The chef-owner of NYC’s most prominent vegetarian tasting menu restaurant is joining the fast casual fray today with the opening of Lekka Burger in Tribeca.
The food at 81 Warren Street (between Greenwich and West Broadway streets) is all chef Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy, but the South African accents — including the name, which is Afrikaans slang for cool and tasty — comes from business partner Andrea Kerzner.
Kerzner, daughter of South African hotelier Sol Kerzner, explicitly wants Lekka Burger to help fight climate change.
“I wanted to do something, and the best way of doing that, given my nonprofit and hospitality background, was to encourage people to eat [vegan] burgers versus meat,” says Kerzner.
It’s a sentiment that climate experts and other businesses, like Impossible Foods, have been touting for some time now. But as a longtime vegan, Kerzner wanted Lekka to serve food that didn’t directly mimic meat. She craved “something made in a kitchen, not in a lab.” To get there, “I needed to find the best vegetarian chef out there,” Kerzner says.
Enter Cohen, a local patron saint of vegetables who boasts the fine dining credibility to compete against the likes of rapidly-growing vegan fast-casual chain By Chloe. At Lekka, Cohen prepares a burger with a mix of plants and oils, including beans and mushrooms — using a technique that takes cues from yuguanfei, a Chinese mock-meat made with red yeast rice and fried dough.
The bun is a house-made vegan milkbread, and the standard topping is ketchup, mustard, vegan mayo, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles. There’s also an option with vegan cheese, as well as a South African-inspired peri peri burger, with house-made pepper sauce. Crinkle-cut fries come on the side, with optional toppings like vegan cheese sauce and curry.
A bunch of salads are available, too like a broccolini Caesar (grilled broccolini, romaine, smoked crouton crumble and nori dressing) and a cauliflower Waldorf (with roasted cauliflower, Asian pear, celery, pecans and tarragon dressing). For dessert, there’s oat-milk-based vegan soft serve in flavors like carrot and vanilla, and shakes include strawberry, caramel, halvah, and matcha, with optional toppings.
Beverage director Michael Cherry, also of Dirt Candy, is mixing less-unhealthy-than-usual- sounding cocktails, like Lekka carrot punch, with carrot juice, pineapple, and rum. On tap is Five-Boroughs Beer and Hard Kombucha, and sodas from Oogavé fountain sodas plus more non-boozy beverages like Rise Nitro Cold Brew Coffee and Ugly Seltzer.
It’s a casual, counter-service space with 50 seats. Walls bear trendy geometric designs, student artwork from Kerzner’s nonprofit for at-risk South African kids, and a verdant mural from social activist and artist Magda Love. From stools made with recycled materials to merch whose sale benefits GrowNYC, “everything we bring in has a sustainability or nonprofit aspect to it,” Kerzner says.
But to really make a difference, Lekka will need to expand. Kerzner hopes to operate 10 locations in NYC in the next five years, if all goes well.
Lekka Burger is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.