58 Ave. B (4th St.)
"Yay, bread," mumbles Jon, tucking a slab of fragrant homemade focaccia into herb-infused olive oil: the start of another meal at Kate's Joint. For over a year, I've been coming here most every Monday night. Thoughts of crispy vegetarian steak doused in gravy paired with steaming, silky sautéed collards get me through the longest day of my week (every now and again, so does the promise of Kate's full bar).
Since 1996, this Lower East Side spot has been home to high-quality vegetarian food that emphasizes diner-style hot plates but offers a little bit of everything. Kate's Joint has attained renown for specialties like the vegan Caesar salad, not-steak, unchicken cutlets, unturkey club, collards, mashed yams, a to-die-for cheesecake, and of course, buffalo wings.
When the plate of wings touches down, caution is in order. Misjudge the range of their powerful aroma and you'll choke. That first whiff hits like a spicy brick and occupies the nostrils before you can cry "neutral territory!" Eventually, you learn to lunge toward the plate with your fork even before sight and breath have returned: Otherwise, your momentary incapacitation could mean the loss of a searing-hot wing, or your fair share of the tofu sour cream.
The unturkey club is popular unto the level of myth. I generally gravitate toward the not-steak or the southern-fried unchicken cutlets, squares of tofu in a savory batter touched with rosemary. So I look to Jon for an explanation of the club's appeal. In between bites, he pauses to consider. "The bacon is no off-the-shelf product," he begins, just as Master of Puppets graces the sound system. "There's not too much bread, and the mayo is salty and good. Oh, and the fries are extraordinary. It's way better than Teany."
Kate Halpern set up shop after stints as chef in restaurants across the city. "The whole menu, including the desserts, is things I used to make at home," she says. "Have you tried the new key lime pie yet?"
Nearly a decade after opening, there's an unequivocal cult of Kate's Joint, and it's based heavily in punk. Since Halpern started going to Max's and the Mudd Club at age 16, the restaurant's orientation is natural. Members of legendary 90s hardcore bands Spitboy, Born Against and the Young Pioneers all make a beeline for Kate's when they're in town, and it's an automatic stop for the staff of West Coast?based Revelation Records. But sometimes all that love takes a turn for, well, the obsessive. One story holds that a local vegan punk named Moon, convinced that some of the not-meat is not entirely vegan, has on multiple occasions gone postal to get Kate to modify the menu. But maybe that's just trumped-up punk rock lore.