You’ll never guess what happened to me, folks. I got scooped, and in my own backyard. It was by some penny-ante paper I’ve never heard of called The New York Times. They have this motto: “All the news that’s fit to print.” I mean, who actually goes around saying stuff like that? I have no idea, but I imagine that this person should be wearing a monocle like some kind of fusspot Mr. Peanut.
Anyway, the Times totally let it slip about the Flower Café at Linda’s in Maplewood Mall, and how the veggie burger there is the very height of awesome. It’s an oat-based wonder, miraculously moist and cunningly seasoned. Apparently they don’t make veggie burgers that good in New York, because the Times had to cross state lines and step on my beat in order to partake of it.
Over a decade in Maplewood Mall
A lesser reporter would resent this turf incursion, but I’m confident that I can report circles around the Times. For example, they did not inform their readers that the Flower Café at Linda’s has been open in Maplewood Mall for about 14 years. Prior to that, owner Linda Samuel ran a clothing store further down the mall, which then moved to the second floor of the building that currently houses the café. For a while Samuel ran both the café and the boutique at the same time.
“My dream was to have them both, you know, have a place where people could shop and have lunch,” Samuel explains, taking a break from her cooking duties to sit down with me in the café’s small dining room. “But it really got too busy for me to do both,” she says. Samuel maintains that she still has her “passion for fashion” but luckily for diners, the café business won out.
Samuel is a vegan who lost over 60 pounds through changing her diet and exercise. Her healthy eating habits are reflected in café’s menu, which includes vegetarian, vegan and raw food dishes alongside turkey, salmon and chicken dishes for the meat-eating crowd.
“The exciting part about the food is changing the way people eat. I can’t tell you how many people that have come here that have been diabetic, have lost weight, you know, so —that part has been fun,” Samuel says.
I am a happy meat-eater who probably won’t ever be ready to embrace a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but I see no reason not to shake things up a bit and take a break from meat every now and then. Since the Flower Café is known for its veggie burger, I’m willing to give it a go.
A patty poseur?
I’ll be honest, I could never really get my head around the concept of veggie burgers. They have always struck me as the worst kind of poseur— trying so darn hard to be meat. I have been running afoul of these wretched little patties for years. Sometimes they are chewy and of questionable texture. Other times they are crunchy and dry, leaving grainy granules of patty embedded in the gum line.
So as I wait for my veggie burger to arrive I’m a little skeptical, but as soon as I see it on the plate I know that this is a veggie burger to be reckoned with. It looks great, nestled on a soft roll, flanked by lettuce, tomato, red onion and cheddar cheese. I ignore the fork and knife beside me, grab it with my hands and start eating.
It’s unbelievably moist, and flavorful. There’s honey mustard sauce riding on the roll somewhere but this only helps to enhance the taste of the carefully seasoned patty.
This veggie burger is not trying to be meat. It’s not simply a hamburger stand-in. It is its own kind of eating experience and it is good—so good in fact that I’m half finished eating before I remember to take a picture of it.
No sacrificing taste
For Samuel, my journalistic gaffe is a compliment. The veggie burger is her original recipe and if it can put someone off her game because it tastes so good, then she knows she’s done her job well. This is no mean feat for someone without traditional culinary training. “Everything here is made with prayer and with love,” she says. Cooking was not my thing. You know, I enjoy it now that I’m into it like I said, and I enjoy mostly the health aspect of it—trying to get people to eat better and still have tasty food.”