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Chipotle creator’s vegan-robot Kernel is 3 awful trends in one

You can’t say that Kernel, the new vegan takeout spot from Chipotle founder Steve Ells, isn’t efficient.

It somehow manages to serve up not one but three obnoxious food trends in one convenient Flatiron District location (315 Park Avenue South).

It eliminates human cooks in favor of a robot, which cranks out charmless items while saving the owners a fortune in labor costs.

It has a poorly conceived app that is far more helpful to Kernel than its customers.

Last, and, well, least, it has a plant-based menu that purports to be groundbreaking but is really just boring and bland.

Ells has said he hopes to launch ten more Kernel outlets in the next two years using a reported $36 million from investors that include New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones and Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields.

But, based on my experience, Kernel is no touchdown pass. It’s an end zone fumble.

I have nothing against Ells. who’s no longer involved with Chipotle. I even once defended Chipotle against claims that a handful of contamination cases made its food dangerous to eat. I often enjoy the chain’s burritos — and I’m happy to pay extra for guac.

But, Kernel, which has enjoyed breathless online and social media coverage, is more of a distraction rather than the revolution in plant-based fast food that it promises to be.

Kernel, the new vegan takeout spot from Chipotle founder Steve Ells, has a small menu of vegan food. Paige Kahn/NY Post
Kernel, the new vegan takeout spot from Chipotle founder Steve Ells, has a small menu of vegan food. Paige Kahn/NY Post
Kernel’s robot is hardly a robot. It’s more of a scary giant arm like those used for X-rays in a dentist’s office. Kernel
Kernel’s robot is hardly a robot. It’s more of a scary giant arm like those used for X-rays in a dentist’s office. Kernel
After an automated assembly line cooks and assembles dishes, the robot arm plops your bagged order into a mailbox-like “cubby” that must be opened with a code. Kernel
After an automated assembly line cooks and assembles dishes, the robot arm plops your bagged order into a mailbox-like “cubby” that must be opened with a code. Kernel

The robot is hardly a robot. It’s more of a scary giant arm like those used for X-rays in a dentist’s office. After an automated assembly line cooks and assembles dishes, it plops your bagged order into a mailbox-like “cubby” that must be opened with a code.

Then there’s the app itself. Its supposed advantage is that by telling you exactly when the order will be ready, the cooked food will be hot and fresh when you pick it up.

But you can’t order at any meaningful time in advance – say, at 11 a.m. for a noon pickup. You can only order when you’re ready to fetch from the Kernel outlet. (The restaurant is currently only open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Friday.)

Kernel’s crispy chicken sandwich is neither crispy nor chicken. Paige Kahn/NY Post
Kernel’s crispy chicken sandwich is neither crispy nor chicken. Paige Kahn/NY Post

It’s nothing more than a gimmick – like everything else about the place.

Vegan menu items aren’t exactly novel, for Pete’s sake. You can find them in abundance at Kernel’s fast-food neighbors such as Just Salad right next door.

Kernel’s “crispy” grilled “chicken” (made from — yum — wheat and soy) under a heap of so-so slaw was anything but crispy. The $10 creation was downright mushy.

Cold sides such as salads, marinated beets (pictured) and roasted carrots are decent, but not worth the effort. Evan Sung
Cold sides such as salads, marinated beets (pictured) and roasted carrots are decent, but not worth the effort. Evan Sung

As for bogus beef: Don’t expect anything like the Impossible Burger’s plausible simulation with aroma and ooze. Kernel’s patty ($7) was mealy and flavorless except for pickled onions on top, pickle slices beneath, and a dose of salsa verde.

Cold sides such as salads, marinated beets and roasted carrots were better but hardly worth the effort.

Eating your veggies has rarely been less fun.