Unfortunately, it was a double-whammy, because two champions fell from their respective pedestals. Toppled in the Best Sweet Potato Fries category were former winners Silver Spurs and Curly's; trounced by the competitor in the Best Veggie Burger division was, tragically, Relish. Two of my favorite things in food life, and I didn't truly understand how amazing they could be until this experience.
The challenger for the Sweet Potato Fries and Veggie Burger crowns was an underdog, a tiny little space on the corner of 11th St. and Avenue A. Let's call it Westville East...because that's what it's called.
I had passed it many times when I used to work at a bookstore in the Village, wandering around during my lunch break on hot summer days. It had always appealed to me, a tiny square box on a corner, with two sides decorated with large, bright windows. It was clean and simple-looking, and I'd been meaning to try it for months.
When my friend T raved about it and insisted that we go together, I was elated. It's exciting when someone else suggests going to a restaurant I want to try because, that way, I can test out a place without fear that the other person will give me the dreaded "I can't believe you brought me to this awful hole" look. Plus, someone I know personally had already declared the food delicious, so I didn't have to risk being depressed by a bad experience after so much anticipation.
It was strange to be there at night when I'd only ever passed it in the daytime, but Westville East (http://www.westvillenyc.com/menu.aspx) was just as lovely after dark. Just as I'd remembered, it was square, simple, clean and finished with green accents. We were told to sit where we liked (small details like this are supremely underrated) and I insisted we sit away from the door (again, my aversion to cold winds during dinner).
The Web site explains that Westville (which has another location on West 10th St.) aims to provide the absolute freshest food at a reasonable price. When T confirmed that the place had the best, freshest vegetables she's ever had, I was characteristically confused. How could one place's vegetables be better than another? A carrot is a carrot is a carrot, regardless of seasoning. It's not better, it's just different. Right?
As usual, I was wrong. T, who by now was a pro at the Westville Market Menu (http://www.westvillenyc.com/daily_special.aspx), ordered a mix of market vegetables at a rate of 4 for $13. When her plate of fennel, brussels sprouts, mushrooms and sweet potato fries arrived, I practically salivated all over them.My original plan was to order a turkey reuben (perhaps I was craving reubens after AK...?), but I was informed by our pleasant waitress (another underrated detail: nice employees) that the sandwich was only available at lunch. T had already ordered, so I hastily chose to ask for a veggie burger and sweet potato fries. It was probably the best decision of my life:
Caption from the Westville menu: Veggie burger topped with mixed mushrooms and spicy tartar sauce with fries or salad.
The other burger items on the menu are listed as being served on a Portuguese muffin, and it appeared that the veggie burger was as well. It seemed to be sort of a cross in looks and taste between an English muffin and a bagel without a hole, but it was the perfect complement to the sandwich. I usually take one side of the bun off my sandwiches because sometimes too much bread drowns out the flavor of the interior, but this was absolutely spot-on.
Now, it's true that I'm not as experienced with veggie burgers as some, but usually when I chow down on a veggie burger I don't notice any specific components of the patty. This time, however, I realized that I could SEE the different vegetables. There were CHUNKS of corn in there. Perhaps some people do not enjoy or appreciate this aspect of a burger, but I like to be able to see what I'm eating, and it seemed so much fresher. There were fewer mysteries about this burger than the average burger because I KNEW there were veggies in there. Also, the inside was colorful rather than vaguely beige...I don't know what else was in there, but I liked it! It fell apart a little bit, but not enough to cause a problem, and the outside was cooked to perfection.
What really helped this burger edge out the competition, however, was the spicy tartar sauce. It was more yellow and orange than white, so I'm guessing it leaned a little heavily on the mustard. It provided the perfect amount of kick without making my lips fall off, and it didn't drown the flavor of the burger itself. Finished with flavorful, salty mushrooms, this thing caused me to pretty much lick the plate clean.
A quick word about the fries. I like sweet potato fries because they are an ideal blend of salty fry-style goodness and a hint of sweetness. If I have to add salt to my SPFs just to get a little flavor, that is a death knell. If they taste so much like regular fries that I'm eyeing the sugar packets, that also spells trouble. These fries, however, were like the porridge in the fable: juuuuuust right. They were of the thin, shoestring variety (just a heads up, K, since you like those better) and didn't sacrifice that sweet sweet potato flavor. Not too crispy, not too soft. Amazing.
They looked funny next to the organic veggies on T's plate, but I can see why she ordered them. I tried her fennel and brussel sprouts, both of which were flavorful without tasting too much like whatever was used to season them. She deemed the mushrooms too salty, although they were a good pairing for my veggie burger. And, of course, there were no complaints about those sweet potato fries:
I talked T into dessert, and I ordered the special, Red Velvet Cake. I sipped her chocolate milkshake and found it only passable, but my dessert was pure heaven. The cream cheese frosting wasn't too thick, so it was more like icing or frosting that actual cream cheese, which is always a plus. In the light the cake didn't appear bright red -- it was more of a natural red-brown, and it was moist and perfect. No words can convey it better than the photo:
T and I each ate for under $20, including dessert, although with tip it came out to slightly more. Not too shabby for what I now realize was a life-changing meal. In fact, does anyone want to go back RIGHT NOW?
So, that's my wrap-up of the new victor in the battle for Best Veggie Burger and Best Sweet Potato Fries I've ever had. Westville East has also become tops in a new category, the Best Red Velvet Cake of my life. But, sadly, I'm sure it will be toppled from THAT pedestal someday...