Like slow-smoked and succulent authentic Austin brisket, creating a restaurant out of a dream takes time. And for barbecue artisan Dan Delaney, 26, it takes hauling an 18-foot smoker hitched to a truckload of Texas post oak from Austin to New York City.
The Central Texas inspired pop-up smoke shop, known as BrisketTown by thousands of drooling fans, will announce its location in lower Manhattan or north Brooklyn for its debut this fall 2012.
“I look at barbecue as the jazz of food,” Delaney said.
“It predates most of other food forms in the U.S. It’s not just about cooking food but about tradition and culture.”
Delaney never wanted to be a chef. His appetite for traditional American foodways led to a mission to honor the craft-based food form on a nationwide journey as food blogger, founder and host of VendrTV, a show dedicated to “discovering the world’s best street food, one bite at a time.”
Delaney produced and ate his way through street food events across the country. He ate oysters in Chesapeake Bay, White Manna sliders in Hackensack, lobsters in Maine and explored more than 120, if you will, mom and pop-up smoke shops, he said.
Delaney described his first mouthful of genuine Austin brisket as “the most tender, fatty, succulent” experience that “melted like warm butter on your tongue,” he said pulling off grease-covered gloves, smelling like a smokehouse.
“That’s what we wanna do. We want people to be so devastated they can’t find anywhere else in New York (like BrisketTown).”
Desperate to re-create the experience in his Brooklyn backyard, Delaney hosted a supper club and invited friends to meat over smoke-bathed batches of brisket.
“The first couple tries were a disaster,” Delaney’s partner Hunter Augeri said.
“We’re both figuring this out and we’re doing it.”
Fueled by the challenge to master the meat form that requires the most laborious and expert skill, Delaney ordered Texas beef by the thousands. He also executed a series of supper club-style beta tests to refine his craft until he nailed the art of the brisket down to a science.
And so, BrisketLab was born on April 21, 2012, along with 2,500 pounds of brisket babies swaddled in rust-colored butcher paper.
“We chose the name BrisketLab so people would know we’re testing something,” Augeri said.
They anticipated only around 300 signups, but the campaign “spread like wildfire,” Augeri said.
And Delaney wasn’t the only one who took a risk.
With no posted event dates or prior knowledge of the chef, let alone his brisket, thousands of voracious meat lovers preyed on more than one ton of meat in the first 24 hours. After 48 hours, more than 800 credit cards were denied before all 2,500 pounds sold out, reaping more than 4,300 foodies, $60,000 in earnings, and scores of media coverage before Delaney fired up the smoker.
The sold out festival-style BrisketLab events were hosted at more than 20 venues, which ranged from rooftops, churches, a cemetery, an old abandoned factory and the beautiful Brooklyn Winery in Williamsburg, winning countless Twitter praise.
“I’m going to lie down and think about happy things,” said Nathan, the French trumpet player of one event’s 10-year-old Western swing inspired band.
“The brisket is incredible. And I’ve been to Austin.”
While the quest of BrisketLab was to perfect the Central Texas-style brisket, the goal of BrisketTown is to produce real Texas brisket to the New York masses.
BrisketTown will be open regularly for dinner and, if the ravenous interest of BrisketLab was any indication, quantities will be limited, Delaney said.
Fans will gain access to the members-only BrisketTown RSVP system where they can select dates to dine and check their online brisket balance. The perks of ordering in advance include no “sold out” sign, no lines and guaranteed hot-off-the-smoker brisket.
To lighten the typically dense barbecue dishes, the sides will be refreshingly non-traditional and are to include seasonal red cabbage and herbed coleslaw in fresh lime juice. And for dessert, homemade pie.
In the upcoming years, Delaney is determined to open a full brick-and-mortar barbecue restaurant focused on crafting food, cocktails and music that honor the traditions, techniques and culture of the American South.
“(Barbecue) is much less about innovation and much more about execution and refining a craft,” Delaney said.
“Any idea is really just the sum of a bunch of other things that trigger it.” Delaney said.