Food & Beverage

The truth about America’s most exciting new burgers

Emily Saladino
Source: Impossible Foods

Last month, I sat down, ate a cheeseburger and promptly stained the front of my shirt with errant grease. For many of us, this is a vaguely patriotic inevitability, consistent with a lifetime of Fourth of July barbecues and interstate-adjacent drive-throughs.

Less predictable, however, was that this juicy, sartorially vicious burger contained zero meat. Cooked to medium-rare and dripping with enough deliciously greasy indulgence to render an outdated Uniqlo v-neck dead on arrival, the Impossible Burger is scientifically engineered for shock and awe.

It's the debut item from Impossible Foods, Inc., a Silicon Valley company founded by a Stanford University biochemist and embraced by Michelin-starred chefs. Impossible Foods aims to fight climate change by creating sustainable, plant-based substitutes for environmentally costly meat and dairy products. Bill Gates and Google Ventures contributed to its $182 million, Series D fundraising.

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Chef Brad Farmerie serves the Impossible Burger at his New York City restaurants, Public and Saxon + Parole. At the former, a few weeks back, I tucked into a meatless patty that used 25% of the water, 5% of the land, and emitted 13% of the greenhouse gases needed to farm and process a typical beef burger.

More influentially, though, the Impossible Burger tastes good. It's not 100% identical to ground beef, but it scratches a remarkably similar, carnivorous itch. External char surrounds a pink interior, made satisfyingly lush with coconut oil, and wheat and potato proteins. The end result is a far cry from the flavorless veggie pucks sold in supermarket freezer aisles.

Chris Cosentino, a San Francisco chef whose now-shuttered Incanto restaurant pioneered whole animal cooking, serves the Impossible Burger for lunch at his lively SoMa joint, Cockscomb. Global impresario David Chang features the burger at Momofuku Nishi in New York City, where, as diners with long memories might recall, he famously refused to cater to vegetarians at the start of his career.

Bareburger, an organic chain with 44 branches worldwide, began offering the Impossible Burger at its flagship Manhattan location earlier this month. It is also served at Jardiniere in San Francisco, and at Crossroads, a vegan celebrity haunt in West Hollywood.

Categorically, there has never been a better time for burger lovers to go meatless. Chefs Dan Barber and Daniel Humm, who have six Michelin stars between them, serve haute veggie burgers at their New York restaurants, Blue Hill and The NoMad, respectively. Meanwhile, the six-dollar veggie headliner at Superiority Burger, a Manhattan counter approximately the size of one parking space, nabbed a James Beard Award nomination last year.

Iron Chef and Food Network personality Bobby Flay introduced his first-ever meatless patty at all 17 branches of Bobby's Burger Palace this month, nearly 10 years after he opened his first location.

"I have to admit, as a cheeseburger fanatic, I've always been a veggie burger detractor," Flay says in a press release. He decided to add the mushroom, chickpea and quinoa-based concoction to his menus after its success on an episode of Beat Bobby Flay.

On the other end of the spectrum lies Jean-Georges Vongerichten. His newly opened ABCV restaurant in Manhattan, a plant-centric sequel to his James Beard Award-winning ABC Kitchen, eschews animal proteins and their facsimiles for vegetable-forward plates such as glittering beluga lentils tossed with yams and dressed with chili oil, black vinegar and cilantro.

Pittsburgh chefs Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski move vegetables to the center of the plate at Apteka, a nationally acclaimed Bloomfield spot serving hearty, vegan takes on Eastern European fare. Dishes include oyster mushrooms and braised cabbage in beer broth, as well as pierogi made with sauerkraut and mushrooms.

Change isn't easy. Swapping meat and potatoes for tuber tartines may overwhelm those flirting with early-stage plant-centrism. For carnivores hesitant to take the plunge, burgers are the perfect gateway.