Anonymous Food Critic: Superiority Burger
A single stuffed cabbage, smashed and spiced lentils, and a peanut butter pie finisher.
Illustration by Roan Collom
Private Dining is a monthly discourse on restaurants, who’s eating at them, and what they’re serving. Our Anonymous Food Critic brings you reviews, scene reports and deep dives into the current state of New York’s food world.
Someone recently spilled that a well-known restaurant critic is quite friendly with the owner of multiple restaurants for which he’s written laudatory reviews. I was surprised, disgusted, and bothered by the blatant lack of journalistic integrity. But as I — a person who eats out often and knows people who work in restaurants — prepared to write my own review, I wondered how much of a problem that truly is.
I believe that a fundamental factor of a good restaurant is comfort. Not eating-beef pad-see-ew-on-your-couch-in-the-largest-t-shirt-you-own-sans-pants comfort, but a type that leaves no room to remember you’re not doing that. Good restaurants take care of you. They welcome you in with water glasses that never go empty. They make you feel special for simply being in the room. So, it makes sense that someone who visits this type of restaurant a few times — like, say, a restaurant critic — would get to know the host, a cook, a few waiters, and maybe even the owner.
I’ve decided these bonds aren’t the issue. In fact, they’re what makes going to a restaurant so lovely. But the comfort a regular receives from a restaurant is very different from the contrived treatment a spotted critic gets. Once restaurants start taping your photo up behind the host stand and in their offices, and rewarding their staff for identifying you, your dining experiences stray further away from the ones your readers can expect.
And that’s why I’m your anonymous food critic. It doesn’t matter who I’m friendly with, because they won’t know I’m writing about them, and you won’t know I’m friends with them. I’m not important enough to receive any special treatment beyond an extra scoop of ice cream or a comped glass of wine. And I love that! It gives me the space to contribute shameless reviews of spots all over this damn city.
My first meal at the original Superiority Burger was the eponymous burger and a burnt broccoli salad. I had just met someone, and we spent a sweaty summer afternoon anxiously walking and talking, unsure of whether it was friendship or love budding in the air between us, unsure of which we wanted it to be. I think we thought eating in a tiny, almost-underground cube would help us cool off, but after biting through that soft bun and into the burger’s crispy-edged, vegetal mixture of beans and grains, I fell hard. Not for them, but for the delightful contradiction of a vegan burger blanketed in real cheese, the three fold-down desks that seemed to magically clear for us, and the tiny paper cup of milky corn tortilla gelato I took with me.
Photo courtesy of Anonymous Food Critic.
The restaurant has since moved around the corner into the old Odessa diner space, and those desk tables have been replaced by more comfortable — and just generally more — seating options: real tables and chairs, counter stools, squeaky red booths. The burger is still on the menu, as is the broccoli salad and a rotating menu of gelatos. Most importantly and impressively, though, is that the magic of the first space made its way over to this new one in perfect condition. This is thanks to Brooks Headley, the mastermind behind the menu, the music, the absolutely nuts Instagram posts that give Keith McNally’s a run for their money. Headley bounces between tables, saying, “Hey!” and “Do you see the layers on that rhubarb tart?” It’s possible his manic but warm presence will negate the two hour wait you’ll likely be quoted, as I was at 7pm on rainy Saturday night. It did for me, and we hardly know each other. ;)
The service — quick, casual, very friendly — is reminiscent of the service you’d get at the diner that previously occupied the space, though the food is far more complex. Lentils are smashed, spiced, smoky, with a slice of sweet, almost custardy cornbread dunked into the middle. The market salad tastes precisely like one of those tiny carrot-ginger situations you get with a sushi lunch, but the crunchy, nutty crumble sends it rocketing into the stratosphere. Everything is a little smaller than you think it’ll be and more filling than it looks. A single stuffed cabbage is filled with sweet sticky rice laced with savory mushrooms and covered in a concentrated tomato and plum sauce. The collard greens sandwich, which sounded boring on the menu and looked boring when it arrived, was excellent. Wilted and marinated collard greens are stuffed between halves of the restaurant’s infamous sesame seed focaccia and fused together with saucy American cheese. I’d suggest ordering more than you think you can finish. The servers are quick to hand you a box, into which you can pack up all of your leftovers to eat cold from the fridge the next morning for breakfast. I had a particularly lovely experience doing this with the yuba-verde hoagie.
Photos courtesy of Anonymous Food Critic.
You have no choice but to end your meal with something from pastry chef Darcy Spence’s dessert menu. There’s a griddled banana bread, which you can smell through the entire space every time it’s ordered. Each sip of a coconut-based shake is flecked with bright orange zest and dates so sweet they reminded me of chewy caramel candies. The peanut butter pie is perhaps the most exemplary dish of what Superiority Burger is and always has been: faintly familiar, bafflingly delicious, indefinable. I don’t know how something with a crunchy, buttery crust, silky peanut butter filling, and ethereal whipped topping could possibly be vegan, but it’s such a joy to eat that I once again find myself asking the question, does it really matter?
Photos courtesy of Anonymous Food Critic.