Let’s get it all out of the way: Toad Style is a kung fu-themed BYOB vegan restaurant in Bed-Stuy.
Sure, that’s a lot going on in one little space on Ralph Avenue that’s easy to miss, tucked among barber shops and bodegas. It sounds like a joke you’d hear on a show that makes jokes about Brooklyn: next week, Abbi and Ilana get into a fight about UTIs at a punk rock Caribbean takeout spot in Lefferts Gardens! But it’s a case of life being way ahead of art at Toad Style, a quirky little neighborhood spot that popped up this winter and has become both a reliable takeout option for locals and a fun little trip for anyone who is interested in trying buffalo-fried cauliflower and barbecue jackfruit sandwiches washed down with kombucha ($5) or a Bud Light tall boy (market price) off the Gates J/Z stop. (For those not versed in the ways of kung fu movies: Toad Style’s name comes from the 1978 movie Five Deadly Venoms, which follows five kung-fu fighters, each with their own animal-themed style.)
Once inside, you’ll see a takeout courier shuttling in and out over the course of your meal, creating a slow sort of background rhythm. You’ll also find an old-school kung fu movie playing on a television perched so high it’s almost impractical to watch, unless you’re the person behind the counter; for diners it’s more décor than entertainment. There’s an arcade game (not kung fu-themed) in the corner, too, which I’ve never seen anyone play and which was recently broken. Fitting, maybe. On the walls you’ll find a few framed movie posters that are charmingly still creased from old folds, and photos behind the counter of what looks like a mix of friends and actors, a slapdash mood board of sorts punctuated by a sign that reads “VEGAN ASSASIN.” The cracks at Toad Style’s edges are reassuring, here to remind you that we are not in Williamsburg, that this is not some shiny hip thing. Its casual vibe is nothing contrived. By the register you can pick up animal rescue stickers for free.
The wall not taken up by the kitchen is lined with benches and tables, a seating area chill enough that you can sit and read something by yourself without squinting or feeling like another party will be rushing you out. Here you’ll find groups of friends lingering over canned beer from the bodega across the street, mothers encouraging tiny sons to finish eggplant parm sandwiches, solo readers picking at scraps. It’s a good place to catch up with a friend or suss out a casual date in a pocket of Bed-Stuy not well known for those activities.
Like a crinkled Mortal Kombat poster, the food here is unfussy and comforting and mostly exciting. There are daily soup and entree specials and a kale salad that feels like an obligation, because Toad Style’s sandwich menu is the true main event. Vegan sandwiches are a tricky enterprise: You’re usually relegated to a patty or some sort of meat substitute or just “hummus ‘n’ things,” but here, most sandwiches feel special and carefully thought out. The grilled cheese squishes a house-made, almond-based cheese—which, paired with sliced tomato, lays somewhere between melted cheddar and mayonnaise, and you’ll like it—amid slices of white bread griddled to a glossy gold in fake butter. Skip the veggie burger—a bit too bready, in both filling and bun—and opt instead for the Casino Dog, well spiced and slathered with appropriately aggressive levels of yellow mustard and swaddled amongst caramelized onions in a soft-crisp baguette, not a bun.
The real highlight is the báhn mì, where you have ultra-bright wisps of pickle and crunchy baguette and fat oyster mushrooms and three sauces (one creamy, one spicy, one earthy) all slamming up against each other in a happy little mosh pit of a sandwich. (More punk rock than kung fu, but okay!) Most of the sandwiches here are of that particular size where you tell yourself you’re going to eat half and take the rest home for tomorrow’s lunch, and then you don’t. Their prices max out at $11, so any splurge is a small one.
But you should still order at least one round of sides, of which there are many. There’s the fried cauliflower, rubbed in a spicy-creamy sauce then doused in a batter laced with highly potent amounts of black pepper—it makes the sort of crunchy-spicy armor that fried chicken dreams of. One order per table should be mandatory. There are the “pizza fries,” which you could maybe call a vegan, Italian take on poutine: a moundy of nubby skin-on fries are weighed down by a layer of tangy-sweet mushroom-tomato sauce, then scattered with blobs of nut-based “ricotta.” The fried pickles are a little too big for their britches—too much spear, not enough batter—but come with a punchy little horseradish sauce you’ll be spreading on everything else you ordered.
Themed restaurants can so often veer into the territory of kitschy, usually due to an overcommitment to the chosen theme. Here, the tinges of martial arts are mostly aesthetic: no bad puns laced into the menu, no questionable outfits forced on the staff. It’s just a vegan restaurant opened by people who are really into kung fu, and somehow it works, because one assumes that this stretch of bed-stuy doesn’t have the highest real estate prices and because vegan food—particularly the casual, affordable, comfort food-y kind—has always been mildly subversive, often carried on by wackadoos. (No offense! Consider, of course, the always-emphasized punk rock roots of Brooks Headley’s vegan cooking that’s winning hearts and minds at Superiority Burger in the East Village.) And vegan or not, themed or not, a local BYOB spot where dinner doesn’t have to cost you $15 is a blessing. May all our neighborhoods be so lucky. One can only hope that Scorpion Style comes next.