Image Courtesy of Bubbie’s Plant Burgers Facebook
By Jacqueline Jedrych
For many prospective vegans or vegetarians, the scariest part of taking the dive is losing their favorite comfort meals. Tackling that issue head-on is Bubbie’s Plant Burgers & Fizz, a completely plant-based and kosher alternative to your favorite Americana burger dive.
Owners Margaux Riccio and Shaun Sharkey opened Bubbie’s in January 2021, amidst the coronavirus pandemic. January is a slow month in normal times, and after a friend had to close his restaurant, Cafe Mia, the lease fell into Riccio and Sharkey’s hands.
Chef Riccio and her partner Sharkey have been involved in a number of restaurants and food companies before Bubbie’s, such as Plant Food Lab, Vertage, and Cenzo’s, but it was their Asian restaurant Pow Pow that went completely plant-based in May 2018. Pow Pow combines traditional Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cooking techniques to create a “New Asian” cuisine that caters to vegans.
Riccio suffers from a rare genetic connective tissue disorder, causing her to take a number of painkillers in her youth. As a result, she developed allergic reactions to many foods, including dairy products. This ignited the almost unconscious decision for her and her partner to go vegan. However, she missed the meat dishes she grew up eating, so she decided to create recipes that gave her the satisfaction of eating those foods. Rather than working from established recipes, she began by reverse engineering meat recipes to capture their distinct flavors.
Operating Bubbie’s during the pandemic is “scary, stressful and honestly a bit sad,” commented Chef Riccio. Due to her high-risk status, she can’t be in the restaurant during the day.
“Bubbie’s is the first restaurant Shaun and I opened completely together and I couldn’t be there opening day (or any other) because of Covid. I haven’t seen my staff in a year, which makes running a kitchen incredibly hard. I prep alone on graveyard creating all our meats and cheeses and rely on our team to execute my food,” Riccio said.
Bubbie’s M Street storefront is a colorful blue and pink Americana, nestled in a street full of restaurants. It is a small space, decorated with a classic soda shop-inspired interior. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, dine-in is currently unavailable; however, it is located within walking distance of Dupont Circle and a number of other places with outdoor seating. If the weather is bad, nearby coffee shops like Peet’s will take customers in for the price of a drink.
For their small, first fast-casual restaurant, Bubbie’s has worked hard to perfect a limited number of recipes. However, Riccio and Sharkey have plans to expand Bubbie’s. They will create new recipes for “…the larger sit-down Bubbie’s restaurants coming this summer expands on [the current menu] to include traditional brunch items,” Riccio said.
To order, you scan a QR code that pulls up the menu. You can order ahead by clicking this link, and they will have your food ready in the store. They also offer delivery, but the price is pretty steep and is dependent on the distance from the store.
Bubbie’s has a limited menu currently: four burgers, six chick’n sandwiches, a BLT; three salads; and the classic sides of fries, onion rings, coleslaw, and baked beans. Everything is plant-based and kosher, and many are gluten-free.
One type of burger uses the Impossible brand patty, but most use their housemade beet patty. The Americana and Bleu cheeses are cashew-based, but can be taken off for allergies. In a nod to the 90’s classic Seinfeld, they always offer a “Big Salad,” a 48 oz salad whose toppings change seasonally.
I got the Fried Chick’n sandwich and fries, and my friend got the Single Bubb burger. The fried chick’n tasted almost indistinguishable from a meat-based patty, and the accompanying lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion were fresh and complemented the sandwich well. The chick’n is not gluten-free; it is made of seitan which is made by developing the gluten in flour and then washing away the extra starch, leaving behind only the bonded gluten. The texture is reminiscent of the pull-apart quality of chicken. The crunch of the breading masked any irregularities in the texture of the chick’n. The fries were very good as well: clearly fresh-made, and seasoned well with parsley, green onion, and sesame seeds.
The burger my compatriot ordered was similarly enjoyable. The burger was made with a beet patty, which mimicked the color and texture of beef, topped with fresh ingredients. Any carnivore would be hard-pressed to distinguish between these dishes and their meat-based counterparts.
Although the prices are steeper than a meal from a fast-food restaurant, the quality is very high and the meals are very filling. Bubbie’s also has occasional discount codes, which can be found on their Facebook, where they also announce menu changes and closures.
Whether you are looking to dip your toe into veganism, trying out flexitarianism, missing your favorite meat-based comfort food, or just want to have a good meal, Bubbie’s Plant Burgers & Fizz has something for you. They strive to be accommodating for all dietary needs and will soon be expanding to a sit-down restaurant, full of vegan brunch options.
Check them out at 1829 M Street NW, or visit their website here.