The sandwiches at Bub and Pop’s were inspired by the corner grocery the owner’s grandparents ran in Philadelphia.
What’s a well-seasoned toque to do when he can’t quite find his dream job? Whip one up, of course.
That’s what newly minted restaurateur Jonathan Taub did when he threw open the doors to Bub and Pop’s (1815 M St. NW).
Taub, who co-owns the cozy sandwich shop with his mother — the feisty matron usually parked right behind the register — has been honing his craft locally at Adour, Art and Soul and, most recently, Pound the Hill; before relocating to D.C., he contributed to award-winning restaurants (Morimoto, Lacroix) up north.
But he insists his first love has always been the super-sloppy gut bombs slung by neighborhood shops in his native Philadelphia. Taub learned the art of hoagie-making firsthand by spending time with his grandparents, the titular Bub and Pop, in the corner grocery they operated in West Philly years ago.
“What I aspire to cook is French cuisine,” he said of his classical training, “but I’ve also always had a passion for sandwiches.”
Taub said he modeled many of the offerings at his throwback carryout on deli standards he grew up with, but obviously he had to put his own stamp on them. “I just refined and twisted them a bit,” he said.
Those embellishments make for some mighty fine eating.
Every order begins with a 12-inch Italian hoagie roll custom-ordered from a local baker. The bread is pillow soft but typically sturdy enough to contain the mountains of meat Taub heaps between the fluffy white halves.
His Bolognese Parmesan is a prime example: Rather than rely on the mealy orbs and cloyingly sweet sauce employed by competing operations, this grinder on steroids pours a generous serving of Sunday gravy — rich tomato ragout bolstered by maddeningly tender meatballs, savory shredded brisket, unctuous pork belly and bitter arugula — into the cottony roll and then smothers the slow-simmered proteins with shaved pecorino romano.
Bub’s Italian Hoagie is another mouthful. This bad boy is packed with the holy trinity of spiced meats (pepperoni, spicy capicola, genoa salami), buttery prosciutto, creamy provolone, more arugula, gushing tomatoes, zippy house-made relish, lavishly spread mayo and tangy vinaigrette.
It’s clear the workhorse-like brisket — it’s featured in almost half of the signature sandwiches— is Taub’s baby. Each monster slab (he estimates he’s burning through about 150 pounds of the stuff each week) takes six hours to prepare, a painstaking process that involves vigorously rubbing it down, searing it, braising it, steeping it in au jus overnight and then finishing it just before showtime. The fork-tender results are showcased to greatest effect in a solo number complemented by zesty horseradish cream sauce, nutty aged Gouda and, for an extra $1, a warm, yolk-spilling fried egg.
A specialty cheesesteak nearly proved overwhelming, the massive specimen overstuffed with savory chopped steak, a mass of caramelized grilled onions, rich cheese sauce and pickled vegetables.
And he’s not above baiting his hook with something “44” most likely considers comfort food.
“The only reason I put Chicago-style beef on the menu is because I want [President Barack] Obama to come in and eat lunch here,” Taub readily admitted.
His The Real Obama is no mere novelty act. The end product marries juicy traditional roast beef with the house brisket, bolstering the mouthwatering meats with a medley of vinegar-soaked vegetables including robust carrots, crunchy celery and zesty cauliflower.
And if all that weren’t enough, Taub has constructed an eating challenge dubbed the Li’l Petey. Contenders must consume a kitchen-sink meal ($30) composed of prosciutto, capicola, genoa salami, pepperoni, brisket, aged provolone, mozzarella sticks, fried chicken, potato chips, hoagie relish, arugula, roma tomato and fried eggs — “and whatever drops on the tray” — in under 15 minutes. Victors win a free sub (good on their next visit) and get photographed for the wall of fame.
Taub works magic in small doses as well, producing tantalizing pickled pleasures (jalapeño-spiked watermelon, an ersatz caprese composed of preserved grape tomatoes, basil and mozzarella) daily. House-made chips are curvy, crunchy and conservatively spiced. The accompanying French onion dip is a dunker’s delight, sinking chunks of caramelized onions and piquant scallions into seas of sour cream.
And he’s reaching back to his fine dining roots via a reservation-only, monthly feast dubbed Bub’s Sunday Table.
“Its just my desire to cook world-class food,” he asserted. The intimate dinners are limited to a dozen people, and Taub said he’s already sold out the next few months.
The debut experience (May 5) doubled as an anniversary bash for Cribline, a friend’s real-estate-related blog. To celebrate, Taub orchestrated a nine-course extravaganza featuring the likes of beef bourguignon, poached halibut flanked by artfully arranged vegetables and oysters married to black truffles.
Although he fully expects to switch up Sunday Table selections from month to month, Taub suggested there are certain touchstones he’ll likely revisit, including an escargot dish he developed at Old Angler’s Inn and assorted incarnations of foie gras.
Meanwhile, Taub is looking forward to expanding the Bub and Pop’s carte with house-made sausages — including gourmet hot dogs — in the very near future. He’s also hard at work on an artisan soda line he’s got in development (late summer) and the gourmet frites spinoff he’s mulling for his next project.
Food Court is an ongoing series of semi-regular spot checks of new and evolving eateries with ties to Capitol Hill.