With their fast-casual restaurant chain Shouk, business partners Ran Nussbacher and chef Dennis Friedman are looking to fight climate change one flavor-packed veggie burger at a time. The third location of Shouk, which specializes in kosher, halal, plant-based, vegan Israeli street food, opened in Rockville’s Montrose Shopping Center in November (the other two are in D.C.). A fourth location, on Westbard Avenue in Bethesda, is due to open imminently.
The 2,000-square-foot Rockville space seats 20 inside and 12 outside. The design—a weathered look with corrugated metal, reclaimed plank wood and mismatched furniture—is meant to evoke food stalls in Middle Eastern markets. (Shouk means “market” in Hebrew.) The menu features stuffed pitas and bowl versions of them, hummus, salads, and cardamom chocolate cookies, baked or in dough form.
The Rockville location is very appealing to Friedman, 43, who identified it. He and his family live in Bethesda, and Shouk is next door to the MOM’s Organic Market where they shop. Nussbacher, 45, who also lives in Bethesda, notes that there is a high degree of alignment between Montgomery County residents and Shouk’s mission. “They are healthy-friendly, planet-friendly and rooted in ethnic cuisine,” he says.
Israeli-born Nussbacher is Shouk’s founder. He came to the D.C. area in 2008 to work for Opower, a tech company specializing in energy efficiency. There, he saw how making small changes in household energy consumption could have a huge impact on taking power plants off the grid. He applied that concept to his own lifestyle, going from not thinking about what he ate to becoming a vegetarian, and then a vegan, because of the negative effect meat consumption has on the climate due to its carbon and water footprint. He came up with the idea for Shouk as a way to do something about climate change. “If I can get someone to eat plant-based food once or twice a week who normally wouldn’t, I’m driving major impact,” he says.
Lacking restaurant experience, Nussbacher met Friedman, a chef, through mutual friends in 2014. Friedman did a tasting for him at Newton’s Table, the Bethesda restaurant he owned at the time. The two clicked and spent a year testing vegan dishes. Nussbacher was clear about having nothing imitation, nothing processed and no falafel on the menu. (He didn’t want the Israeli street food restaurant to be pigeonholed as a falafel shop, but they added a quite delicious version of it to the menu a couple of years ago.) Friedman, who was a carnivore at the onset of the venture and now eats a plant-based diet, rose to the challenge.
The first Shouk opened in Washington in 2016. The Shouk burger ($12.50)—a baked then griddled patty made with chickpeas, flaxseeds, mushrooms, black beans, beets and other vegetables and stuffed into a whole wheat pita with roasted tomatoes, pickled turnips, arugula, charred onions and tahini—put them on the map. In 2018, it was touted by celebrity chef Carla Hall on an episode of Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate. MOM’s Organic Markets in the D.C. area now carry the burgers, sold frozen in packages of four for $10.99. Shouk sells them online in three packages of four for $48, plus $12 shipping.
Other standout pitas include mushroom shawarma with pickled cabbage, cucumber and onion salad, tahini and arugula ($12.50); an eggplant patty burger with fries, pickled cabbage and amba, a pickled mango condiment ($12.50); and fried Shouk’n, breaded and fried oyster mushroom nuggets with harissa (red pepper paste) mayo ($12.50). The hummus at Shouk is silken and creamy, all the better as a plate topped with herb-filled falafel and cucumber and tomato salad ($12).
Shouk, 5568 Randolph Road (Montrose Shopping Center), Rockville, 202-945-4747, shouk.com
Comings & goings
Jason Miskiri, who owns The Angry Jerk in Silver Spring, is planning to open an all-day breakfast concept called The Breakfast Club in the Fenton Silver Spring apartments this spring. Flip’d by IHOP, a new fast-casual version of the sit-down breakfast chain, is slated to open in the former Asian Bistro space this summer.
Thompson Hospitality, which owns D.C.-based Matchbox, plans to open two outlets in one Silver Spring storefront on Georgia Avenue near Seminary Road: Willie T’s Seafood Shack (po’ boys and fried or grilled seafood dishes) and Be Right Burger. No opening date has been given.
In the downtown area of Silver Spring, Valencia Wine Garden is expected to open in the former Mandalay space on Bonifant Street and Guavaberry Dominican Restaurant is slated to replace The Greek Place, which closed in December, on Georgia Avenue. Neither announced an opening date yet.
Hello Betty, a California-based seafood restaurant, is expected to open at Pike & Rose in North Bethesda this spring; its bar made out of a boat is slated to open this summer.
Butter Me Up, a D.C.-based fast-casual breakfast restaurant, is planning to open in Westfield Montgomery mall in Bethesda. No opening date has been given. It’s an offshoot of HalfSmoke, whose owners announced in August 2020 that they would be opening in Rockville, then pushed the date to December 2021. They’re still not open at press time.
December saw a lot of closures, including Pollo Campero in Silver Spring, Nando’s Peri-Peri in Bethesda Row, Broadway Pizza in Cabin John Village, Amici Miei Ristorante in Rockville Town Center (after a 17-year run, 13 of them in Potomac), and sandwich chain Taylor Gourmet in North Bethesda.
Chef Francesco Ricchi closed Cesco Osteria at the end of January after a 25-year run in Bethesda, 14 of them on Cordell Avenue and the last 11 on Woodmont Avenue.
French restaurant Normandie Farm in Potomac, which opened in 1931 and has been helmed by chef Cary Prokos since 1983, will close on June 30. The restaurant could open under new owners as soon as this summer.