This is the month of many resolutions, the month of many names. Some call it Veganuary and embrace a diet free of animal products. Some call it Dry January and try on the teetotaling life. This year I call it Herewegoagainuary (thanks, Omicron) and if you need me I’ll be underneath my weighted blanket with a pint of ice cream and a glass of wine.
Maybe sometimes the ice cream will be plant-based, though. I can’t get with Dry January — not this year! — but Veganuary has appeal. There are only so many crises we can keep top of mind at once, but the environment must be one of them. With livestock accounting for about 14.5 percent of human-made global greenhouse gas emissions, per the UN, eating less meat just makes sense. Plus, I love beans. So much! I am in a committed long-term relationship with beans. I appreciate resolutions that don’t feel like hardships.
So, where’s a less-meat-eating, more-booze-drinking-but-in-a-responsible-way diner in need of the food equivalent of a weighted blanket to go? One easy answer is the takeout-oriented PlantPub, which opened in Kendall Square in the fall. It’s the project of longtime fine-dining chef Mary Dumont (Cultivar, Harvest); Pat McAuley, who was behind the plant-based beerhall Rewild in Quincy; and vegan investor and entrepreneur Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni. The name is exactly what it sounds like. PlantPub serves a menu of totally vegan, totally comforting pub grub, along with craft beer and some intriguing alcoholic and alcohol-free alternatives. (Castiglioni is also the owner of Tuscan winery Querciabella, which produces the two reds on the menu.)
“Our slogan is ‘Redefining the pub.’ That’s our goal,” Dumont told me when we first spoke about PlantPub. “Our mission is to bring plant-based food that’s approachable and fun for as many people as possible. Our menu and our ethos allow people to eat better for themselves and the planet in a familiar, social environment.” Although the social environment is on hold a bit at the moment, the plan is to roll out more PlantPubs, starting with a second location in Boston. A realization of the team’s original, pre-COVID vision of beerhall-style dining, it is slated to open in late spring or early summer. “I want more people to be exposed to vegetables and plants, and I want to have a bigger impact on climate change. Opening a business that scales and is all plant-based is really where I want to go,” Dumont said.
So let’s go! A visit to PlantPub begins with Buffalo wings, one of the most beloved items in the pub-grub canon. PlantPub gets that. It replaces chicken with puffy, golden-brown nuggets of fried cauliflower while preserving the essential flavors. There’s spicy, orange-red, Frank’s-esque Buffalo sauce and a creamy, tangy dill ranch dressing for dipping. The one thing that’s missing: bones for gnawing on. That’s not cauliflower’s fault. It was born this way, boneless as a chicken finger. Accept it, florets and all.
There are loaded nachos, one of the most accommodating dishes to veganize; PlantPub’s come with chili, black bean salsa, guacamole, queso, cilantro crema, and more. The chili, nicely spiced and with a meat-like chew, is also deployed in chili queso fries. Regular queso fries, pub fries, and sweet potato fries are here too.
You’ll want some of them with your burger. But will you have a classic cheeseburger, a BBQ guac burger, or a kimchi burger with spicy sesame slaw, fried pickles, and kimchi aioli? I choose the kimchi version, appreciating the light heat of the creamy sauce and the fresh crunch of the slaw. The only thing I don’t love about it is the perfectly pleasant “artisan” bun, and that’s always my problem with fancy burger encasements. I just want my burger on a squishy, innocuous thing you can barely call bread, whose main ingredients are probably preservatives and artisan air. The veggie patty has great flavor and the softness of many veggie burgers; those who want something that fights back a bit when you bite should order the fried chicken sandwich instead. It has the sterner texture of extra-firm tofu and a crispy, crunchy coating, and it’s topped with ranch slaw and pickles.
PlantPub’s menu wouldn’t be complete without pizza. There’s a margherita pie, plus versions with pulled pork, wild mushrooms and Brussels sprouts, and more. Make mine pepperoni. It’s entirely plausible in all ways. The cheese is wonderfully melty and gooey. The pepperoni is chewy and tastes like pepperoni. The crust is puffy, airy, and golden brown at the edges, and seriously droopy at the tip. It’s more like a regular pizza parlor slice than a serious pizza geek slice, which I think is stylistically the right choice for PlantPub. If I were an actual vegan rather than a New Year’s poser, I am sure that’s what I would crave.
And it’s what I want with a beer or two. PlantPub’s list mainly sticks to the Northeast, with brews from Banded Brewing Co. coffee stout Jolly Woodsman to Burlington Beer Co. double IPA It’s Complicated Being a Wizard to Nightshift Brewing’s Nite Lite. Also available: Pulp Culture wild-fermented juice, made with ingredients like maitake mushrooms and turmeric (4.9 percent alcohol), and Boochcraft’s strawberry lemonade hard kombucha (7 percent alcohol). I’m not as on top of developments in nonalcoholic beer as I should be, and PlantPub offers three craft versions; WellBeing Brewing’s Intentional IPA opens my eyes a bit to the possibilities. I’m a little less crazy about Curious Elixirs’ No. 4, an orange-y booze-free cocktail with an aftertaste I find overly bitter.
There’s no question that for dessert everyone should get a totally satisfying soft-serve cone. “I’ve never seen anything bring such nostalgic joy to people’s faces before,” Dumont said.
The PlantPub menu is deeply accommodating when it comes to allergies and preferences, with separate boxes to check for those who can’t eat allium, soy, tree nuts, gluten, sesame, as well as customizations galore: extra sauce, no sauce, sauce on the side, an extra patty, a house-made veggie patty, a gluten-free Impossible patty, a gluten-free bun. The only thing it doesn’t list, seemingly, is what ingredients like cheese, chicken, and pork actually are. It doesn’t put quotation marks around them. It doesn’t give them cutesy faux names. You know the food is vegan, and PlantPub knows the food is vegan, but there’s no need to spoil the illusion. I’m certainly not going to! We’re all just going to pretend everything is normal here.
It feels very 2022. Here’s to wishful thinking, the alcohol percentage of your choice, and vegan pub grub consumed from deep beneath the world’s coziest weighted blanket.
PlantPub, 675 West Kendall St., Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-714-5452, www.plantpub.com.