11 p.m. food options tend to the greasy and cheesy: tacos, burritos, and giant slices of pizza. At Hartbreakers, a new vegan spot on Hart Street that’s open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., the food is fresh and plant-based with a fine balance of reinterpreted junk foods and colorful salads.
The team behind popular vegan diner Champs in East Williamsburg and Screamers Pizza opened Hartbreakers in mid October and the concept was in the works for months. Head Chef Erica Sharkey holed up in the kitchen at Champs testing menu items and figuring out the restaurant’s identity. Certain dishes, like the chick’n nuggets, served with an array of dipping sauces, went through a dozen iterations. The bacon bits on a platter of cheese fries were carefully crafted too, using two shades of seitan with different textures to mimic the streaks of fat found in bacon.
Vegan junk food can be laden with sodium and chemicals, but Hartbreakers makes nearly everything in house, only purchasing bread and sliced cheese for a few sandwiches like the best selling Picnic Basket, a chik’n sandwich with seitan bacon and mondo sauce, their version of thousand island dressing. Even their queso, which covers an addicting plate of waffle fries, is made with potato, carrot, and spices. It’s oil-free and soy free and so flavorful.
Sharkey also spent lots of time on the house merguez, served in coins on several platters and on top of the fries. It’s made from housemade seitan and chickpeas, with a little beet juice for color and lots of coriander, fennel, and cayenne for flavor.
Another must order is the Flower Power Salad, a bowl brimming with crispy chickpeas, kale, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin seeds, and avocado, tossed with a creamy lemon garlic dressing. It’s the perfect lunch.
Just as Chef Sharkey obsessed over every detail of the menu, the team nailed the look and feel of Hartbreakers. It’s decorated in soft pinks and oranges and the vibe is “cool aunt in the 1970s.” There are plants everywhere, a nod to the plant-based food, and the team is committed to keeping them alive (they got a detailed care manual from the plant specialist who installed them). Even the table cards (Hartbreakers is counter service) stay true to the era and feature different cartoon animals from a MOMA design series from 1971.
Hartbreakers has a positive energy that extends beyond the food: the staff is mostly female and they strive to keep the kitchen happy. As Sharkey says, “toxic masculinity is not necessary here. If you’re in a good mood and you’re happy at your job, the food comes out better.”
Sharkey’s continuing to develop new menu items and is making some seasonal updates soon (keep your eyes peeled for brussels sprouts). Caviar delivery is also available so more Brooklynites can try this thoughtful and delicious vegan food.
IF YOU GO: Try the Picnic Basket, the Flower Power, the Dynamite Fries, and share some chik’n tenders with lemon garlic aioli and cilantro jalapeño aioli (sauces are 50 cents each, go crazy). Everything is vegan and there are many gluten free options as well.
Photos by Abigail Koffler and Angely Mercado.