — or at least one particular food is,” Tanumihardja says. “I’m really hoping that Indonesian cuisine will become more popular in the U.S. because it’s such a rich, diverse cuisine. On the other, it’s pointless if Indonesian food like tempe becomes popular but is divorced from its cultural and historical origins. People who eat it are none the wiser, and assume it’s just a product or invention borne out of the vegan food movement.”

Tempeh mendoan (left) and tempeh goreng at Awang Kitchen

The way veganism claims plant-based meat substitutes from various Asian cuisines as its own — turning tofu into nuggets, seitan into sausage, jackfruit into pulled pork — takes a different form at chef Chris Scott’s Butterfunk Kitchen in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. There, at the recent Top Chef finalist’s soul-food restaurant, he serves a chicken-fried version with a stew of okra and other vegetables. The result is a satisfyingly crispy dish that, again, doesn’t hide the intensity of tempeh’s own funk. And somehow it fits right in among the crispy deviled eggs, fried catfish, and braised beef brisket. You could say it’s a Southern take on what they serve up in Elmhurst — a clever way to give the vegans something to munch on at a very meaty restaurant — but the reasons behind its inclusion on the menu go much deeper, because Scott finds it surprising that plant-based eaters even step foot inside his restaurant.

“It’s like a carnivore heading out to a vegetarian restaurant for steak,” he says. “But that seems to be the trend these days: Everyone is looking for healthier options, even if it means literally changing the historic methods and ingredients of a cuisine. With that being said, we put our tempeh on the soul food menu.”

Scott was introduced to the protein while cooking at a vegan and macrobiotic restaurant. “I immediately fell in love with it. Its flavor and texture was so unique,” he says, “and I loved its versatility from being made with the traditional soybean to other tempeh styles, like chickpea or farro.” All kinds of tempeh start with legumes or grains, which are soaked, cooked, mixed with a bacteria culture, and then left to incubate at a temperature of about 80 to 90 degrees for 24 to 32 hours to let a white mycelium form to make all those legumes stick together. That resulting funky flavor and chewy texture provide ready-to-go meatiness. At his spot next door to Butterfunk, Brooklyn Commune, it fits right in with their plant-forward, farm-to-table approach.

Butterfunk Kitchen’s Chris Scott and his wife, Eugenie Woo

Butterfunk, though, serves a menu based on Scott’s family’s cooking over seven generations, dating back to slavery.  There weren’t any vegetarians (or Indonesians, for that matter) in his ancestry. Yet he found a way to make it work, using Queens-based brand Barry’s Tempeh. “We prepare it in the old-school method of chicken-fried steak. Tempeh is a better fit than tofu on our menu. After all, soybeans are a product that are grown by black farmers, now and during slavery times. It was and is an integral part of the diet of Southerners,” he explains, as it uses the whole bean. “Tofu, in that form, is not.”

Tempeh became a major vegetarian protein player in the U.S. when the authors of The Book of Tofu, William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi, turned their attention toward it in their 1979 release The Book of Tempeh. They provide instructions on making your own along with recipes for traditional dishes, like grilled tempeh with kemangi in coconut-milk sauce, along with the much less classic tempeh guacamole. While their writing goes through extensive pains to ground the dish in its place of origin, the brand you’re now most likely to find at Whole Foods, Lightlife, is based in Massachusetts. It’s no wonder so few people have any idea that it’s Indonesian.

The strange history of tempeh in the U.S. will hopefully see reformation through the success of restaurants like Awang Kitchen, which are serving it without apology the way it was intended. Butterfunk, though, presents a challenge.

“Just like the farm-to-table movement, where we’re trying to recognize the farmers who grow our food,” says Tanumihardja, “we should be aware that every cuisine and every dish within that cuisine comes with cultural provenance, too.” She’s talking about tempeh, but it applies to soul food too. Are vegans owed a dish at every restaurant, even when chefs are trying to tell a specific and historic story? The answer doesn’t go down as easy as those chicken-fried beans.


With Jawea Frozen Desserts, Healthy Treats Taste Oh-So-Good

Mike Rosenthal waxes romantic when talking about what he’s eaten on his many travels, and food memories from childhood. So when pondering a new food product that would bring comfort, culture, and satisfaction to a wide variety of eaters, he looked to to his past.

“I grew up in Philadelphia,” Rosenthal tells the Voice, “where we have ‘water ice,’ which everyone else calls Italian ice. My favorite memory as a kid was going to get water ice on the first day of summer. It was a nostalgic feeling, and whenever I thought about it, I’d smile.”

Meanwhile, he was working in the restaurant industry but found his happiest moments in adulthood were cooking for friends. Being lactose intolerant, he’d whip up dairy-free ice cream and sorbet for dessert, pulling in the flavors of his travels in combinations like avocado-lime and mango-chili. When his friends requested these desserts more than anything else, Rosenthal knew he’d found his product. Thus, Jawea Frozen Desserts was born.

Rosenthal moved to Chicago to work on his recipes out of the kitchen of Revolución Steakhouse, where a friend was the manager. “Every day I would wake up early and make my ice cream; twenty or thirty recipes on three tabletop machines, the kind that would take an hour to make a gallon of sorbet,” he explains. “I sold my car so that I could afford to live for a year, and so I could only sell to restaurants I could walk to! But it was cool: I was making these half-gallon containers and hand-delivering the products. I learned a lot about myself, entrepreneurship, and the business.”

Part of what Rosenthal learned in this year of experimenting and selling to Chicago restaurants was that the restaurant industry — especially in a particularly cold-winter city — did not foster equity in an ice cream company. And he missed New York: “I missed the energy. I missed people not waiting for the light to change to cross the street. And New York is the center of food trends in the country. It was a huge thing for me to quit my job and start this crazy company, but I learned that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward. I didn’t want to be a big fish in a small pond — I wanted to be a big fish in a big pond. And there’s no bigger pond than New York City.”

For the name, Rosenthal shortened Sacajawea — the Lemhi Shoshone woman who helped the Lewis and Clark Expedition cross from North Dakota to the Pacific — to Jawea, writing the word on a poster and polling people as to what it made them think of. “The top responses were that it was exotic, natural, and smooth,” he says, “which is exactly what I wanted.”

From the start, his Horchata flavor — with cinnamon, rice flour, and vanilla in a coconut base — was the biggest hit, so much so that Chicago eaters still ordered it in the dead of winter. The creamy coconut-based desserts did the best overall when compared to the fruit-based sorbets, and so he worked on developing that base recipe.

When he first started out, the tubs needed to be removed from the freezer ten minutes before plating to reach optimum texture; not ideal for busy restaurant dessert stations, nor home eaters. That led to the challenge of how to create an easily scoopable, dairy-free product without too many added or artificial stabilizers. So he started experimenting with invert sugars — sucrose split into its parts, glucose and fructose, which add body and creaminess along with sweetness — and settled upon tapioca syrup. Now, Jawea desserts are scoopable just minutes out of the freezer.

As far as the parameters Rosenthal set for the rest of Jawea’s ingredients, he focused on how his product would make eaters feel more than anything. “People talk a lot about guilt when it comes to ice cream,” he says. “They’re happy and comforted with full-fat ice cream, but then they’re super guilty. On the other side are low-calorie diet products that have a lot of sweeteners, oils, and powders, but they don’t taste great and so customers are unsatisfied. I wanted to launch a dessert that’s balanced and draws health-conscious people who want something comforting that’s also not bad for you.”

Jawea flavors are a touch less sweet than other ice creams and are certified vegan, gluten-free, and soy-free. The ice cream also doesn’t contain any corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, or GMOs. The line now includes a Chocolate Horchata, a Salty Dulce, Spiced Coffee, and Mango Chili (inspired by the flavor combination he loved while traveling in Thailand and Mexico).

“The big thing was learning how to trust my gut,” Rosenthal says of the learning curves he has overcome in the past few years. “So many people have done this before and everyone has advice, which is great, but you get pulled in so many directions. I learned the hard way, [by] making mistakes, but now I ask what’s the why behind every decision: ‘Is that who I am and what this brand is going for?’ I’ve learned to trust myself, which is not easy, because I’m learning how as I go.”



This Week in Food: Sumo Stew, Yacht Cruise, Vegan Butcher Launch Party

Reel Food Screening and Discussion: Food, Inc.
Brooklyn Historical Society (128 Pierrepont Street, Brooklyn)
Monday, 6:30 p.m.

Catch a screening of the documentary Food, Inc. and explore the topic of corporate farming in the United States. The Executive Director of Brooklyn’s Added Value Farms will introduce the film and lead a post-screening discussion. Refreshments will be provided by Whole Foods, and guests are encouraged to reserve a spot in advance, as seating is not guaranteed. RSVP here.

Masters of Social Gastronomy
Old Stone House (336 3rd Street, Brooklyn)
Monday, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m

Learn all about the history and science of barbecue, from Spanish barbacoa to Texas brisket. Take a deep dive into the low-and-slow cooking method and discuss pork versus beef barbecue’s popularity. Beer, wine, and food will be available for purchase. There is a five-dollar suggested donation for entry to the event.


The Brooklyn Brewery (79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn)
Tuesday, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Sip on huge bowls of sumo stew (a/k/a chankonabe) and cold beer while watching sumo matches live from Japan. Bento boxes with goodies from EN Japanese Brasserie, Ramen Burger, and more will be available to nosh on, too. In addition to Brooklyn Brewery’s usual drafts, whiskey, sake, and other spirits will be available. Tickets are $50 and include food, one beer token, and two drink tickets. Reserve your spot here.

Manhattan Cricket Club’s Yacht Cruise

SkyPort Marina (23rd St. and FDR Drive)
Thursday, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Manhattan Cricket Club is hosting a $75 all-inclusive private cruise that includes cocktails, Blue Point oysters, and Australian-themed bites courtesy of Burke & Wills. The signature cocktail lineup includes a smoked-cinnamon old-fashioned and the Rhum Around, a rum and agave drink flavored with pistachio mist. Reserve your ticket here.

Vegan Butcher Shop Launch Party
Exhibit C. (88 Eldridge Street)
Friday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Celebrating the launch of New York City’s soon-to-debut vegan butcher shop, Kols Staem & Eséé Ché, the shop’s owners will host a twelve-course tasting menu. The dinner includes vegan versions of chicken masala, beef short ribs, cold cuts, cheeses, and cheesecake. Tickets are $125. Reserve yours here.


This Week in Food: Winter Cocktails, Paella Class, and Koreatown Cookbook Party

PLANT by Jay Astafa Pop-Up Dinner, Adelina’s, 159 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn, Monday, 7 p.m.

Adelina’s is hosting a 12-course vegan tasting menu, courtesy of chef Jay Astafa of 3 Brothers Vegan Cafe. Courses will include plant-based cheeses and desserts in addition to veggie-forward bites such as sunchoke soup, beet tartare, and squash ravioli. A six glass wine pairing will also be available for an additional $40 charge. Tickets are $145 and are inclusive of service; reserve here.

Tasting Menu, élan, 43 East 20th Street, Monday through end of February

During the final month of service at chef David Waltuck’s élan, the restaurant is offering a special $40 prix fixe menu beginning this Monday. The three course dinner, which will be adjusted daily depending on market availability, will also feature a glass of complimentary sparkling wine.

Winter Cocktails, Montana’s Trail House, 455 Troutman Street, Brooklyn, Monday through end of March

Escape cabin fever with winter drinks like a rum-based “Street Shark” cocktail, which uses winter spice syrup and tamarind cordial to tame the winter chill. The restaurant’s new seasonal menu also includes a bourbon and mulled wine-based “Blizzard Beast” as well as a drink with Calvados, white whiskey, and salted pecan rye syrup.

Paella Workshop, Centro Espanol, La Nacional, 239 West 14th street, Tuesday, 5 p.m.

Fill up on the history of paella before making the celebrated Spanish dish from start to finish.  A chef will lead guests on a hands-on cooking demonstration before allowing students to make their own paella feast. Dinner includes sangria, salad, and dessert from La Nacional. Attendees will take home select paella recipes as well as recommendations for appropriate cookware and ingredients. Tickets are $50 for general admission and can be secured here.

Koreatown Cookbook Party, Ichi Cellar, 6 East 32nd Street, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Experience the recipes and stories of Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong chef Deuki Hong as he unveils his cookbook, Koreatown. The book features recipes, stories, and photos from Korean American neighborhoods across America. Tickets ($40 per person) include a copy of the book along with beer, soju, and snacks prepared by chef Hong; reserve them here.


Best Weekend Food Events: Cassoulet Cook-Off, Free Nachos, and a Persian Feast

Free Vegan Raw Food Cooking Class, Crossroads Seventh Day Adventist Church, 410 W 45th Street, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Looking to incorporate more vegetables in your life in 2016? This free class will demonstrate how to prepare raw plant-based dishes, with guests receiving free samples of each prepared item. The event will also include a brief health discussion covering the nutritional aspect of a vegan raw lifestyle; guests are required to complete a free RSVP here.

A Cassoulet Salon and Cassoulet Cookoff, Jimmy’s No. 43, 43 East Seventh Street, Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m./12 p.m.

To celebrate the 8th Annual Cassoulet Cook-Off, Jimmy Carbone is extending the festivities celebrating the hearty French stew to include an entire weekend’s worth of activities. On Saturday, a cassoulet discussion featuring panelists such as vintage cookbook specialist Bonnie Slotnick and author Cathy Erway will take place, with time for questions and samples afterwards. On Sunday, home and professional chefs compete for the love of the crowd. Attendees can sample over ten different cassoulet styles in a walk-around event. Tickets for Saturday’s event are $10 each (your first American beer/wine/cider is included in the ticket price); purchase here. Sunday’s ticket includes one free American beer or cider and all the cassoulet you can eat; reserve one for $30 here.

Free Nachos and Comedy, Brooklyn Brewery, 79 North 11th Street, Brooklyn, Saturday, 7 p.m.

Need a cheap pick-me-up? The first 40 audience members who arrive will receive free nachos courtesy of Nacho Ordinary Gals. Tickets to the comedy show are $10 and can be reserved here.

AMERICarnival, Johnny Utah’s, 25 West 51st Street, Saturday, 7 p.m.

Ride a bull and down $5 carnival-themed cocktails at this new weekly show, which features clowns, stilt walkers, and carnival games. There’s also $7 boozy root beer floats and a full deep-fried dish menu.

Chef Einat Admony & Chef Bettina Banayan’s Persian Feast, Bar Bolonat, 611 Hudson Street, Sunday, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. seatings

Kicking off a new monthly dinner series, chef Einat Admony is inviting guest chefs to collaborate on globally focused dinners. This month features Bettina Banayan, who will create four courses within traditional Jewish Persian cuisine. The menu includes a choice of dishes such as chicken meatball soup, cucumber labneh, and crispy fava rice. Dessert and tea are included, with cocktail and wine pairings available for an additional charge. Score a ticket – $117.04 per person  – here.


This Week in Food: 35-Cent Cocktails, Midnight Champagne, and Which Vegan Taco Es Mas Macho?

El Macho Taco, V Spot, 12 St. Marks Place, Monday, 7 p.m.

If the mere thought of chili cook-offs bores you, check out a meat-free matchup instead. Guest chefs from restaurants including V Spot and Taco Chulo will create eight different vegan tacos, guests will vote for their favorite version, and the winner receives a people’s choice award. A celebrity panel will fork over their top picks as well. Tickets are $35 for general admission and $55 for V.I.P.; the latter includes a regular or virgin margarita, chips and salsa, priority seating, and a meet-and-greet with the chefs. Reserve here.

35-Cent Cocktail Happy Hour, Louie and Chan, 303 Broome Street, Tuesday, 7–8 p.m.

To help today’s tootler embody the spirit of the Roaring Twenties, Louie and Chan debuts a “Prohibition Happy Hour” highlighted by a special 35-cent flapper-era cocktail. That’s right: 35 cents. Every Tuesday for one hour, guests can grab a drink at either the upstairs or downstairs bar before an evening of live music, burlesque, and other parlor performances. Each week the cocktail will change — this Tuesday’s features Bulldog gin — but the deal remains the same. Guests are encouraged to wear 1920s attire, though your everyday duds will net you the throwback pricing, too.

Tenement Talks: Hot Bread Kitchen, Tenement Museum, 103 Orchard Street, Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.

Not all breadbaskets are created equal, as Hot Bread Kitchen founder Jessamyn Rodriguez will tell you. A nonprofit, Hot Bread Kitchen provides immigrant women with culinary training; Rodriguez recently authored The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook, filled with recipes she has acquired through her conversations with these women. Tonight at the Tenement Museum she will discuss stories that can be shared through baking. The event is free; seating is first-come, first-served. Attendees may also purchase Rodriguez’s book at a discount.

Midnight Champagne Party, Corkbuzz, 75 Ninth Avenue, Thursday, 10:30 p.m.

Toast the impending Halloween at Corkbuzz’s Chelsea Market location with wine, Champagne, and the ghosts of grapes past. Drink specials include $8 wines by the glass, $13 sparkling-wine cocktails, and a 50 percent discount on all bottles of Champagne. If you want to match wits with your fellow guests, enter the blind tasting competition and see who among you possesses supernatural skills when it comes to sniffing out wine. (Those interested in participating in the competition must register in advance; find more info here.)

10th Annual Free Halloween Candy Wine & Spirits Tasting, Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit, 5 West 19th Street, Friday, 5 p.m.

Pair candy and wine at this (potentially) spooky tasting, which might just play tricks on your palate. From chardonnay and candy corn to rum and Toblerone, the folks at Bottlerocket will help guests figure out how to make the most of their leftover Halloween candy. The store offers six different complimentary complementary tastings that include instructions regarding what to look for in a wine when unwrapping your sweets.


These Vegan Chicharrones Converted Carnivorous Chef Tracy Obolsky

Where do chefs go to eat on their nights off? We’re asking them — and they’re divulging the best things they’ve eaten in the last month in this weekly column. Read more in the archives of The Best Thing I Ate This Month.

The Chef:
Tracy Obolsky
The Gig: Pastry chef at North End Grill (104 North End Avenue; 646-747-1600)
Known For: Ice cream sundae insanity
The Best Thing She Ate This Month: Vegan Chicharrones Locos at El Rey (100 Stanton Street; 212-260-3950)

“I had known about El Rey because the owner, pastry chef Nick Morgenstern, was my mentor. I’d been hearing great things about it, and so was intrigued. I was seeing a show at Pianos in the Lower East Side one night — my husband works in the music industry, and one of his bands had a residency there — and was really hungry. So I went in with my cousin to see Nick, check out the space, and have dinner.

“The restaurant is super tiny — probably fourteen seats, if that — and the kitchen is this tiny little corner, so you can sit at the counter and see everything happening. I worked for Nick at the General Greene years ago when Brooklyn dining was first becoming cool and hip, and the El Rey kitchen is really Brooklynish, sort of small and MacGyver-ish, and so it nostalgically brought me back to that. And I noticed that everyone there does everything: There are three people, so the waitress would be answering the phone and then jumping back in the kitchen to help out. Gerardo, the chef and partner, kind of runs around, talking to people and taking drink orders. Everybody does everything, and as someone in the industry I notice that. It’s very family-like. And it’s cozy — you can eat and not be distracted by anything. It’s really cool.

“I was a little nervous when I saw that most of the menu was vegan. I’m slightly anti-vegan, being a pastry chef and all. But I’d been hearing about these vegan chicharrones, and I couldn’t quite believe they’d be as good as people were saying they are. The chef told me they’re made from beans, and so they puff up like actual chicharrones. I tried them, and they’re awesome.

“Half of my meal ended up being vegan, and I loved everything, so I was surprised. The chicharrones made me a believer; they had everything you want in chicharrones without the bad stuff. They’re crisp and light, and the cashew crema adds a creaminess that you’d normally get from sour cream or queso fresco.Then there’s freshness from cilantro, micro sorrel, radish, and jicama, which keeps it bright and adds some crunch. Then there’s pickled-pineapple hot sauce, which adds heat and spice. You’re eating chicharrones, but you’re like, ‘Wait, I don’t know what this is!’ The flavors were really intriguing, but I had to look them up to find out what the salt or spice was. Now I go back and when Nick asks if I’m eating I say, ‘Only if there are vegan chicharrones involved!’ I’m a believer because of them. And I’m pro-cheeseburger and -bacon, so I feel like this is a big step for me in becoming a healthy adult.”

Jacqueline Raposo writes about chefs and food culture. 

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Superiority Dance: Vegetarian Fast Food Rocks the East Village

The veggie burger may have infiltrated mainstream dining while millennials were still teething, but despite advances in the design and DNA of our vegetable-based-patty sandwiches, they still have a way to go before becoming a nationally accepted form of fast food, even in these plant-food-mad times.

Sure, there are local vegetarian restaurants and even some national chains (Hillstone comes to mind) that pride themselves on their hefty, griddled pucks masquerading as meat, but when’s the last time you had a truly impressive veggie burger? One that not only looked and played the part of its beefy doppelgänger but matched it in flavor and style? Say hello to Superiority Burger (430 East 9th Street, no phone).

For the better part of a decade, Brooks Headley worked as the ballsy, sweet Nancy to executive chef Mark Ladner’s savory Sid at Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s contemporary Italian showpiece Del Posto; he created desserts, penned a cookbook, and won the 2013 James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef. But at the end of last month, the chef and punk-rock drummer left the fine-dining world behind, setting his sights on the high-velocity world of vegetarian fast food with Superiority Burger, his first solo venture.

Say hello to my little sloppy joe.
Say hello to my little sloppy joe.

The namesake sandwich, which Headley honed over the course of several years and flaunted at numerous events and pop-ups, relies on a nutty, quinoa-based patty formed with additional vegetarian proteins like beans and tofu. Tucked into its squishy Martin’s potato roll (slightly less flattened than the buns at recent fast-casual fried-chicken sensation Fuku), the patty easily achieves the closest approximation to that nostalgic “fast food” flavor of any veggie burger we’ve ever tasted. This is due to the nuttiness of the burger itself, combined with a familiar (and expertly utilized) combination of pickles, lettuce, cheese, oven-roasted tomatoes, and mustardy special sauce. There’s even a vegan version available, with a sourdough-looking bun and non-dairy cheese.

Sized somewhere between a slider and a standard fast-food-value-menu patty, it’s perhaps a touch petite for a $6 sandwich. You’ll likely have to add one of the excellent vegetable sides or double down on burgers in order to feel fully sated. The modest proportions make the $7 sloppy joe — a heap of piquant crumbled-tofu tomato stew topped with fried onions on a toasted sesame-seed bun — feel like the superior value. (Wet-Naps generously included.) Grab one of each for $13 and walk out holding your belly in satisfaction. There’s also a dish with rice, tofu, cabbage, and sunflower seeds available in wrap or bowl form (at $9, the most expensive item on the menu).

Burnt broccoli salad
Burnt broccoli salad

“Nothing on the menu is fried,” Headley boasts, beaming from the recesses of his kitchen. Folks will have to get their frites fix elsewhere, but on social media the chef has been teasing heavier dishes like vegan nachos and macaroni and cheese. For now the only listed vegetable side — a burnt broccoli salad — nearly steals the show, the florets piled atop a smooth eggplant purée and tossed with chiles, cilantro, and crunchy cashews. Greenmarket sides make an appearance, including sugar-snap peas tossed in breadcrumbs from Addeo Bakery on Arthur Avenue. They’re as composed and well thought out as you’re likely to find at any vegetable-minded outfit.

With limited space and a short standing counter running along its eastern wall, Superiority Burger occasionally commands wait times for its five coveted seats, which feature swiveling trays from which to eat. Otherwise, you’ll have to take your street food outside, onto the actual street. If you do snag a seat, the soundtrack’s aces — a mix of indie, punk, and rock, thanks to Headley’s musical background — and the stark, white-tiled space makes for a fairly comfortable meal. Also be aware that the restaurant is only open Thursday through Monday for dinner.

"Dessert" (gelato and sorbet)
“Dessert” (gelato and sorbet)

Headley’s background as a pastry chef informs the shop’s two classy desserts. Four-dollar scoops of intensely creamy vanilla labne gelato have a nice sour tug from the yogurt, and the strawberry sorbet tastes fresh and bright, fruity without being overly sweet. While they may not have the sass of a McFlurry, the frozen treats are of inordinately better quality. Unless you have a berry allergy or lactose intolerance, do as your cashier suggests and order them together.

Mixing equal parts Americana/burger nostalgia with the eco-conscious zeitgeist, Headley offers a compelling argument for greening up the fast-food industry, albeit in microcosmic fashion. Most important, he has managed to make everything taste so good, you won’t even want fries with that.


Bacon Festival and Roti Making Class: This Weekend’s Events

Spring has sprung, and the weather is cooperating. So get out and do something. Here’s what’s on the docket this weekend.

Nowruz Dinner and Music, Cafe Nadery, 16 West 8th Street, Friday, 9:30 p.m.

Celebrate the beginning of the Persian New Year with an evening of Persian country music and dinner. The menu includes specialties such as roasted eggplant, halibut with green rice, and the Persian frittata kuku sabzi; a band will play throughout dinner beginning at 10 p.m. Tickets are $60.

The Ultimate Trinidad Roti Making Cooking Class, GoldJam’s Cafe, 1073 Rogers Avenue, Brooklyn, Saturday, 10:30 a.m.

This class will cover the basics of making a variety of Caribbean-style curry and proper kneading, rolling, and filling techniques for roti. The teacher will also tell you where you can find Caribbean spices around the city. The class includes a special beverage; tickets start at $115.

Vibrant Vegans Food Workshop, Atmananda Yoga Sequence, 67 Irving Place, Second Floor, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

If you’re curious about switching from meat to vegetables permanently, health coach Heather Loren is whipping up a few tasty treats to help make the decision easy. For $66, attendees will learn how to create vegan friendly items like tempeh tacos, yamburgers, and key lime mousse. Get more information or RSVP by emailing

Spring Bacon Festival, Zeppelin Hall, 88 Liberty View Drive, Jersey City, NJ, Saturday and Sunday, 4 p.m.

From this weekend through April 1, bacon lovers can sample 13 different dishes featuring the crackling cured pork. The beer hall is offering creations like the bacon-bacon terminator burger and double smoked bacon mac and cheese. If that’s not enough bacon for you, the bar is also offering three hours of bottomless bacon strips from 4 to 7 p.m. Pair your pig with one of over 144 different types of beers.


Chocolatto: Better than Hot Cocoa

There is a new warm chocolate confection making its way onto restaurant menus and grocery shelves across New York, and it’s worth tossing out the packages of thin and chalky hot cocoa to try it. It’s called Dolce Vite Chocolatto, and it was inspired by luxurious Italian hot chocolate.

A mix between your usual hot cocoa and a warmed chocolate pudding, Dolce Vite Chocolatto is heaven for any chocolate lover and a welcome change to the usual wintry drink roster. The drink also has an out-of-the-box marketing campaign, which includes a music video and a man dressed like a shirtless spoon to hand out samples in Brooklyn Bridge Park. We caught up with proprietor Christina Summers to learn more about the company.

I LIKE IT THICK! Chocolatto is Back! from Dolce Vite Forever Young on Vimeo.

What is Chocolatto, and how is it different from other hot chocolates on the market?
Chocolatto is not traditional hot chocolate. First, Chocolatto is thick and eaten with a spoon. First-time tasters compare it to a hot mousse or pudding. Second, Chocolatto is a low-calorie chocolate dessert — it’s made with low fat cocoa. Third, there are no GMOs, preservatives or artificial colors or flavors, and, finally, it can be made vegan with soy milk, nut milk, or water.

Why are you passionate about Chocolatto?
I was in Sicily the first time I tasted Italian-style hot chocolate, and it was love at first spoon. There was no going back to regular hot chocolate. Italians are famous for their foods because of the quality and taste. Italians live to eat rather than eat to live. It’s fantastic that the U.S. food movement is beginning to go in that direction, with a focus on quality rather than quantity.

Also, health is a big concern of mine and the health benefits of hot chocolate are a hot topic, no pun intended. Some studies show that more antioxidants are released when chocolate is heated, and that hot chocolate has more antioxidants than red wine, green tea, or black tea.

What is the history of this thicker form of hot cocoa?
This is the original style of chocolate enjoyed in the European royal courts — in a dense liquid form. This molten liquid chocolate was wildly popular because it was perceived as an aphrodisiac, and [it was] also medicinal. Also, cacao was very expensive and therefore exclusive to the royal class. Fast forward to 2013 and many Americans have not tried this thick, dense style of hot chocolate.

I know Chocolatto is available at restaurants, but can you make Chocolatto at home without a frother?
Absolutely! Chocolatto can be made on the stovetop with continuous stirring till boiling. It’s perfect for a dinner party, special home dinner date, or treat for the kids. We also have fantastic Chocolatto recipes such as Chocolatto Orange, a delicious combination of dark chocolate with fresh orange juice and zest, prepared by Sexy Spoon Man.