Our latest installment of Quick Bites brings us to right under the Manhattan Bridge for vegan sandwiches.
In these COVID times you can't always be too picky about your surroundings when grabbing something to eat, as restaurant owners who are bold enough to open something new, or even reopen something old, have to keep their overhead as low as possible just to eke out a living by feeding you. So keep that in mind the first time you visit Vodega, a terrific new vegan sandwich shop that opened earlier this month in Dumbo.
First of all, it's located literally down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass, and since pandemic protocols prevent you from entering the place except to quickly place your order, you will be standing directly below the roar of what seems like an impossible number of trains while you wait for your food. Don't even bother trying to catch up with that friend you met here during this time. Secondly, the entrance fronts Anchorage Place, which is currently being used as a massive storage site for construction equipment, effectively closing down the block except for a narrow slip of a sidewalk.
Thankfully for you and Vodega chef and owner Jeremy Dean, the surrounding neighborhood features a wealth of outdoor seating options, including John Street Park behind those glassy new luxury condos; Main Street Park, with its nice grassy hill and Pebble Beach "amphitheater," and Empire Fulton Ferry Park just past Jane's Carousel. Dean has lived in Dumbo for 12 years, has seen all sorts of development in that time, and is confident that Vodega's immediate surroundings will feel more welcoming soon.
As a New York City resident for many years, Dean, a Mexican-Salvadorian chef from Texas, fully understands how protective we are of our bodegas, and is respectful in the way Vodega pays homage to those vital institutions and their beloved sandwiches. Despite his long experience as a professional chef—at Clover Club, for one—Dean's not trying to "upgrade" anything here. His goal is simply to allow people vegans and vegetarians (and, obviously, everyone else) to enjoy some really good sandwiches that have the flavor and feel of deli classics.
I ate most of the Vodega menu last week, and all four sandwiches totally deliver on that promise. The Chopped Cheese, for example, is made with that juicy Impossible ground beef, and the melted vegan cheese sauce nicely glopped up the whole thing. Like all the sandwiches at Vodega, the bread is from Caputo's in Carroll Gardens, and it holds up admirably under the onslaught.
The Philly Cheesesteak features stacks of thinly sliced seitan intermingled with fried onions, peppers, mushrooms, and plenty of that same thick cheese sauce and, honestly, it's better than most meat-based cheesesteaks you'll find anywhere in the city. I was a little worried about the vegan Cuban, made with savory braised jackfruit—the Cuban holds a special place in my sandwich pantheon—but damn if Dean doesn't pull this one off too. It's much greasier than it looks as well. And even that most sacred bodega staple, the breakfast sandwich, is handled here with aplomb, assembled with vegan "sausage," scrambled "eggs" and stringy "cheese."
Each sandwich (except for the S.E.C.) comes with your choice of side, which you can also order separately in larger sizes. I tried three: the Smoked Mac & Cheese really hit the spot, the Jeweled Grains were super hearty though maybe went a bit too strong on the candied fruits, and the Spicy-Cool Heirloom Tomato Salad was fresh and fiery as hell.
Area vegans, and the omnivores who eat with them, will be thrilled by Vodega's arrival in the neighborhood. This is good food that really satisfies.
Vodega is located at 140 Plymouth Street, at the corner of Anchorage Place, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (347-916-0098; v-odega.com)