The Early Word: Terri Vegan Cafe

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Terri's meatball "sub"

Terri Vegan Cafe is one of a growing number of vegan fast-casual spots popping up across town, and certainly the first of its kind in the Flatiron District. The shop was opened three weeks ago by a former employee of Blossom, the Chelsea vegan restaurant that recently expanded its holdings to include a truffle and wine bar. Like Blossom, there's nothing remotely crunchy about Terri -- its decor has more in common with an upscale chocolate shop than, say, Angelica Kitchen. Located next door to a New York Health & Racquet Club on West 23rd Street, it's an airy place with high ceilings, slickly minimal decor, and a long, wide counter staffed by friendly people wearing purple T-shirts.

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Terri's menu comprises sandwiches, wraps, salads, smoothies, juice, and a smattering of baked goods like cupcakes and brownies. Wanting something that would closely approximate the meaty offerings more common to the chorus of take-out joints lining 23rd Street, we opted for the $7.81 meatball sub, which, according to the menu, contained "meatball," marinara sauce, and Daiya mozzarella.

After a short wait, the sandwich emerged hot from the kitchen. It was still warm when unwrapped about 20 minutes later, though the bread's now tough edges and bottom betrayed evidence of microwaving. Also, the bread was foccaccia, making the whole "sub" designation a bit misleading.

The faux meatballs were quite filling and even satisfying, though undermined by that weird, slightly funky aftertaste so synonymous with with heavily processed fake meat (which in this case is concocted from soy and wheat protein, according to a counter person). More unfortunately, they were also compromised by a rogue strand of hair. The ersatz mozzarella melted evenly, putting it at a distinct advantage over most vegan cheese, but had an unnerving tendency to coat the teeth like some sort of viscous sock. It also had the same weirdly funky aftertaste the meatballs did. The marinara was fine, though a little scant. Despite this, the sandwich, taken as the sum of its parts, was pretty decent, in a vegan junk/comfort food sort of way. Was it worth $8.50, tax included? That's harder to say -- it's a question that's probably better answered by a vegan with a burning desire to to loosely approximate the meat-eating experience. But in the opinion of a non-vegan expecting a hero-style sandwich overflowing with sloppy sauce and golfball-sized hunks of non-meat, it seemed a bit steep.

Terri does offer sandwiches that don't use ersatz meat and cheese, such as a roasted vegetable sandwich and portobello chimichurri, so that may be the better way to go if you'd rather avoid soy protein masquerading as barnyard animals. But if equality means having the opportunity to stuff one's face with as much nutritionally dubious food as meat eaters do, then vegans in the Flatiron district have finally arrived.

Terri Vegan Cafe
60 West 23rd Street
212-647-8810

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