That’s what Kevin Sousa, chef and owner of Salt Of The Earth, Union Pig and Chicken, and Station Street Hot Dogs in Pittsburgh, said to me as he laid out a spread of brisket, ribs, and a plethora of traditional southern side-dishes in front of me. ” What you see is what you get,” he said. And boy did I like what I saw.
I’ve noticed that more and more chefs are opening smaller, casual concepts. This makes complete sense. Especially when it comes to monetary needs. But while everyone is pointing the finger at the economy as the cause of losing fine-dining chefs to hot dogs, sandwiches, and bagels— I believe it’s all just a guise to be able to do things outside of what’s expected.
A few days ago in Portland, Me., I was introduced to Josh Potocki at Made-Rite Tattoo. He was there visiting his friend and tattooist, John Biswell. Somewhere between his love for food and the wood-duck being tattooed on his arm adjacent a group of raccoons eating acorns, I realized that this is probably a guy to know in Maine. I quickly learned that twelve years ago he came to Portland for a Summer vacation. A year later he opened One Fifty Ate Bagel. Eleven years later, he is still owning and operating, in my opinion so far, the dopest little breakfast spot in town. Josh, like Sousa in Pittsburgh, Brunacci (Franks and Dawgs), Tobias (Kumas Corner), Elliot (Grahamwich), and Sohn (Hot Dougs) in Chicago, and Stupak (Empellon Taqueria) in NYC, all come from fine-dining cloth. Some of these chefs, in terms of modern cooking styles, have changed the way food is consumed.
You can still find some crossover in the new spots from these chefs. The brined, pressure-fried chicken at Union Pig and Chicken was the best I’ve ever had. A title last held by Andrew Brochu at Kith and Kin ( now at Graham Elliot ). And I’m sure Alex Stupak is sneaking in modern techniques at his new spot, Empellon Cocina.
I’m a fan of this return to the foods we ate before we got into refined cuisine. And shit, it’s not really a return when you think about it. I know I certainly don’t eat at The French Laundry every night. I’m actually pretty sure that my mini-fridge is packed full of Chinese leftovers and the finest American Charcuterie known to man, Oscar Meyer Bologna.
At the end of the day it comes down to this: There’s a time and place for everything. Cook whatever the fuck you want.
“It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken.” – Frank Perdue