The reason Superiority Burger is called Superiority Burger is that its burgers are, in fact, superior. Though it only opened in 2015, Brooks Headley’s all-vegetarian East Village restaurant — with its ice-cold lemon water, secret soups, and lack of adequate seating — has become something of a New York institution. New York’s own Adam Platt, in fact, argues that Superiority’s “ground-breaking blue-ribbon un-burger” is the best veggie burger in town, and the restaurant’s army of fans are yet more proof that Headley managed to turn the once-humble veggie burger into an actual phenomenon.
So it is very exciting, in general, and also to me personally, that Headley has now published the long-awaited Superiority Burger Cookbook. It is, you might even say, the book I have been waiting for. I live with a vegan, so for home-cooking purposes, I am vegan, too. The tragedy of homemade vegan or veggie burgers is that they are mostly bad. They disintegrate. Or they’re dry. Or they are missing a key component, such as flavor. But Superiority Burger’s burgers taste good. The problem for someone like me — who lives outside of the delivery zone — is that getting one requires going to the restaurant, which is oppressive, given the strain of leaving my apartment. Also, again, there’s no seating, and I am passionate about sitting.
But now there is a book, and with it, the explicit promise that I will be able to re-create Headley’s superior Superiority Burgers at home. At least, that’s the hope. As a normal, non-chef person with fine-but-not-fantastic kitchen skills, I opened a copy of the cookbook with the enthusiasm of a Labradoodle, if the Labradoodle also has a moderate anxiety disorder. I was excited, but cautiously so, in case the whole thing turned out to be a disaster.
What I realized immediately is that I would need to shop: A Superiority Burger patty has 14 ingredients, which didn’t feel unreasonable. I also needed buns (fair), and as specified in the book, both Frank’s RedHot and Heinz organic ketchup. You could probably substitute whatever ketchup you want, but I didn’t because when you’re dealing with science, you have to isolate your variables.
Prepping the Burgers
When the time came to actually make my own Superiority-ish Burgers, the first thing I needed to do was chop carrots into tiny little carrot cubes and roast them for 25 minutes. At the same time, I cooked the red quinoa in a small pot “until fluffy,” which took about 45 minutes. These may seem like minor points, but know that they are important because it means that so far I had used one baking sheet and one pot. What I didn’t know at the time is that my dishwashing tally would soon climb far higher.
In another pan, I sautéed onions. In an even-tinier pan, I toasted fennel seeds that I then crushed with a mortar and pestle, like the apothecary in Romeo and Juliet. (I guess I could have used a spice grinder.)
I added the fennel and other spices to the onions, and a cup of canned chickpeas, and kept on cooking. When I became impatient — seven minutes later — I mashed it all together and ended up with something like a chickpea-onion cement that I then combined with the quinoa in a big bowl, before mushing everything together with my hands, doing my best to remind myself that Nigella Lawson made a whole career out of doing stuff like this. (I am much like Nigella Lawson, in this way and no others.) Then, I added the roasted carrot cubes — remember those? — plus parsley, lemon, bread crumbs, the Frank’s RedHot, and some toasted, crushed walnuts (I also had to toast and crush walnuts). Finally, I did as instructed and seasoned the whole thing with a final flourish of salt and pepper “until it tastes sharp.”
“Does this taste sharp?” I asked my boyfriend.
“Did you wash your hands?” he replied.
I added more pepper.
Cooking the Burgers
To maintain the structural integrity of the future burgers, you’re supposed to put two tablespoons of non-modified potato starch in a little bowl (another dish!) with one tablespoon of water, then stir it around until you get a “cloudy, thick slurry” that Headley promises glues the whole thing together.
So I did that, but through experimentation, I learned that you’ve got to pack the patties real tight. I also learned that you can make a little more potato-starch slurry and add that if you need to. I mean, I didn’t get Chef Brooks’s blessing on this or anything, but I feel confident that it’s a good tip to keep in mind because when I started cooking the burgers, they crumbled; after I added more slurry, they didn’t. I think the difference was “more slurry.”
Anyway, you form the patties, and then you sear them until “fully browned” on each side, and then you have a burger. Actually, according to the book, it’s better to think of them less as burgers and more as “vegetable and grain croquettes that get put on buns,” and I think that’s poetic, in a way.
I forgot to mention the condiments: “Special Sauce” that involves first roasting tomatoes for a quick “one to two hours” and then making chickpea mayo. I’ll spare you all of the details, but know that when it was all said and done, I had added a casserole dish, two jars, and one immersion blender to the dishwashing tally.
I felt great, though. My burger looked like a real burger, dressed in sauce and lettuce and roasted tomatoes and pickles and (optional) Muenster cheese.
Eating the Burgers
It was finally time to dig in, and when I did, it tasted … kind of like a Superiority Burger! You would not be confused about which burger is which, but there was undoubtedly a strong family resemblance.
“Would you say this is like the first cousin of the restaurant one?” I asked my boyfriend.
“I would say they tasted like a homemade version of Superiority Burger,” he said, gently.
“So is that a cousin, or more like a sibling?” I asked, and he ignored me.
I had gotten restaurant versions to make my side-by-side test as official as possible, and here are the obvious differences: The restaurant version was saltier — much, much saltier — than mine. Also, it featured a distinctive flavor that I could not identify. Is it fennel? It might be fennel. I also used fennel, but maybe my fennel was weaker than chef-grade fennel. In the broadest terms, I would say that it was extremely clear that I was copying theirs, which is perhaps the highest praise I can give myself.
What really revealed my amateur status was the texture. The inside of a Superiority Burger is very smooth — almost mushy, even — so you can’t really identify the individual components, unless you look at it with an intensity that is unacceptable in most social situations. Comparatively, my burgers had a texture that we will call “rustic.” For example, I crushed my walnuts, but I did not pulverize my walnuts, which lent my version an unintended hippie quality. My interpretation was also literally crunchier than the restaurant’s, which may be because I burnt the burgers slightly, but honestly, I kind of preferred it.
So, can you make a Superiority Burger at home? The answer is yes. But let me tell you, after attempting it twice (I had all those ingredients!), I have never appreciated a restaurant more. It is amazing! They make these things every single day so people like me can just walk in and buy them. I don’t even have to spend several hours roasting my own tomatoes because they do that right at the restaurant.
Will I make them again? It is possible, but what I would really like is for someone else to make them for me. Luckily, they do that at Superiority Burger, and hopping on the train to Manhattan, it turns out, would still take less time than washing the dishes that had piled up in my sink.