Sunday afternoon a thick line of New Yorkers twisted down half of Eldridge Street and onto Stanton—all of them waiting for veggie burgers. A man passing by on a bike asked Rick Froberg (frontman of Brooklyn’s Obits and formerly of Drive Like Jehu) “What the hell is everyone waiting for?”
In between drags of a cigarette, Froberg politely explained he was supporting his friend Brooks’s pop-up restaurant. An answer which only led to a barrage of questions.
Inside the former Family Recipe space, ex hardcore punk drummer Brooks Headley was hosting Superiority Burger, a one-day pop-up for a meat-free burger that he began serving as a post-shift bite at Del Posto, where he’s executive pastry chef. Images accompanied by raves started circulating on Instagram months ago, from David Chang and several punks in the restaurant industry.
Whether they’re rubbery soy patties, glutinous globs, or the occasional overgrown falafel, most veggie burgers are nothing more than a last-ditch menu option or something to stuff in a bun at barbecues to avoid awkward conversations. But one of Headley’s former bands, Wrangler Brutes, once had a T-shirt decorated with a burger smoking a joint. Could queuing up with over 100 people and waiting for an hour be worth it?
Having not been excited about any veggie burger since the mid-‘90s when I visited San Diego’s now defunct Faque Burger, which Headley has name-checked in interviews, I sent a text to John Liam Policastro, bartender at Toro in Chelsea, asking about the burger he had just posted about. “They’re fucking good!” he responded quickly.
As the line moved, men, women, and children emerged from the space in veggie burger comas, many holding to-go bags. The options were simple: $5 got you a burger or you could make it “deluxe” for $7, adding a side of Old Bay potato salad and a berry sorbet dessert.
So what made Headley’s burger “fucking good?” Superiority Burger’s success is that the burgers don’t try to mimic meat with soy or aspire to be remotely “healthy.” Greasily resting between a Martin’s Rolls potato bun, underneath layers of lettuce, tomato, and Muenster, lies a perfectly caramelized, salty patty. Instead of simply trying to mimic beef, a task which Headley told T magazine is impossible, his spin is focused on recreating the entire bite of a fast-food burger—something you’d find at a New Jersey diner or dive bar, not a raw vegan cafe.
The line moved for several hours, as patrons flooded their social channels, confirming the buzz and praising Headley’s superior sandwich. And this wasn’t limited to vegans and vegetarians. Policastro, who’s had his share of exotic meats at both Toro and abroad, first tasted the “demo” version of the burger when Headley tipped him with one and still heralds it as one of New York’s best.
“As a meat eater” he said via text, “it’s one of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life.”
Headley wasn’t available for comment about the future of Superior Burger, so for now the coveted veggie burger will remain very rare.
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the spelling of Wrangler Brutes.