Restaurant Spotting: Superiority Complex
We have to say: We’re surprised that there’s a single square inch of available real estate left in the East Village, considering how frequently we find ourselves back in the gastronomically sanctified neighborhood, checking out the hottest new bar, shop or restaurant opening, both higher end and low. And yet, of all of the incredible spots that have opened in the last few years (not to mention the last few weeks), peddling everything from streamlined Basque tapas and elevated Chinese food, to house-smoked pastrami and artisanal Mexican groceries, it’s astounding how much outsized attention has been funneled to a duo of celeb chef-fronted fast food windows, specializing in fried chicken sandwiches and veggie burgers.
We’re speaking of the trash cuisine-worshipping Fuku, of course, David Chang’s yin to Brooks Headley’s virtuous yang; i.e., the eco-conscious Superiority Burger, recently opened on East 9th St. And if you thought the mayhem surrounding Fuku was insane — in the form of up-to-the-minute reports on lines wrapping around 1st Ave. — it can’t hold a candle to the commotion aroused by Superiority. After all, Pete Wells didn’t file a 2-star review of Chang’s minuscule chicken shack, after barely two months in business (there’s also been word of a cookbook in the works).
And incidentally, Superiority Burger has its own fanatical lines; forming up to an hour before the 6pm opening, and moving, in tiny increments, down a set of stairs and through the doors. Once inside, the fist-sized space (even smaller than Fuku by a substantial amount), there’s little to do but shout your order, fork over a fair number of dollars, and find a spot to meekly huddle; probably by the water cooler. Which is why it seems almost diabolical, when they ask you if you’d like your food to go or stay (provided you actually manage to brawl your way to the single padded bench, with four attached tablet tables), as there’s admittedly no enjoyment to be gleaned from eating there — hemmed in as if readying for a roller coaster ride, with the added benefit of a line of sweaty bodies, pressed against your face.
Presumably, the benefit to dining in largely involves plating; as upon opening your to-go bag, you’ll find specials like Beefsteak Tomato and Creamed Corn Salad — which sounded rather structural in its description, hand scrawled and tacked on the wall — dissolved into indistinguishable mush. We suppose it’s smart to pack components for the Sloppy Dave separately, although it’s tough not to notice that the whole is directly proportional to the sum of its parts — namely, a cold, burnt potato bun, a scoop of insipid tofu chili, and a smattering of withered fried onions, lacking assertive, allium bite.
Then there’s the burger; which Headley meticulously perfected at his former workplace, Del Posto, before it became the subject of sporadic but feverishly followed pop-ups throughout the city. And in theory, it sounds sublime; a clever balance of barley, quinoa, farro and brown rice (alternately over or undercooked to mimic the texture of beef), with lowbrow lettuce, tomatoes and interestingly, muenster cheese, adding to the fast food effect. We’ve had one before, and scratched our heads over the fuss, and at the brick and mortar outpost, our reaction was no different — how enthusiastic is one reasonably expected to get, over a springy puck of grains smeared with mustard?
If there’s one thing that’s inarguably superior at the East Village enclave, it’s the ice cream — little wonder, considering Headley is actually a James Beard Award-winning pastry chef. There’s one flavor of sorbetto; sometimes strawberry, sometimes peach, sometimes sticky, honey-sweet fig, and another of gelato (perhaps vanilla-labne, perhaps cream cheese) squished together with a farm market-based compote, and scooped, quite impressively, by Headley himself. We’ll definitely be looking for the recipes in Superiority‘s upcoming cookbook.