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Chef Reuven Sugarman on The First Week at Buns & Buns

Photo Courtesy of Cortney Cates

After months of teasing with videos, photos and funny puns on buns, Buns & Buns, an over the counter, fast-casual concept with an emphasis on breads and globally-inspired dishes, finally opened its doors in Coral Gables. The restaurant is owned by a team of restaurateurs who prefer to stay out of the picture, keeping the focus on the adventures they've taken and the food they serve, all of which comes together under one chef Reuven Sugarman. With a leap of faith, the chef packed his bags just one week after interviewing and joined the Buns & Buns team on a tour around the world, mission being to eat copious amounts of foods in various places and discover the cuisines of diverse cultures. A few weeks later they returned, chockfull of recipes from places like Thailand, England, Hong Kong and Indonesia. The influences of these places pop up in every dish they serve, but Sugarman describes the specifics much better. In the following interview, he tells Eater about the inspiration behind several dishes, how the Buns & Buns concept was created and his favorite dishes (you can find pretty much the entire menu in this section).

Tell me a little bit about the concept behind Buns & Buns and how it came to life.
The idea of the concept of Buns & Buns was pretty much that we wanted to bring bread back in the picture. Bread was an afterthought, when you go out to fine dining restaurants, they bring you a baked frozen baguette that they cut and serve with olive oil. So, we wanted to bring bread back and make it the first thought and include grilled meats and vegetables and spices and sauces. And kind of make that idea of bread complement every single dish. So we decided to pair grilled meats, vegetables and seafood with robust sauces, spices and very bold flavors and give the tools necessary for our guests to eat how they choose to eat with their bun or bread. So each item gets to be paired with a grill and a bun or bread and we leave it in the hands of the guests to either dip it, make a sandwich, wrap it, roll it, eat it first, eat it last, not eat it at all or just eat that and not the grilled item. But no matter what you still get a bun with every dish. And that brought it more ideas as we traveled around the world and inspired many different desserts and flavors and spices … In Istanbul, in London… there's a melting pot in London where we got a lot of ideas and saw many different things. In Istanbul, the spices, we walked the markets and felt the culture and how they eat. Thailand was insane, all the street food and walking all the streets and just tasting all the different varieties and all the fruits and all that jazz. It was just awesome. And then Hong Kong of course where we had dim sum, it was amazing. We brought some of the steamed buns ideas and incorporated that. So, Buns & Buns isn't really one exact genre of food. We wanted to not be labeled as anything. Hence the name Buns & Buns. A lot of people are confused because they think "oh they're all about buns," but we're not. That's the general term for what we are because we focus on bread, but we also focus on many different things. Same thing with our cuisine. We are everything in one, there's not just one particular… we're not Italian, we're not French, we're purely inspiration from everywhere we go – our adventures, our travels – we put all of that into our recipes. It's hear and soul, not a particular focus.

Tell me a little bit about how you got involved.
I was at a prior job and I decided to leave and during that time period a mutual friend of mine introduced me to my partners and we interviewed two or three times, went out to eat, talked about the concept and what they wanted to do, did a 14-course tasting menu for them, they loved it. That night after the tasting they said we're going on a three week tour around the world in a week and a half, get your passport. So, I rushed a passport, I packed, I did everything and then went on a trip, traveled the world, came back and put together a concept in three months – working out of a home kitchen, driving hundreds of miles around Miami finding and resourcing ingredients that we needed to do it and put it together.

Why did you decided to keep all the details so mysterious? Why is Buns & Buns being so mysterious?
Because it's the inspector. It's inspector Buns [He laughs]. The face with the hat and the monocle and the moustache is supposed to be like an inspector. And we wanted to show the research/adventure aspect of us going to find the ingredients, the recipes, the breads, etc. And we didn't want it to be about us. We don't think we're relevant. The story is more relevant than us – the adventure and the research. Initially, we got a lot of pressure - we didn't hire a PR company because we wanted to go slowly and once we hired a PR company they really put a lot of pressure on us to reveal the menu and we didn't want to. So they said, "why? No, this is common practice, we always show the menu before," so I said okay let's give them a menu, but burn half of it so they can't see [he laughs]. We fought against all practices. They said give us the menu, we were like "okay here's the menu, half of it burned, now find a story around that." They really hated us, but now they're okay with us I think. Now they're happy.

The Buns & Buns team did a lot of traveling, finding various influences, experiencing the cuisines of different cultures. What are some of the specific ideas that you brought home with you?
The lamb ribs were inspired in two different places, in England and in Istanbul where we tried them at different Turkish restaurants. That's where I got the idea of that. So the lamb rib has the inspiration of the tamarind glaze and all the lemongrass and ginger from Thailand and incorporated that into the dish. The mussels with coconut milk and basil, the curryless curry sauce. The deckle with the poached egg yolk and the harissa, that was a combination of pretty much all our trip – its soy marinated so it comes with a little Asian influence, the egg was inspired by Hong Kong. We had this dish at a place called Yard Bird. Great food. The harissa, we made our own harissa, flavors of Morocco and Tunisia and we put together that dish and that was our amazing deckle dish. The chili shrimp was another Thailand dish inspiration, its very simple. Very few ingredients, shallots, garlic, oil, fish sauce and lime juice and fresh coriander. That's all that dish is and, of course, shrimp, and the right balance between the fish sauce, the caramelized aromatics and the lime just create a perfect harmony.

Overall, how was the first week?
Amazing. How was your week? [he laughs]. First week was exceptional, it was a great turn out. Our pre-opening, that started Friday, Saturday night, we did well-over 200 covers with no release, no one knowing that we're open, nothing. And we kept spinning like clockwork.

What were people's initial responses?
"Oh my god, where have you been?" "Thank you for coming here, thank you for not being a burger place!" Yeah, that's important. Especially when you're called Buns & Buns people may expect to have burgers and comfort food and fries and we really didn't want that because once you put burgers and fries its an easy exit, it's a safe dish, everyone's going to order the burger and they won't get to try some of the dishes that are more adventurous. We want people to take the adventurous approach. And we're happy to see people say they're happy we don't have a burger. There were some young parents with a kid and he was having a blast eating all this food. The mom said, "we were a bit worried, we didn't see chicken tenders or simple food," but he loved it!

What are some of your favorite things on the menu?
The chili shrimp, the pork belly, the lamb ribs, the rib eye, the deckle, the mussels, the cobia, the chicken, the mushrooms, the short rib, the sea bass, the lobster, the snapper, the cheesy bites, the vegetables, the spinach poofs, the quinoa fritter, the tomatoes on the vine, the heirloom tomato salad, the napa salad, the watercress salad, the kale salad, the corn fritter. Yeah, pretty much all of them. The ciders, the beer, the local beer, the Rubia, Wynwood, go Wynwood! Our Buns & Buns coffee, we have two beans, two beans! Oh, the brioche, the naan, herb ciabatta, focaccia, steamed bun. Oh the desserts. And, the G.B.D. Do you know what G.B.D. stands for? Golden, brown and delicious, baby. It's made with gold and delicious apples.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before opening, what would it be?
I should have taken a vacation. Ask it again. Let me think about it. I don't know, I've got nothing to go back for. Can I say, "I would not, I just want to keep moving forward?" There's nothing I would change. I'd put the dishwasher in a different spot. Let's think … I should have never left Bangkok. But I brought Bangkok over here.

Anything fun in store for the future?
More travel is coming in. We'll bring you some funny stories.
· All Coverage of Buns & Buns on Eater [EMIA]

Buns & Buns

5748 Sunset Drive, Miami, Florida 33143

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