Dirt Candy’s Clean Win

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The eponymous Lekka burger, featuring a patty made primarily from portobello mushrooms and cannellini beans, is topped with vegan mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, red onion, and pickles, on a house-made bun. Photograph by Heami Lee for The New Yorker

After a meatless month, and a strong belief that alternatives to meat are going to dominate my eating future, my thanks to Hannah Goldfield for another clue of where to eat in New York City if my goal is a mix of meatless and tasty. This one is titled Lekka Burger and the Quest for the Perfect Veggie Patty and the subtitle is the kind of question on my mind lately: In the golden age of vegetable-centric cooking, do we need more dishes made in the image of meat?:

There has never been a better time to eat a meatless hamburger. The current surge of interest in plant-based diets has sparked an arms race of sorts. Companies such as Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are using cutting-edge technology to make ground-beef facsimiles that look, feel, and even smell eerily similar to the real thing; you can find their products everywhere from small restaurants to national fast-food chains and supermarkets. Meanwhile, in New York, a number of creative chefs have put serious effort into improving upon the archetype, using actual vegetables.

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The menu offers five iterations of the burger, some with globally themed toppings such as guacamole and Hatch-chili sauce or papadum and curry-tamarind ketchup, plus French fries and a few salads. Photograph by Heami Lee for The New Yorker

Since 2008, the chef Amanda Cohen has been the force behind Dirt Candy, the first vegetarian restaurant to hold its own in New York’s fine-dining landscape. Cohen had never served a veggie burger before Andrea Kerzner, a South African philanthropist looking for ways to fight climate change, cold-called her to propose that they collaborate on a restaurant built around one, but she was game to try. Last November, they opened Lekka Burger, in Tribeca.

Kerzner, a longtime vegan, has said that she wanted the eponymous burger—lekka is Afrikaans slang for “awesome”—to taste like “something made in a kitchen, not a lab.” What Cohen achieved is a technical marvel: a perfectly puck-shaped patty, made primarily of portobello mushroom, cannellini beans, and a hint of chili, plus a secret binding agent that holds everything together, even when topped with a vegan cheese sauce (butter beans, coconut oil). The charred exterior is crisp and craggy. The interior has a pink hue that recalls medium-rare ground chuck. The flavor is deeply smoky but unmistakably vegetal.

It’s the best kitchen-made veggie burger the city has seen since Brooks Headley, a former pastry chef at Del Posto, opened Superiority Burger, in the East Village. Headley’s patty, which contains roasted carrots, chickpeas, red quinoa, and crushed walnuts, among other ingredients, is much smaller and squishier, its effect more wholesome and retro, its following fervent. Yet, in “The Superiority Burger Cookbook,” Headley explains that the restaurant’s name is “a bit of a red herring.” “Sure, the majority of our business is selling vegetarian hamburgers,” he writes, “but you can cobble together a very nice meal here and avoid the burger altogether.”…

Read the whole note here.

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