“It’s so refreshing at this part of my career to actually intentionally choose fun,” chef Mary Dumont told Eater on the opening day of her new restaurant, PlantPub, in late September in Cambridge’s Kendall Square (675 W. Kendall St.). A collaboration with Pat McAuley, who cofounded a vegan beer hall pop-up called Rewild that used to operate in Quincy, and investor Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, who supports vegan businesses, PlantPub is a fast-casual restaurant serving what the team describes as “pub food for the modern world,” alongside great beer and wine. And everything’s fully vegan.
“We’re trying to make food that is very community-oriented,” said Dumont, who operated downtown Boston restaurant Cultivar from 2017 to 2019 and was the longtime chef at Harvest in Harvard Square before that. “It’s food that everybody wants to eat, that everyone recognizes and has a good time over. Our whole idea is to bring people together eating food that is decidedly better for you because it’s all plant-based.”
“Our approach is to make the entire thing approachable to the average person who knows nothing about plant-based or vegan food,” added McAuley. “It’s not meant to feel like a health food store. We have burgers, beers, pizza, soft serve — things you’re very familiar with. It just happens to be what we think is a little better for you and much more sustainable and better for the world, and so we’re just trying to lower the barrier to entry for people to make that decision.”
Dumont is a relative newcomer to the world of vegan food, although she had been losing interest in meat over the past decade or so. Those familiar with her cooking will remember that she did cook with meat at Harvest and Cultivar, but “it was never the center of anything that I’ve done culinarily,” she said. “It was just that I had all these awesome vegetables, and the restaurants served meat: All of these things go with duck; all of these things go with steak.” While she remains appreciative of the farms and the people involved in the meat industry, it had been “losing its luster” for her over the years.
The real turning point came a couple months after Cultivar’s early 2019 closure, though, when Dumont attended a James Beard Foundation event at a farm in Georgia, a chef bootcamp of sorts. The trip ended with the slaughter of a goat, “a perfectly perfect goat” that had stopped milking and thus had become a burden on the farm’s finances.
“I’ve seen that a million times, and I’ve butchered my whole life,” said Dumont, but that particular time felt like the culmination of the feelings that had been building over the last 10 years. “Something clicked that day, and it took me a little while to understand, but I realized that I don’t want to do that anymore; I don’t want to participate in that.”
As she processed her feelings over the next few months, she met McAuley, “and it all started to make sense” as the concept of PlantPub was born.
The duo spent a couple of years looking at potential spaces and were about to sign on a much larger space than the one on W. Kendall Street when the pandemic hit, leading them to “pivot just like everybody else pivoted,” said Dumont. They thought about doing a ghost kitchen, just getting up and running to offer takeout and delivery with a package store license to allow for beer and wine sales, but various COVID-related obstacles — no package store licenses, construction hurdles, lack of people working in offices — led to the next pivot, a smaller, fast-casual space with pickup, delivery, and a little bit of seating inside and out. “It’s all worked out,” said Dumont. “All of the ups and downs — everything ended up working out. So this is our first PlantPub, our COVID-y version.”
The pandemic and the isolation and delays that have come with it gave Dumont extra time to try out recipes in a lot of different ways, “bringing in my experience of working with a lot of meat to make that veggie burger taste as close to meat as possible,” she said, referring to the restaurant’s trio of burgers, which can be made with an Impossible patty or Dumont’s own veggie blend. “It’s close to what a meat eater would want,” she said, “like a big construction dude or people who otherwise wouldn’t be plant-based. A big part of what we’re trying to do is bring the plant-based crowd in with a non-plant-based crowd, because they’re already friends in real life.”
One dish Dumont is particularly excited about is the Buffalo chicken pizza, where the stand-in for chicken is tofu “made with kind of a French technique” where it’s cooked ahead of time, marinated overnight, and double-breaded. “The process changes the texture of it and makes it more welcoming to the marinade,” Dumont said.
On the beverage side, McAuley is trying to serve a “slightly healthier and more sustainable spin” on the offerings at a traditional brewery or taproom, while keeping the same “inviting atmosphere.”
The craft beer list is complemented by vegan wines (not all traditional wines are vegan because animal byproducts, such as egg whites, often factor into the winemaking process.) The list includes selections from Tuscany-based Querciabella, a vegan, biodynamic winery owned by PlantPub’s aforementioned investor, Castiglioni. PlantPub also has an interesting selection of nonalcoholic beverage options, such as a CBD-infused seltzer, an adaptogenic booze-free cocktail, and hopped tea, not to mention the most hilarious brand of canned water.
PlantPub is currently open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, with a few tables indoors and outdoors. Takeout and delivery are also available; order online.