Turn on the television, head down to your local movie theater or browse through your neighborhood bookstore and you’ll realize one thing: geek is the word.
It seems like every big corporation or movie studio is looking to profit from our current obsession with all things comic books, sci-fi and gaming. However, that trend doesn’t just stop on the screen or the page now; at one restaurant in Brooklyn, geek culture is also served up on a plate.
At Action Burger, a 30-seat restaurant in Williamsburg, vintage arcade machines line the walls as patrons are seated at tables decorated with panels from old Marvel and DC comic books. It's a pop culture smorgasbord, and in a climate where photographing your food is just as important as eating it, a table plastered with Spider-Man comics makes for a far superior Instagram post.
This slice of nerdvana is the brainchild of Vlane Carter, who, despite having a menu that touts an item called “God of All Burgers,” says all this food was new to him.
“I design all the foods, I design all the crazy ingredients,” Carter says. “I wasn’t a big junk food eater, so I had to learn what people actually eat. I studied what people were ordering here and I also studied different combos online and I just combined the two. I would say 80 percent of the time, it works pretty well, but there’s a small percentage of foods that just don’t work at all. Then I have to go back and tweak things.”
As you would expect at a restaurant with a comic book flavor, the menu is split between "Hero Food" and "Villain Food." Obviously, the heroic choices are going to be healthier, with turkey burgers and chicken sandwiches adorning the menu, but with villainous options like the Toragon — which is a burger with two beef patties, fried chicken and bacon in the middle — you’d be excused for leaning toward the dark side every once in a while.
“I notice that the ‘Hero’ food, which is healthier, is harder to sell than the ‘Villain’ food, so all of my superhero foods aren’t as popular as the villains, like the Toragon and the Skeleborg. People just eat those 10-to-1.”
When you’re not filling your stomach with a veritable barnyard in between two buns, you can take a few minutes to enjoy classic arcade machines like Mortal Kombat II, Rampage and Donkey Kong. If you decide to grab a burger with a few friends, Action Burger also hosts gaming events, such as Super Smash Bros. tournaments and Rock Band play-offs.
All of this is completely unique to the imagination of Carter, who touts Action Burger as “America's first comic book/science fiction theme restaurant,” and is adamant about what sets his joint apart from other like-minded places, including the now-defunct Mars 2112.
“Mars 2112 was something totally different,” says Carter. “It didn’t have comics all over the walls. It was showing more space-type stuff. They didn’t have their own sci-fi series, they didn’t have their own comic book, they didn’t have their own novels. It was a lot different than what Action Burger is today.“
Part of Carter’s charm is that he’s not just trying to profit from the geek community; he’s a part of it. He’s the author of his own book series, titled Bio-Sapien.
“I wrote sci-fi in high school and there was a publishing company interested in my work, but I had to focus on college at the time because it wasn’t a guarantee,” he said. “So [after college] I did IT work for about 10 years then went back into writing after getting laid off.
“What initiated [the Bio-Sapien] series is in 2006, I saw the end of the movie War of the Worlds, and I was upset with how dumb the aliens were made. They were beat with bacteria. I thought, ‘I can write a better sci-fi story than this.’ So that’s what started me on the Bialien/Bio-Sapien series.”
In an effort to encourage kids to read more, free eBook copies of a Bio-Sapien novel are offered to all customers.
“I’m reaching out to the school principals to try and get kids to read more,” Carter says. “So what happens is they can download the book for free, come to the restaurant and take a quiz and get a free order of fries or a salad.
“It’s something other restaurants aren’t really doing right now. (It combines) reading, getting kids into science and technology and giving them a choice of fries or a salad. There’s a lot of positive messages in there I’m trying to get out to people.”
As for the future of Action Burger? In addition to looking into a restaurant expansion, Carter is also looking at potential franchising opportunities for his unique blend of sci-fi and gut-bomb fare.
With comic books, gaming and sci-fi showing no signs of slowing down, there’s a good chance the same can be said of Action Burger.