The menu at Grilled!, which opened about six weeks ago in a sidewalk shack across from Maria Hernandez Park, is packed with familiar crowd-pleasers. You can get double-stack cheeseburgers, cubanos, chicken nuggets, cheesesteaks, choripan, chili cheese dogs, fish filet sandwiches, loaded fries, and milkshakes, to name some highlights. And it’s all very agreeably priced, with most dishes hovering around the $6 mark.
The twist: everything at Grilled! is vegan, with plant-based substitutes from brands like Beyond Meat, Gardein, VioLife, and Follow Your Heart doing the work usually asked of meat and dairy products. Another twist: Grilled! is owned and operated by a dentist, Andrew Della Pietra, who runs the Bushwick Dental Group around the corner and got into the restaurant game as a form of activism, a way to promote vegan eating.
“I’ve been vegan for ten years,” Della Pietra told Gothamist last week. “The personal health benefits and the environmental planetary benefits are nice, of course, but I’m vegan for the animals. Normally my activism has been street activism, like protest, or online activism, like sharing stories about factory farming, and the killing of animals for fashion and experimentation. So for me [this] is just another form of activism, a way to try and get more folks to eat plant-based food.”
Helping his cause, the food here at Grilled! is often very good. Della Pietra, who was born and raised in Sheepshead Bay, may be a successful dentist, but he’s no chef. That role belongs to Guillermo Jaramillo, who hails from Colombia and, in addition to being a first-rate cook, “brings the Latin flair” to the menu; in addition to the Cubano and Choripan, Jaramillo will also make you a Colombian Hot Dog, a pile of Salchi Papas, or an ingenious Arepa Burger.
The best things we ate during our Friday evening feast included a wonderful Double Burger, made with Beyond Meat patties and laden with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, a lively special sauce, and lots of melted cheese. The Loaded Fries were also very good, covered in a smoky seitan-based chili and more of that thick, gooey nacho cheese. And the Chik’n Tenders, which come in threes, fives, or a ten-pack, were helped a great deal by some fiery Buffalo sauce.
The Colombian Hot Dog had a nice snap to it, and held its own under Jaramillo’s pink sauce, pineapple sauce, as well as diced onions and crushed potato chips. And though the Fish Filet Sandwich hit the right seafood/tartar sauce notes, I think I would have rather tried Jaramillo’s Cubano. Next time. And either way, I’ll definitely be getting another one of their soy-based Chocolate Strawberry Milkshakes, which are appropriately thick, sweet, and creamy. There’s also a lengthy kids’ menu, by the way, on which everything is less than $3.
The Grilled! dining experience has an appealingly DIY feel to it, with tables (complete with unanchored umbrellas) and a condiment station spread out on the sidewalk under some scaffolding, the signage hung and stenciled onto the shed above, and a mural livening up a brick wall. The actual physical restaurant is, as Della Pietra put, “sort of like a food truck, but stationary,” with just an ordering window and no interior seating. Della Pietra secured the place last winter when its former tenant, a pupuseria called Amanda’s Kitchen, moved a few doors down the block.
“We want to make plant-based vegan food that’s affordable, familiar, and accessible,” says Della Pietra. “It’s funny, one or two people mentioned online ‘Oh you guys just use branded vegan stuff, you don’t hand-make a lot of stuff…’ But we purposely use vegan brands you can find in the grocery store, because if my primary goal is to get more people to eat plant-based, I want to introduce them to these products, then hopefully have them go and replicate it at home. It’s got to be replicable, if they’re going to continue along that plant-based path.”
Grilled is located at 264 Suydam Street, just north of Knickerbocker Avenue, and is currently open daily from noon to 8 p.m. (718-417-1670; @grilled_vegan_nyc)