Cashew cream. Tempeh. Nutritional yeast. Rice milk. Maybe not together. But if there’s anyone with the cooking chops to make people crave these obscure ingredients, it’s vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli.
A celebrity in the kale community, culinary school grad Coscarelli has a resume including a butter, milk and egg-free ginger-nutmeg cupcake that won the TV show Cupcake Wars. After that came cookbooks that opened the doors to everything from meatless “meatloaf” and burgers to ice cream and bolognese. By Chloe, located in Greenwich Village, is the first establishment in a chain of vegan quick service restaurants, with two more locations planned this year for SoHo and the Flatiron district.
The drive thru-inspired menus and a sweets counter to rival Magnolia Bakery leave nothing out for people who often feel excluded from traditional dining experiences. Like yours truly, Lifelong Lactose Intolerant Who Eats a Single Spoonful of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream Once a Year.
I’m no stranger to fake cheese, cloudy nut milks and something called Vegan Buttery Spread. My household has whipped up dishes like eggplant parmesan and cashew-cheesy noodles from Coscarelli’s books for years. But the interesting thing about Coscarelli’s concept is that it appeals to a much wider audience than just vegans and the dairy-averse set. My friend who calls herself a “vegan who eats meat,” for example.
Rather than focusing on making vegan food taste just like the non-vegan kind, Coscarelli hones in on making food that tastes good, which is actually not the same thing as tasting like cheese or like hamburger beef. The creativity in her cooking pays off and speaks to her ability as a chef. Her simple earthy dishes are universal, like her recipe for steamed broccoli and cauliflower salad tossed with lemon and olive oil, or her garlicky skillet-cooked kale.
So there I was, a lactose intolerant food critic in a vegan restaurant. Obviously, I ordered the mac n’ cheese with bacon on top, with a dessert/side of ice cream, thank you very much.
The macaroni was creamy, without the deep umami flavor of real cheese (anybody ever had pure parmesan mac n’ cheese?), but still complex in flavor and blessed with the perfect melty, gooey consistency. It wouldn’t fool a cheese lover into thinking it’s the “real thing,” but what the heck, it’s still delish and indulgent.
The secret ingredients: a sweet potato and cashew cream “cheese” sauce and topped with sizzled shitaake mushroom bacon, salty like cured meat, and almond parmesan flakes. The dish was surprisingly filling – a small container was about the size of a small ice cream cup and came for $4.95, and the large was about twice that size and cost $8.95. Not unreasonable for such a nutritionally dense lunch, although we forked over $30 for the additional Guac Burger, small fries and ice cream.
A spoonful of the kale cookies and cream ice cream was custardy and thick, with gluten-free chocolate cookie bits folded in. Odorless, flavorless kale gave the concoction a pastel green tint. Mint chocolate chip!, I knew my dumb subconscious mind was thinking. Since my mother’s been hiding pureed spinach in our gluten-free fudge brownie recipe for years, I probably have a very confused sweet tooth at this point.
The space itself was darling and posh, with its black and white color scheme and colorful illustrations of pun-speaking kale and beets. The catch is that a communal table and booths are the only seating options. The line was nearly out the door of the studio-apartment-sized place, but the turnover was fast and to its credit the line did move briskly. But I had to wait for a young woman to reapply lip gloss, a lengthy process for her apparently, before I could be seated. And as I blissfully double-fisted mac n’ cheese and ice cream, I watched the girls sitting across from me pick at their burgers and cupcakes. I had a subtle feeling of not fitting in among this crowd, even though the food was made for me. But I can’t have it all, dairy-free ice cream and a dive bar setting. Coscarelli is taking over the world by making vegan food not only accessible but easy, fun and adorable for all.
185 Bleecker Street
New York, NY 10012