A few weeks ago, you may recall me falling in love with fried pickles at the Bronx Ale House. As I sat writing that post, it was also my birthday and I was thinking about where I would like to go for dinner that night. (My sweetheart’s treat.) By the time I was done writing, I had made my decision—I wanted more fried pickles.
Thursday nights are especially good at the Bronx Ale House because of the “Triple Threat”—a huge plate of barbecue to share which includes baby back ribs, pulled pork, brisket, jalapeño mac and cheese and German potato salad. We eschewed the pickles and chose the Special, since it starts on Thursday and goes until it’s gone… which is often by the end of Thursday night. I had a birthday bourbon which was a superb pairing with the pulled pork. The ribs were lean, with a perfectly smoked flavor; the sauce most definitely homemade and proprietary.
“Who the heck is back there cooking?” I asked our server, with barbecue sauce likely on my chin. “This is just a bar in the Bronx, a great bar, but this food is incredible!” She then pointed to the chef sitting at the end of the bar. We went over to meet and compliment him on the barbecue we had just enjoyed, the stuff that was far tastier than even Blue Smoke! His name is Eric Hubbard and it turns out that he has quite the cooking pedigree.
The next week, I accepted an invitation to return and watch the magical smoker in action. I entered the closed restaurant at 9:30am which smelled (heavenly) of bacon and the meat that had already been in the smoker since 6am. Eric began prepping another batch to go in the oven, and as he applied a rub to the ribs including brown sugar, paprika, and other secret ingredients, we chatted about food and his career in haute cuisine.
Eric came to the Bronx Ale House after five years as a sous chef at Eleven Madison Park. Prior, he worked at the Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle and got his training at the famed Culinary Institute of America. He’s been cooking since he was 13 when he got his first kitchen job at a daycare facility for senior citizens. French food holds the most special place in his heart, but he sees the new menu of pub food he is cooking as just another challenge.
“So you were cooking fancy, fussy, dishes at Eleven Madison Park and now you’re making buffalo wings?” I asked.
“Yeah, have you had them double cooked?! It’s the only way I’ll eat them now. We fry them, sauce them, and then put them on the grill. They aren’t as saucy, but they have this incredible char. And of course, I make the Bronx-is-Burning hot sauce myself,” Eric answered.
“So you like dealing with burgers and dogs even though you cut your teeth in the great Danny Meyer empire?” I said incredulously.
“Don’t forget Shake Shack started from the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park! I know how good burgers can be. Plus, we just bought our own meat grinder so we’re going to start experimenting with our own grind for burgers, hot dogs, and sausages. We’ve got lots of testing to do. You know, the cuts of meat that work best, the right combination of spices—homemade food is best, so that’s what I’m going to keep on doing here. People really seem to like it.”
“Ok, but do you miss being in Manhattan?” I asked. “The Bronx is not exactly a big destination for foodies.”
“This is my homecoming. I live right here in the neighborhood. The menu is just another challenge for me so that’s what I’m focused on right now. I just love cooking, no matter what it is. That’s my thing. That’s what I do.”
Eric proceeded to pull out a giant vat of homemade barbecue sauce and then opened the door to the smoker. The smell was intoxicating. On the top rack was brisket, in the middle were the pork butts for pulled pork, and lastly the ribs. Eric grabbed tongs and began removing them with care as they were already falling off the bone.
“I’ll sauce these, wrap them up and then later tonight when they are ordered, they’ll be put on the grill and sauced once more. We’ve got 30 lbs of ribs here and I hope to sell all of it tonight.”
“Ok, one last question for you,” I said, my eyes glued to the brush moving between the sauce and the ribs. “While you’re working, are you ever tempted to eat a rib before 10:00 am?”
“Oh yeah, of course I’m tempted. How could you not be? This smells amazing!”
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