Brooklyn, New York: The newest cafe and bakery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, will quickly draw you into that distinct feeling of comfortable, almost ridiculous, affection. With white-tiled walls, dark wood paneling, and marble tabletops, it feels like a classic French café. Except everything inside its beautiful pastry window is vegan. Every single almond croissant, cinnamon roll, cupcake – invites customers to fully indulge without consuming any animal products.

“Darling. Sweetie-pie. Pumpkin.” – The new cafe is called Terms of Endearment and it springs straight from the heart of Chef Makenna Hale. It’s also the newest member in a family of beloved Brooklyn restaurants: Champs (the vegan diner), Screamer’s (the vegan pizzeria), and Hartbreakers (the vegan fried “chicken” spot on Hart Street). The name, while also referencing the 1983 movie by the same title, is the result of multiple creative meetings spent trying to find the perfect ‘term of endearment’. In the end, it was decided that no term would be quite as perfect as “Terms of Endearment” itself. 

After masterfully running the kitchen at Champs Diner for two years, Chef Hale needed a separation. She quit her job and jumped into the unknown. But, the leap didn’t last long. The family didn’t want her to go, and within weeks had pulled her back in.

This time, with an offer to open her dream bakery.

[Chef Makenna Hale in front of Terms of Endearment on 135 Metropolitan Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Photography: © Kim-Julie Hansen]

It was a return to what she loved, having studied baking at The Art Institute of Portland. She dove in full-hearted, repeatedly iterating on her new croissant recipe – a little better each time – and likewise developing a full menu of classic (vegan) pastries.

The result couldn’t be more different than the restaurant she left. Champs is proud to serve greasy vegan diner food. It’s edgy and gothic – with graffiti covering the bathrooms, an ominous tombstone in the corner, and a GO F*** YOURSELF sign hanging (unedited) on the wall.

“Terms of Endearment is a much more refined cafe – both in its design and its menu.”

Terms of Endearment is a much more refined cafe – both in its design and its menu. There are no graffitied bathrooms or tater tot nachos. Instead, it has brass fixtures, Rosewater Lattes and seaweed caviar.

Champs is an in-your-face animal rights activist. Terms of Endearment is a vegan charmer, seducing you with tasty treats. Chef Hale is quite happy with this more subtle form of vegan outreach. She’s even satisfied if customers don’t realize it’s vegan cuisine – as long as they feel the love she puts into her food and leave feeling a bit loved themselves. Then, she trusts, they’ll be back.

Love requires openness – and she intentionally built that into the design of the cafe. The kitchen and bakery – the heart of the operation – are on full display for anyone to see. Customers can observe pastries being made all day long, watching the skilled team of bakers practice their craft. The kitchen is part of the cafe – not hidden away. It conveys a forthrightness, even an honesty, by offering customers the chance to see their food being prepared. 

“Some of the best croissants in New York City”

That open kitchen is now turning out some of the best croissants in New York City: plain, almond, chocolate, vegan ham n’ cheese, and enough rotating special flavors to keep things interesting for bakers and customers alike. Every single one I tried was excellent.

There are vegan biscuits, muffins, danishes and tarts. There is also quiche, vegan charcuterie, and an impressive plate of house-made gourmet vegan cheeses. And, of course, a full menu of coffee, espressos, mochas, and lattes (Matcha, Turmeric, Chai, even Lavender Butterfly Pea).

Not a drop of dairy in any of them.

The two croissant breakfast sandwiches were my favorite menu items. One is a very savory (and hearty) vegan bacon, egg and cheese – certainly one of the best in the city.

There was also a tasty lox and cream cheese croissant sandwich. That lox deserves special mention – and captures the innovative essence of Terms of Endearment.

“It’s an impressive visual and textural feat – fortunately matched in taste.”

Upon receiving the lox with cream cheese, I was shocked to see the exact kind of lox I recall seeing my father eat as a child. Rather than the currently-fashionable orange carrot lox, Chef Hale chose pink, thinly-sliced-and-cured candy cane beets. It’s an impressive visual and textural feat – fortunately matched in taste.

The flavors of that sandwich have a delicious subtlety, jettisoning the over-the-top, intense seasoning that sometimes comes from vegan chefs trying a little too hard to impress their audience. The lox at Terms of Endearment – like much of the menu – impresses quietly and humbly. It hits the point, but doesn’t go further than it needs to. It has a refined restraint.

In an endearing circular fate, Chef Hale will use that refinement to help elevate the cuisine at the very diner she quit – Champs – and the whole family of restaurants. Terms of Endearment is quickly becoming their in-house bakery. The delicious croissants are already being served at Champs and their pastries could eventually appear at the other restaurants.

This is a great win for foodies in several Brooklyn neighborhoods. But, for the full experience, I recommend visiting the source: the beautiful new vegan cafe at 135 Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg.

I love it – and I think you will, too.

Text: Matt Marshall. | Photography: Kim-Julie Hansen.

Click here for Terms of Endearments’ address, menu and opening hours.

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