Turkish chef Nusret Gökçe, aka Salt Bae, became an Instagram celebrity back in 2017 when a video of him giving generous and excessive sprinklings of salt on steak—done in an over-the-top manner—went viral and lead to Gökçe opening several restaurants.
Now, the newly-opened burger joint called Salt Bae, which was under construction for nearly a year before opening last week, is Gökçe’s latest clickbait stunt and part of the restaurant group’s marketing strategy for other outposts, such as a recent opening in Dubai (the company plans to expand to Miami soon, too). A past Time Out restaurant critic gave Gökçe’s steakhouse Nusr-Et one star, which is still open today.
His eponymous 65-seat operation has several gimmicky items such as the $100 “Gold Burger” (made with Wagyu beef, caramelized onion, cheddar cheese and gold leaves on a homemade burger bun) and a $99 “Golden Shake,” a milkshake also incorporating the use of gold leaf. But the most startling item on the menu is in fact its cheapest option: a veggie burger that is free to “ladies.” French fries are also free, but are not listed with a ladies-only descriptor on the menu (photo below).
So, as a self-identifying “lady,” I headed down to Park Avenue South to check it out. And let me tell you: this veggie burger is easily the worst veggie burger I’ve had in my life. In between a pink bun, the shade of ballet slippers, you'll find a patty made with squash, carrot, cilantro and white onion topped with homemade mango chutney and lettuce. It all sounds like it might have the potential to be at least okay, but it tastes far worse than Dr. Praeger’s frozen patties and is as cartoonish looking as a Krabby Patty. What goes down is a greasy and tasteless recipe that I couldn't finish.
I say this as someone who loves veggie burgers— particularly homemade ones that focus on vegetables, rather than relying on tech-backed meat such as Impossible and Beyond meats. But offering a veggie burger—particularly with a pink bun—free for women is sexist and should not be something for women to celebrate as some bizarro attempt at faux-feminism. And it's not just because it furthers the notion of veggie burgers as being a dish relegated to the women’s corner. There's actually something worse at play. This ladies-only premise ultimately functions as a trans and non-binary-exclusionary promotion.
According to Eater, Al Avci, the general manager of Nusr-Et’s operations in the U.S. told the online publication that the gender-based promotion is intended to be a “compliment” to women and that they “weren’t thinking it would be sexist.” Furthermore, that should any man come in and ask for the burger, that they, too, actually could get it for free. According to a waiter I spoke with in person at the restaurant, the promotion is actually not a permanent addition to menu, but just a way to drum up interest in the new Union Square space.
However, Avci’s official statement was contrary to what I experienced. I also asked my waiter whether the team had thought about the trans and non-binary community, and what would happen if someone had come into the restaurant who did not present as “traditionally femme,” but identified as a woman. The gist of the waiter’s response? The owners here are very strict and that when there had been any grey area, the waiter told the customer they could not have it, despite wanting to offer it themselves. Now, that might just be the interpretation of a rule by one employee, but it's indicative of the potential for more salt on the wound.
Salt Bae is located at 220 Park Ave S, New York, NY 10003.