Often in life you have to bend, make changes, adapt to things thrown your way. Nobody knows this more than those who make their living serving food. So, when Hamilton, New Jersey natives Jason Brown and Steve Applegate wanted to open a traditional smoked barbecue place in Manhattan, they quickly found that high-rise buildings and close quarters make the heavy smoke necessary for such an endeavor problematic.
So they took a different path.
Instead of hours of time spent in a smoker, Jason and Steve perfected braising, a technique that uses cooking meats in liquids (especially red wine), to develop unique complex flavors. What started in Brooklyn in a shipping container at a local market one day a week, quickly turned into seven days a week, two restaurants and a flourishing traveling business setting up at festivals.
Why, if they have two successful restaurants, would they spend so much time and energy going around the country making food for festival-goers?
Partly because they love the festival life, and because their food works well being served out of small spaces, but the bigger cause was more personal. Since he was a kid, Jason has been obsessed with righting a culinary wrong. The mistaken irony that places that serve the most people; concerts, fairs and stadiums, often have some of the worst food, serving dishes dictated by large companies trying to do the very least, while charging the most they can. So, Jason, Steve and Isabelle Shin (their festival coordinator), take their knowledge and love of street food and elevate it for people who normally wouldn’t have access to it. They are hell bent on taking the ordinary and turning it on it’s head to make the best sandwich they can.
There’s The Dragon, a braised pulled pork sandwich with Asian BBQ sauce, or The Old Timer, short rib/brisket with horseradish creme. Many of the recipes are from their grandmothers – including slaws, macaroni and cheese dishes and almost fifty different sauces and add ons.
All of this while Jason and his newly-formed dedicated festival crew still try to hopefully catch a bit of Nathaniel Rateliff on Saturday.
But regardless of what shows they may be able to catch this June, Jason, Steve and Isabelle will be hard at work bringing their philosophy of high-quality food to as many people as they possibly can at The Woodlands. Their idea of flavorful sandwiches is at the forefront of a trend to make good food more democratic even in the most unlikely of places.
“I love the idea of food that normally is taken for granted, turning it on it’s head, and making it the very best we can make it.”
That’s a goal that almost makes missing Nathaniel Rateliff worthwhile.