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The Pure Joy of Eating at Superiority Burger
Spoiler: I love the damn place
This is not a review. This won’t be that smart. You likely won’t learn much from it besides the fact that I’m a fan of a place you maybe have heard of, or maybe you haven’t. What this is, simply put, is me stanning over a restaurant. I love Superiority Burger on a very deep level. So deep, I’d say I’m almost uncomfortable with how much joy it brought me to finally step inside its new location the other night, but then I think of how happy I’ve been every single time I’ve ever gone there and it’s justified. I just go with it, I swim directly into the obsession and I float there and enjoy the waters.
For those that don’t know about the place, here are some quick stats.
Brooks Headley opened it in 2015. When I was writing somewhere a little before that, I’d seen his name pop up after he won a James Beard for his work at Del Posto. I said “Wait a minute. Brooks Headley ? I know that name?” And that’s when I made the association that many folks who lived and died with each new issue of HeartattaCk zine in the 1990s probably said when they saw his name as a well-respected, award-winning chef and not a member of bands like Born Against and Universal Order of Armageddon. Then, in 2015 the news came out that he had quit…to open a veggie burger restaurant.
A little thing about me you might not know is that not only did I spend a lot of my teens and early-20s not eating meat, but I was also a vegan for a solid few years. That was how I gained an appreciation for people that can cook delicious meatless food as well as a taste for absolute garbage fake meat. If you told me right now that Boca Burgers had set up a stand five blocks away and they were giving out free spicy fake chicken patties, you bet your bottom dollar I’d be out the door and there within minutes. So, as a veggie burger appreciator, and also a fan of people who were in punk bands I liked working in the service industry, I went to Superiority Burger and it knocked my head off in the best way possible. To this day, if you had to ask me to pick one burger in the entire city of New York, yes, I will tell you to go get a veggie burger at Superiority Burger. If you don’t like that, tough. You’re the one who asked!
I became a Superiority Burger fanatic. My wife also fell in love with the place. I’m not going to give you some breakdown about how or why or what they do because I don’t want to know how the (vegetarian) sausage is made. All I know is that the burger is delicious and for years the deal was you’d get your food and then walk to a nearby bar to eat it because the old Superiority Burger didn’t have much in the way of seating. It was nice and chill. Very fun. A night in the East Village.
Another thing about the old Superiority Burger is there was almost always a line, and I am notoriously anti-line unless it’s really special. I had zero problems waiting. Inside I was craving, but outside I was acting real calm and cool that soon I’d have my chubby fingers wrapped around one of those burgers and a couple of their sides. A lot of other people felt that way because eventually, Superiority Burger was successful enough that they decided to move to a bigger location. And it wasn’t just any location. It’s in the old Odessa space.
Not to make this all about me, but 20 years ago when I finally made the big move to New York City, the first place I went out to eat was Odessa. I wrote about it in my first book and in my New York essay last year about all the Ukrainian places that have come and gone in the East Village that I love and long for. I’d eaten there before and also spent more than a few nights in the Odessa Cafe and Bar next door with its red booths and odd mix of decor that could be described as whatever was in the basement chic, but also knew the spot had a particular place in punk rock history.
The next morning we all meet at the Odessa, a restaurant in the East Village. Greg tells me that Dez wanted to play guitar, so they are looking for a singer. Would I want to try it out? I could not believe my ears.
Henry Rollins wrote that for Spin in 1986. I’m pretty sure it’s in Get in the Van and that’s how I knew it, but I also may have just read it somewhere. All the information and the ways we get it is mixed up in my head at this point. But to me, it has always been important to know stories of places. And there was just something sort of cool to me that you could walk a few blocks to the Bowery or go see where the Mudd Club used to be, but Odessa playing this part in a very crucial part of hardcore history made me love the place more. When the bar closed, and eventually the restaurant followed, I assumed it would be a new CVS or something. Imagine my surprise when I heard Superiority Burger was moving in.
Emily and I went there finally on Saturday. I met her in the city, told her I’d be there at five on the dot, and we were maybe the 10th people inside. We sat down and I was overtaken by maybe six different emotions at once while also trying to look at all the stuff on the walls. A promo poster for Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 when you enter, a plastic L&B Spumoni Gardens bag crudely taped up, “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks on a canvas. Then you look down and the paper menus have ads from local spots like Trash & Vaudeville and Casey Rubber Stamps. And did I mention they have cocktails there? And that the cocktails are really good? Also, the menu isn’t crazy big so we over-ordered and I told myself hell no I wasn’t going to leave anything out.
Emily and I got two burgers, a collard green sandwich on focaccia, the sweet potato (Emily was dying at how good it is), a stuffed cabbage, which is a nice homage to the neighborhood and the restaurant that used to live in the same space, and some cocktails. Did we get dessert? Of course we did! The gelato or sorbet of the night? Try a mix of the gelato and the sorbet! We ate and we smiled and laughed, and it was a reminder of what we love about going out. It was fun and easy and the staff was friendly. Everything was delicious, I honestly would have kept sitting there all night, ordering more and slowly savoring it if that wasn't a faux pas. Instead, we paid our check and I asked if I could get one of the menus as a souvenir because I know I’ll be back and they’ll likely have them next time, but I also just like grabbing things to mark an event. This was our first time at the new Superiority Burger and also back in a space I had a lot of meals and memories at already.
We were getting ready to leave, and Headley , who’d been working the floor doing everything from running to bussing tables, walked up to me with a paper hat like the one he was wearing on his head that he’d asked Tamara Shopsin and Jason Fulford to design. “We made these for kids,” he said to me as he handed it over. I think in most situations, a person might feel insulted if somebody said that. Like, hey, adult…this is for the kids…you big child. But I don’t see it that way. I assume he saw how happy I was. I was basically a kid in there. I felt so good. Everything was perfect and I’m so happy that I’ll be able to go back again.