Buy, Sell, Hold is a new column from Eater New York’s chief critic Ryan Sutton where he looks at a single dish or item and decides — should you buy it, sell it (or just don’t try it at all), or hold (give it some time before trying)?
The chicken sandwich hasn’t quite risen to the level of hamburger virality in New York. Chefs don’t feel a sense of duty to put them on their menu even if the patties are decidedly average, and diners don’t feel a sense to order them just for the Instagramming rights. They’re a class of sandwich fueled by larger trends but also one that still manages to tease genuine inspiration from restaurants pining for global fame. In other words, it’s still a pretty darn good time to be eating chicken sandwiches in New York.
But today, let’s take a look at the TFT, which distinguishes itself from other fried chicken sandwiches by omitting the chicken. This is not necessarily surprising because the venue in question is Superiority Burger, an East Village spot where the signature item is a burger that omits beef. The vegetarian-only destination is one of the few Manhattan where one can procure a meal that’s not just nourishing but wildly creative for under $20.
TFT stands for tofu fried tofu. Superiority’s chef-owner Brooks Headley, formerly the longtime pastry chef at Del Posto, created the dish two years ago to make sure business wouldn’t be slow on Monday nights.
“We used to be, and now we are not,” he writes via email, noting that the TFT sometimes sells out within a few hours. It is still only available that one night of the week, at $7.
He takes squares of Hodo Soy-brand tofu, marinates them in bean and mushroom broth, and coats them in a “vegan not egg liquid.” The tofu then gets dredged through a mix of chickpea flower, Anson Mills buckwheat, rice flour, and all purpose flour. There’s also a spice run that Headley says is “meant for meat;” it includes sumac, cocoa, garlic, and coffee.
The tofu then goes into a shallow pot with a thermometer — Superiority doesn’t have a commercial deep fryer — and then onto a sesame bun with carrots, cabbage, and hacked up B&G peppers. “It's a lot of work for a $7 sandwich,” Headley writes. “But I am a key proponent of maximum effort for minor financial benefits.”
The sandwich is epic. The exterior, against all odds, has the craggy, mahogany crust one would expect from a skillet-fried bird. The tofu interior, in turn, is soft, seasoned, and squishy, akin to the deliciously greasy mystery meat fast food nuggets that will be familiar to anyone who grew up in the 1980s. And the light slaw imparts a fresh uppercut of chile-laced heat. If McDonald’s or Shake Shack sold this, it would be a nationwide bestseller.
“It's all real food, nothing processed or attempting to mimic meat,” Headley writes, later adding that it’s completely vegan. And yet mimicking meat is precisely what this sandwich does, in a naturally, delicious way that doesn’t recall the bleeding laboratory-grown fake vegan meats coming out of Silicon Valley these days.
I’m calling it not just a BUY, but one of the city’s best chicken sandwiches.