• 60 West 22nd Street
• New York, NY 10010
• no phone •
I don't care what your vegetarian friends say, being a vegetarian is tough and shitty. "I can always find something on the menu," they say with a smile, despite the fact that it's a totally baldfaced lie. Yeah, they can have the mashed potatoes at the steakhouse or the collared greens at the barbecue joint or the garnish when it's wings night. Being a pescatarian makes life a tad easier, but let's not kid ourselves. These people live as second class citizens. If "finding something on the menu" means eating culinary hand-me-downs then you can't find something on the menu. The vegetarian has two choices: they can suffer in silence, or they can eat food pretending to be meat. Tofu, for all that meat eaters deride it, at least it's honest. Mock duck, fake ground beef, chik'n, tofurkey... it would be funny if it weren't so pitiful.
So I understand the popularity of a vegetarian restaurant. I get it. Finally, equality. No more asking if there's meat in the lasagna or whether beef stock was used in the soup. No more picking out bacos from your salad or being forced to have three side dishes of asparagus. By Chloe is the chain that is banking on the trendy vegetarian market, the market sick of playing second fiddle to everyone else, to pull it into the black.
Technically, By Chloe is vegan, which is a political diet more than it is a dietary one. And, since By Chloe sells coconut water in the coconut for $5 a pop they're making good bank. One cup of coconut water for a fiver? That's less than a can of soda for five times the price! I guess vegans have more money because they haven't spent it on cheese and eggs and honey.
Anyway, there I am in Flatiron and I saw a By Chloe restaurant (they have a handful of locations in a few states). I've heard good things about them, so I decided to give them a try. Actually, I gave them three.
By Chloe is a cool, hip, trendy, rad semi-fast food spot. No getting around that. You may order from a big board and fight for a seat somewhere, but you won't be confusing this place with a Chipotle or a Boston Market anytime soon. Look at the photo. Huge mirrors with a mercury backing for atmosphere. Plants. Varied wall textures. It feels like a steampunk bistro. I love it. And there the love ends.
The service is polite, but awful and chaotic and irreverent. I cannot stress how slow getting your meal is. Are they growing the bean sprouts in the kitchen from seedlings before they serve them? Sorry, but at no point should a burger, veggie or otherwise, take twenty minutes. This happened every time. Once one orders, which takes all of thirty seconds, every customer crowds around waiting for their name to be called. Bring a book while the staff has a good time chatting with each other behind the counter and the bags start piling up on the counter.
My experiences left much to be desired from a UI point of view. How abou' the chow?
For the record, I'm the kind of meat eater caveman who really does like veggie burgers. Hell, I'd sooner eat a veggie burger than a turkey burger, (Don't get me started on turkey burgers. I want to punch whoever came up with those right in the throat.) so I don't just treat vegetarian food like its fracking and immediately assume it's terrible. The thing is though, having had three sandwiches here...
Okay, so of course I started with the Classic Burger, pictured above. Lookin' good, burger! Bright red tomato, soft bun, perfect purple onion, bright green lettuce with those little squiggly ends that look so delectable. Now that's a burger ripe for Instagram! Mmmm. Did everyone take their photo and get all of their likes? Okay, good. The next step is throwing it in the garbage, going to Gristedes, getting some Morningstar patties and starting all over. This burger was made out of sawdust on a good day. It was dry, tasteless, hard to swallow. For the record, the beet ketchup did not do it any favors. And for only twice the price of a Shake Shack burger!
Up next was the Whiskey BBQ Sandwich. Well sheee-it! I do love me my barbecue. And my whiskey! And not in that order. So here comes this 'un. Portobello mushroom and seitan, kale, and pineapple. Everything on that list sounds great. I like mushroom. I like seitan. I like kale. I like pineapple. But no, another loss. The sandwich was so sour and so sickeningly sweet and so reliant on barbecue sauce that it lost everything. Pineapple BBQ Tang on a bun. Ugh. I felt like ordering a classic burger to use as a sponge.
But by God I will give By Chloe another chance! ...not that she needs my money. Pesto Meatball Sandwich time. I won't lie. It looked nice on the plate-slash-little greenhouse box it comes presented in like it's a gift from Tiffany's. The meatballs might have been good. Who knows? The sauce was far too tart, and the sweet peppers only made it worse. The bun was the opposite of soft. It was toasted to that perfect place where it turns to sharp glass in one's mouth, spraying bread shrapnel with one bite and slicing through your skin with the other. Half of the sandwich went to me, half went to whatever pigeon picks it out of the garbage can on the corner of 22nd and 8th.
In conclusion, By Chloe is a cute, twee place for people (vegan Millennials) who have the privilege of being able to afford paying twice as much as something better, yet wind up with something worse, but whose dining experiences are these fluid things where outcome matters less than the feel-goodyness of being in the club of people who would eat there. It's the Jill Stein of fast casual restaurants.
There will soon be seven By Choe's in Manhattan, Boston, and LA.