As fast-food gets health-savvy, By Chloe is precisely on trend.
The fast-casual restaurant serves up food that is 100% vegan, plant-based, and kosher certified. However, the menu is intended to appeal to vegans and non-vegans alike, with a menu packed with meat-free taco salad, burgers, french fries, and pasta.
Chef Chloe Coscarelli and partner Samantha Wasser only opened the first By Chloe location last year. However, Nation’s Restaurant News already named the concept one of its Breakout Brands of 2016. By Chloe has at least two more new New York City locations in the works, and is partnering with Whole Foods to open an outpost in the first ever 365 by Whole Foods Market in Los Angeles this summer.
I’m no vegan, but, reading the rave reviews about By Chloe, I was convinced I needed to give the chain a try.
Since I visited the location by night, here's a shot from the restaurant's sunny and crowded opening day.
Though there was no sun, the first thing you notice entering By Chloe is how absurdly crowded it is.
At 6:20 p.m. on a Friday, the line was pushing out the door.
The chocolate chip cookie was more of a cracker than a traditional, gooey treat, but the combination of sweet and a little salty was perfectly balanced. Since it took me and my friend about 10 to 15 minutes to order, the cookie was much appreciated.
By Chloe uses the Shake Shack model, where customers order at the counter and get a buzzer that vibrates when their food is ready. However, I couldn't help but feel the model didn't match the space.
By Chloe is an adorable cafe, with nice lighting and sweet succulents. However, every spare inch of space at the restaurant was filled with people waiting to order, waiting for their food, or looking for a place where they could sit.
Since our drinks were ready first, my friend and I spent a few minutes awkwardly hovering with a tray, hoping someone would leave and allow us to sit down.
By Chloe, like Shake Shack and unlike most fast-food chains, serves alcohol, including a cocktail of the month, which I ordered.
The wine was 'good but not amazing,' in her words. The experience finding a seat was far worse.
The drink, like everything on the menu, was 100% vegan: cold-brew iced coffee, house-made half and half (a cashew and almond cream blend), Irish whiskey, and coconut whipped cream. The richness of the whipped cream alone made the drink worth the $10 price tag.
Picking up your food requires going to the counter where you order -- an extraordinarily crowded part of the restaurant that requires elbowing your way through at least a dozen trendy NYU students.
I ordered the Guac Burger -- a black bean-sweet potato-quinoa burger that didn't even make me crave meat.
This burger knew how to play to its strengths. Instead of trying to be a beef burger, it played up the veggie side of things, with corn, onion, tortilla strip, and guacamole toppings. The chipotle aioli provided the perfect finishing touch.
The toppings also stole the show on the pesto meatballs, with the delicious pesto providing the perfect clean finish to the portobello-quinoa balls.
The only issue was the bread, which was oversized and a bit cumbersome.
The sweet potato fries were fine -- nothing extraordinary, but tasty. The beet ketchup was a bit off-putting, as the earthy beet aftertaste was too overpowering for me to enjoy.
However, my friends had other plans. As I had been too flustered by the crowd to order one of the restaurant's famous desserts, I decided to revisit the restaurant with a friend who had been wanting to try By Chloe.
I only had to wait about five minutes to order, and found a table for two after just a few minutes of loitering.
The dairy-free mac-and-cheese succeeded by not trying to be an exact copy of the traditional, dense and goopy dish.
The sweet potato-cashew cheese sauce and shittake mushroom 'bacon' resulted in a slightly sweeter and lighter -- but still very filling -- take on the childhood classic.
While the pesto was once again delicious, the sauce was too dense. This was the one dish my dining companion and I did not finish.
The classic burger also suffered in comparison, losing to both the guac burger and a classic beef patty.
While the guac burger smartly utilised veggies to pack flavour between the buns, sticking to the 'classic' formula meant the tempeh-lentil-chia-walnut patty felt like a weak imitation of a hamburger.
The portobello mushroom and seitan-based Whisky BBQ was good in its own right -- but not a barbecue sandwich by any stretch of the imagination.
While the sauce was tasty and the inclusion of pineapple perfectly sliced through the richness of the whisky, it's no BBQ sandwich. The attempt to imitate the texture of pulled pork holds this dish back, instead of allowing it to shine as a pineapple, seitan, and mushroom sandwich.
In 2010, Chloe Coscarelli won Food Network's 'Cupcake Wars' at age 22, making her the first contestant to win with vegan culinary creations. The show shot Coscarelli to national prominence.
Eating the limited-time chocolate beer cupcake, with Irish whisky buttercream, it's obvious why the treats helped make Coscarelli famous.
The cake is surprisingly moist for a vegan cupcake, and the chocolate beer flavour pairs nicely with the sweet Irish whisky buttercream.
I don't have a passionate desire to return to By Chloe, but I have a huge amount of respect for what the restaurant is trying to do.
At the end of the day, since I'm not vegan, I would usually rather get a 'real' hamburger or pulled-pork BBQ sandwich than deal with the insane crowds at By Chloe.
However, these crowds show that the restaurant has a customer base that intensely craves inexpensive and high-quality vegetarian and vegan food -- something that isn't easy to find. That fact that everything on the menu is reasonably tasty and under $11 makes the restaurant a good option to have if I'm in the neighbourhood, even if it will never be my personal destination spot.
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