Ask a vegan for a food recommendation in the city and By Chloe is sure to come up at some point. The all-vegan and gluten friendly menu is supposed to serve as a suitable fast-food alternative for those who cannot indulge in an everyday burger or any ol’ cupcake. Its branding desperately attempts to appeal to the young, hip masses with bold colors and cute drawings sprinkled across the menu.The inside of any location is the quintessential clean millennial aesthetic. But despite having walked by, and even occasionally into one with a friend multiple times throughout my years here, I have never purchased anything myself. So, when my vegan friend Taylor was in town and we were looking to meet for breakfast, the time seemed right for me to take the suggestion of a city full of vegans and see if By Chloe was all it was cracked up to be.
We met at the Lafayette location for brunch, but with their much-discussed sweet treats looking me straight in the eye on the counter I knew I would not be able to resist finally trying their baked goods. So, while I got the Sunrise breakfast burrito to start, I also grabbed a chocolate chip cookie for a post-brunch dessert. Even though the cracker-thin chocolate chip espresso cookie is the one often seen in articles and Instagram posts, I didn’t find the thought of an extremely crispy cookie to be all that appealing. I wanted to give them a better chance at making a play for my heart.
I had gotten a breakfast burrito filled with tofu scramble just the other week at R&R Coffee that had been surprisingly tasty, so I expected one from such a renowned institution to be at least equal. But this tofu was markedly less seasoned. Some might say not at all. Not only did I taste no oniony, umami additions to make the soy-based protein more interesting, but nary a salt or pepper granule could my taste buds find. With a protein as naturally bland as tofu it’s already imperative that the basic seasoning protocol be followed. But it is standard practice to gather an array of spices or sauces to up the scramble to imbue it with the savory flavors naturally found in the meats or eggs that it’s replacing. And while dipping it in hot sauce definitely helped, it’s just not the same as adding those spices during cooking. Just like no amount of adornments can fix an unseasoned steak, no amount of spicy ketchup could make me excited about the tofu scramble underneath.
And I could have perhaps been a little more on board if the other components of the burrito were plentiful. On the contrary, there were but slivers of avocado and a small smattering of black beans that were barely perceptible amongst the fake-egg scramble. The proportions, the most important part of anything in the sandwich family, were all wrong.
Luckily ( I thought), I had a cookie with which I could rectify the boring burrito. Decently sized and with a good amount of chocolate chips visible, I had some hope for it despite the lack of browning. But, while I am a fan of a chewy cookie, there was nothing particularly stressful about this one. While I’m sure it’s an enjoyable stand-in for a cookie to those unable to have the pleasures of a Levain or City Cakes creation or who cannot even broach a Chips Ahoy!, and I appreciate the reasonable price of $2.75, it’s not something to get me excited about trying anything else of theirs. The cookie was nothing but sweet, and the chocolate chips did not melt a bit, making the experience more like chewing through some sweet, dense bread while also eating a handful of chocolate chips that are slightly bigger and slightly better than Nestlé quality. But if they’re not melting at allduring the baking process, you’re missing out on an opportunity for quality enhancement (while also clearly using some chocolate chips covered in things that make them shelf-stable and resistant to melting in a way most chocolate bars aren’t). Out of the three examples I gave, the resemblance is closest to the Chips Ahoy!
However, when talking about my experience with vegan friend-of-the-blog Brianna (who runs a food Instagram, @moonandstarberries, that you should go give a peek and a follow), she proposed that my expectations were not properly set for what By Chloe actually was. That the extreme hype comes from those who continue to think of vegan food as a nonsensical assortment of plants not resembling anything we have come to know as a tasty meal. So when that false illusion is broken, it makes anything relatively okay that has the ability to resemble what we know to be utterly stellar. But to her, By Chloe is really more like a Panera. You don’t go to Panera because the food is so good(except for the bread bowls. Hollow out some bread and fill it with pasta or soup and I could write an article about the magic of that alone), but because it’s pretty okay, affordable, and a good place to meet up with friends you haven’t seen in a while. So, when put in that context, By Chloe did its job. The food was fine, but it ended up being a space to reconnect with a pal. Insert cheesy pun likening friendship to being the most important seasoning here.