State Street boasts a wide variety of culinary choices, with chain restaurants and local eateries tussling for turf at the heart of Madison. Despite the thriving food ecosystem, State Street lacked a vegan presence until Sookie’s Veggie Burgers at 502 State St. came along with the noble aim of saving the environment one burger at a time.
Walking into the restaurant you are greeted by a mural, paintings and customer doodles, creating a warm, vibrant and communal atmosphere. The restaurant does not feature a huge lunch/dinner menu, which I consider a good thing. As the adage goes, quality over quantity. The menu changes from time to time, presumably due to supply and demand. Burgers available as of Jan. 28, 2023 are the Vegan Chicken Sandwich, California Burger and Impossible Burger.
I haven’t tried the Impossible Burger, so I can’t vouch for it. The California Burger is a pretty standard veggie burger. A solid option, but nothing to write home about. My favorite of the three is the Vegan Chicken Sandwich. The mouthfeel and taste of the fried vegan chicken does not reach the heights of real chicken, but it’s great in combination with the lettuce, pickles and vegan mayonnaise.
There are two other burgers I’ve had in the past that aren’t currently available: Sweet Heat Beet and Spinach Chicken Pesto. I tried Sweet Heat Beet exactly once. As the name suggests, the patty was beetroot-based. The taste of beetroot was not overwhelming, which was a relief, but the patty lacked structural integrity. Whether that was down to the patty’s construction or me not eating it then and there, I don’t know. I also didn’t get much heat, but that may be because of my higher-than-average spice tolerance. Not bad, but it didn’t meet the hype I'd seen in online customer reviews.
Spinach Chicken Pesto, when available, is my favorite Sookie’s burger. I think it’s their most flavorful menu item, and the elements in the patty mesh together very well with the rest of the burger. I prefer the mouthfeel and structural integrity of this burger over all others at Sookie’s. Condiments like vegan mayo, lettuce, onions and maybe tomatoes elevate this burger further. I recommend keeping an eye out for this burger if/when it returns.
Burger orders can be paired with a side of your choice. I usually pair my burger with tater tots. Sookie’s uses an air-fryer to cook fried items, which makes tots a less unhealthy indulgence than usual. They used to sell fries, and I was initially thrown off by the switch to tots. Today, I prefer their tots to their fries any day of the week.
Outside of the regular burger menu, there are quite a few items I've yet to try. Sookie’s recently introduced a breakfast menu I look forward to trying someday. Despite tater tots being the marquee side, there are healthier options like chips and guacamole or hummus. Admittedly, those options are too healthy for my cravings but perhaps worth switching to.
Besides providing sustainable, plant-based food to customers, Sookie’s also aims to reduce pollution through the use of compostable packaging for meals. There are no single-use plastics in their packaging, which is laudable but sometimes problematic. If you’re getting a sauce on the side, chances are it will spill over because there’s no lid for the sauce.
Sookie’s is a fairly new member of the State Street culinary family, and I expect the restaurant to evolve rapidly. I think they’re on the right track, and I’d watch this space. I never expected to be a regular at a vegan restaurant, yet here I am, and maybe you will be too.
Anupras Mohapatra is a former opinion editor for The Daily Cardinal and currently serves on the Editorial Board. He is a senior double majoring in Computer Science and Journalism.