In the blistering D.C. heat, I sit at a shaded picnic table in Georgetown’s Sandlot inquisitively eyeing a sandwich marked “fish” in black Sharpie. It is PLNT Burger’s new 100% plant-based fish filet sandwich, Save the Bay Fillet, a limited-time item that comes with PLNT’s tartar sauce, pickles and lettuce on a Schmidt’s potato bun. The filet is created by Good Catch, a producer of plant-based seafood products in Pennsylvania, who partnered with PLNT Burger to create the sandwich that is now staring back at me.
Across from me is PLNT Burger Chef Spike Mendelsohn and PLNT Burger Co-Founder Ben Kaplan, who, in addition to introducing the new menu item, are preparing for the opening of their ninth PLNT Burger fast-casual restaurant, located at Sandlot Georgetown.
Opening this Saturday, July 17, the new locale will be their first venture outside of select Whole Foods and the chain’s only mobile outpost. Through the PLNT Burger food truck, patrons can order directly at the PLNT Burger window before taking a seat at one of Sandlot’s picnic tables. After knowing Sandlot’s owner, Ian Callender, for decades and looking for a particular type of space, Kaplan and Mendelsohn both felt this was the perfect opportunity for their next PLNT Burger expansion.
“Even pre-Covid, we were looking at real estate a little differently,” Mendelsohn says. “We want to open them up in very small square footage places. [Opening them at Whole Foods] allowed us to realize we can optimize this concept using a small footprint. That’s why the truck came up.”
Meanwhile, Mendelsohn’s co-chef Mike Coletti along with three other colleagues efficiently bustle around in the food truck putting together burgers and fry orders. Returning back to what’s in front of me, I curiously pick up the fish filet sandwich. As a seafood lover — and mainly why I am not a full vegetarian — I eagerly go in for a bite and am aware that Mendelsohn is watching.
Like the PLNT Burger namesake, the fish filet is remarkably accurate to the fast-food alternative it mimics and surpasses expectations. He laughs when he sees my authentic reaction of surprise. Not only does it taste like a fried piece of firm white fish like haddock or cod, but it also flakes and has the texture of fish as well.
“As soon as [the fish filets] hit the market and we tasted how good the product is, it only took a couple of months for [the sandwich] to come together,” Mendelsohn says. “We throw in our signature tartar sauce, pickles and lettuce, and you’ve got a great sandwich.”
Paired with the sweet potato fries — an addictive must-try — the meal feels just as deliciously indulgent as it would at a McDonald’s or Burger King, which is precisely PLNT’s goal. Mendehlson and Kaplan want to make eating plant-based foods not only delicious, but convenient and familiar — contributing to sustainable and environmentally sound practices without it feeling like a chore.
“We don’t want anybody to change their diet,” Kaplan says. “There’s no point in trying to convince everyone, but if we can allow you to have a [positive environmental] impact by eating the same thing and enjoying the same product, that’s great. That’s really what it is about.”
Mendehlson adds, “We’re in an era of awareness about where your food comes from. We didn’t open this place up for vegans and vegetarians only. We opened PLNT Burger up for anyone who wants to really diversify their diet. About 80 to 90% of our consumers are not vegans or vegetarians. When you eat a burger at our restaurant, you use 90% less water, 95% less land and 98% less carbon emission.”
With its delicious food, efficient concept and powerful mission, PLNT Burger is a success. They have expanded rapidly, despite the pandemic. Within the past two years, they have grown to multiple locations within Whole Foods, stretching from D.C. up to Pennsylvania. And while keeping tight-lipped, Mendehlson does hint there are plans for a brick-and-mortar. As for the menu, be on the lookout for a plant-based BBQ rib sandwich in the near future and possibly — fingers crossed — a plant-based chicken nugget.
PLNT Burger is the only permanent food truck at Sandlot, but will share the food scene on the weekends there with a rotating group of Black-owned food pop-ups supported by Uber Eats. PLNT Burger at Sandlot opens July 17 and will be open Monday to Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. and Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
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