Dining-out options for vegans and vegetarians in the mid-Hudson are expanding, with several entrepreneurs now pushing the envelope of what used to be considered the extreme manifestation of healthful eating to include fast-food favorites, meat-free-style. Hudson Valley One recently reported on the instant success of one such emporium of “vegan junk food” in Kingston, the Secret Vegan Café. Now another has joined it, on the opposite side of town: Moonburger, a “plant-based drive-thru burger joint” at 5 Powell’s Lane. It’s in the building that used to house Ice Cream Castle, its former crenellations now covered up with a more contemporary-styled façade.
Who would’ve guessed that vegans were secretly craving the chance to eat the kind of food that’s supposed to be bad for you? Brooklyn hipsters, that’s who. Proprietor Jeremy Robinson-Leon, a PR executive who fled the City for Kingston during the pandemic last year, asked himself, “Why not create a totally new, totally exciting burger stop from the ground up for 2021, building on the history of America’s great, classic burger restaurants and challenging ourselves to imagine what else is possible? A place for people – starting with an exceptional, fair workplace and building up from there to provide an entirely distinctive offering to our community.”
As culinary and merchandising consultants, Robinson-Leon roped in Bon Appetit editor-at-large Amiel Stanek, cookbook author/food personality Alison Roman and former Shake Shack director Anoop Pillarisetti. So far, his improbable gamble seems to be paying off: Since opening day on Saturday, October 16, consumers have been lining up in their cars to wait for their chance to enjoy vegan fast food – most of them willing to wait as long as 90 minutes, which puts the “fast” part of that description seriously in doubt. By Day Two, the word-of-mouth was so fierce that Moonburger ran out of food and had to close several hours early.
That’s right: Moonburger has no dining room, no place to sit down. It’s as minimal a “restaurant” experience as one could imagine. The only way to get your food is to sit in your car until it’s your turn. Already there has been some snarky commentary on social media on the subject of whether eating vegan shrinks your carbon footprint if your automobile is idling and spewing CO2 into the atmosphere while you wait. Probably not, so the incentive here must be the food itself, more than the need to feel environmentally virtuous.
On the day when HV1’s intrepid culinary investigator showed up to check out the offerings (Halloween, Sunday, around 6 p.m.), the line was somewhat shorter than previously reported, and moving – slowly, but not so slowly that it made sense to keep turning the engine on and off. From the time we got into the queue to the time we drove off with our dinner, it took us about 35 minutes.
Was it worth it? Depends on the strength of your nostalgia for takeout burgers. We tried the “classic cheeseburger,” which cheats a bit: While the patty is an Impossible Meat Burger, it’s served under real dairy cheese on a Martin’s potato roll which has dairy and gluten but gluten free option and dairy free option. Our conclusion was that it was better than any standard cheeseburger from a fast-food place. However, while it had an acceptably beeflike taste and texture, the thin patty would not fool or satisfy anyone looking for, say, a nice thick free-range Kobe burger. There’s simply no way to make it come out rare and juicy.
But that’s not what you come here for, is it? It’s the familiar, comforting experience of a family jaunt to the drive-in burger joint, minus the dead cow, the bad cholesterol and the dollars in the till of some gigantic faceless global corporation that exploits the planet and its minimum-wage, no-benefits employees.
Besides burgers with cheese and without, the limited Moonburger menu offers pretty decent fries, in both “classic” and cayenne-dusted “hot” varieties – the latter not too overwhelming even for Scoville Scale wimps. Cheese sauce for dipping your fries costs extra. You can get an apple for dessert. Beverage choices are a variety of carbonated drinks, iced tea, bottled water and the Brownie Batter Shake. Made with oat milk and chocolate ganache, the latter is non-dairy and tastes it, lacking the rounded mouthfeel one associates with a true milkshake. But it’s dense, very chocolatey and does indeed evoke a drinkable brownie.
Moonburger is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Visit www.moonburger.com to view the full menu.