Veggie Burgers Deserve Your Love, Too
Hear us out.
August 25, 2017
By Richie Nakano | Photo coldsnowstorm via iStock
The long-derided bastard stepchild of the “hot sandwiches” section of the menu. They’re an afterthought, a concession to vegetarians and people seeking doctor-recommended heart-healthy alternatives. Read: buy a box of Garden Burgers, throw ‘em in the freezer, and if someone orders one I guess we will figure out how to actually cook it.
Despite the rising tide of California hippie culture into the cool-kid mainstream (think West Coast stalwarts like Sqirl Kitchen in L.A, and Tusk in Portland, sprouted seeds, bright self-possessed avocado toasts), veggie burgers remained a stubborn fringe element. Chefs would play around with recipes here and there—black bean patties…with grains…and like, nutritional yeast or something? Is that how you make these things?—but the time invested versus the return were never in sync, and the ambitious veggie burgers that didn't suck were thrown aside like so many others before them.
As it turns out, all it took to make veggie burgers cool was a hardcore punk drummer turned Michelin-starred pastry chef turned Lower East Side veggie burger obsessive Brooks Headley. What finally convinced chefs was that Headley’s Superiority Burger wasn't trying to be a health food or a substitute for meat. It was just trying to be delicious.
The realization that veggie burgers could and should be interesting and satisfying, coupled with rising beef costs, sparked a surge in the veggie burger world. There are chef-backed plant-based patties, Superiority Burger rip-offs, and even a veggie burger that “bleeds” popping up on menus coast to coast. To help us sort through this new era, we turned to Matthew Jennings. (Townsman, Boston) Jennings has built his career around being an expert in all things meat, cheese, and bread, but his decision to take his health seriously and change his diet has helped bring the value of a good veggie burger into focus for him.
On what makes a good veggie burger: “For me, it's a combination. It’s gotta be flavorful, and more than anything it has to be delicious—but it's certainly a textural thing. I don't want my veggie burger to taste like a hamburger, but I do want something that I can fuckin' hold, that won't fall apart, that I can bite into, that I can get down on that's gonna satisfy that primal craving of putting your teeth into the side of an animal. If that makes sense.”
On what makes them interesting: “I think what I like most about them now is that they surprise me. Whether it was bravado as a member of the industry or just my own palate, I wanted to always tell veggie burgers to fuck off in the past. We’ve been working to master the veggie burger ourselves because I think it's just interesting, and because of what I've gone through, I’m always looking to start new ways and excuses to eat healthily and thoughtfully. So, tackling it from a chef perspective has been an awesome challenge.”
What chefs are saying on ChefsFeed:
Chef Tom Coohill on the veggie burger at Denver's Cherry Creek Hill: "This has been one of my favorite burgers for the last 20 years. Literally. In fact, it is the best veggie burger I have ever had. It's not gummy or rubbery like most vegetarian burgers, and there's a lot of flavor to it. Make sure you add the sweet soy glaze and melted Monterey Jack cheese."
Chef Joshua Breen on Boston Burger Company's creation: "This burger with avocado, roasted peppers, and marinated tomatoes is amazing. I've been on a burger kick lately and this hit the spot. Try their wedge cut fries and mango salsa—oh my goodness!"
Chef Richard Blais on the surprising find at Houston's in Atlanta: "It's a chain, I know, but sometimes you go to the mall, and when I do, I crave their veggie burger. It comes with brown rice, black beans, oat bran, and a side of couscous. It's the best chain on the block!"