Lately, I’ve had veggie burgers on my mind. Like, in a pretty big way. And so when I heard about Brooks Headley’s Superiority Burger finally finding a home in the old Dirt Candy spot in the East Village, I pretty much had to check it out, even though it definitely meant a trip to Manhattan, and maybe meant that I would soon be waiting on a long line. The thing is, I actually credit Brooks Headley and his much-acclaimed Superiority Burger with making me the certified (read: uncertified) veggie burger aficionado I am today. It’s been almost 10 months since I first tried one of Headley’s veggie burgers, and it was a total game-changer for me—suddenly, I got the appeal of veggie burgers! They were not simply menu afterthoughts which were no competition to myriad, delicious meat options. They were their own thing. And they could be good—really, really good. All of which is why I’ve been on something of a veggie burger odyssey in Brooklyn over the last couple of months, and all of which is why I couldn’t wait to visit Superiority Burger and once again enter that exalted state that only a Superiority Burger could bring. But I was also a little bit afraid, because for the better part of the last year, I’d been singing this veggie burger’s virtues non-stop. Could it live up to the insane hype? Could anything?
I arrived at Superiority Burger with a friend about 15 minutes before its 6pm opening on a balmy Monday evening. There was no line, so we decided to walk around the neighborhood a bit. The East Village is ok, I guess. There were some good dogs to see. By the time we’d circled back to the restaurant, it was about two minutes away from opening and there was a line of maybe seven or so people. Totally tolerable. It didn’t take long at all for us to order from the short menu, and we sipped Superiority water (NY tap with loads of lemon; I liked it!) while we waited for our burger, Sloppy Joe, burnt broccoli salad, and Arnold Palmer (have you tried saying that out loud lately, by the way? after you’ve been saying a bunch of other stuff? it’s fucking hard!). Soon the food came out and we hightailed it over to Tompkins Square Park, because damn was it ever a nice evening. And I couldn’t wait to have the BEST VEGGIE BURGER I’D EVER HAD again, not least so I could share that experience with my friend, who is actually a vegetarian, unlike me, and so has long been a connoisseur of the veggie burger.
So, the burger: Served on a Martin’s potato roll (unless you go for the vegan option, which we didn’t), the patty is thick and hearty—I’m almost inclined to say meaty, except that would just be wrong—and comes with a dark char, which gives it a texture that’s instantly identifiable to all burger lovers. It’s adorned rather simply, with only pickles, mustard, jammy tomatoes, and crisp lettuce, and it is sort of impossible not to scarf it right down. And it is good. Good, but not, like I remember it being, transformative. My friend, for one, was unimpressed, saying that there was no comparison between it and the veggie burger from, say, the Pickle Shack or 61 Local or Dram Shop. On the other hand, there is a comparison: The Superiority Burger is $6, the other burgers are, respectively, $14, $12, and $11.
But I wasn’t at Superiority Burger to compare prices. I was there to be elevated to new veggie burger-based culinary heights! And it wasn’t quite happening. As for the rest of what we’d ordered: The Arnold Palmer was delicious—not too sweet, just like the menu promised; the Sloppy Joe tasted just like a Sloppy Joe should—redolent of cumin, tomatoes, and brown sugar—and was fine without the meat, but it was also still a Sloppy Joe, and cafeteria food just isn’t a genre for which I have nostalgia; and the burnt broccoli salad was wonderfully charred and spiked throughout with hot red bird chiles, crunchy nuts, and feathery bits of cilantro. I loved it. And I’d almost not gotten the chance to eat it, because it hadn’t been included in my bag of to-go food along with the burger and Sloppy Joe. I’d had to go back and get it, which wasn’t such a big deal, because we’d only gone to eat about a block away. But after leaving with the broccoli, one of the employees from Superiority Burger came running after me, introduced herself, and told me that because of the error, I could come back anytime and get a dessert, on the house. It was a lovely, much-appreciated, and not strictly necessary gesture, but was also representative of just how friendly everyone on Superiority’s staff seemed while we were there. It’s a happy place.
And so, after eating our food, my friend and I wandered back.
“Should I go in and ask for dessert?” I asked. “Is that weird?”
“No,” she said. “C’mon, go do it.”
So we went in and were greeted warmly and given a cup with one scoop of vanilla labne gelato and one of strawberry sorbet. We walked back out into the warm night; the sky had just started to take on that glow where you know the most beautiful summer sunset is coming and so you feel lighter and freer than you’d have ever thought possible, you know? Or, actually, maybe you don’t. Because maybe how good I suddenly felt had nothing to do with the summer sky and everything to do with what I was now spooning into my mouth. The thing is, it’s hard to say exactly why I felt the way I did because once I took one bite of the gelato and sorbet together, nothing else mattered. The two flavors commingled in a perfect sweet and tangy balance; they were the essence of summer. I felt reborn. I felt transformed.
“You have to try this,” I said. “It’s the best thing I’ve had in a long time.”
“Oh my god,” she said. “You’re right. It’s so good.”
And we stood there on a street corner taking bites of our dessert, talking and laughing, and pointing to cute dogs as the sky grew soft and everything—even us—seemed to be renewing itself, feeding off the glow emanating from all around us. Life was beautiful. Or maybe it was just the gelato. Because that gelato was really, really good.
Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen