Smoke on the water, fire in the sky. Deep Purple comes to mind as I watch all the preparations for Thunder Over Louisville. However, for now, let’s turn all the heat back to the kitchen.
The lunch menu at Coals St. Matthews location in the Vogue Center is a virtual taste tour through Louisville. Pizzas named Cherokee, Seneca, Waverly, Audubon and a few more zip codes. To honor my hood, I’ll go with The Highlands theme ‘za – Dream Catcher Farms bacon, fresh mozzarella, Pecorino cheese, cherry tomatoes, arugula.
It’s called Coals for a reason – that’s where the fire comes from. The pizzas are hand-crafted and the pride is obvious in their comment from the website – “We blend it all together by firing it in a brick oven that the Romans could only wish they had.” And there ya’ go.
Throughout the south and mid-west, festivals, sporting events or anywhere that serious carnivores gather, you will find the classic smoker. These heavy metal mobile beasts are sturdy and slow-burning for mouth-watering meals from the bun to the bowl.
Just try driving by F.A. B.D. on Frankfort Avenue for your morning commute without catching a whiff of what hits the lunch platter around noon. The savory scent of smoked meats almost has me weaving off the road as I experience olfactory bliss.
There are more smokers located behind Morris’ Liquors & Deli on Taylorsville Road at Bardstown but the hard-working wagon that we see parked in its permanent space in the parking lot is turning out the popular smoked turkey and pulled pork for the generations of loyal patrons.
Further south in Fairdale you’ve got the equally historic Shack in the Back with their family-pleasing smoked recipes and lots of elbow room for the starvin’ Marvin in your group.
Today’s special guest is Jim Beatty who is known in the foodie web world as Joe Pastry. Like the bread and pizzas he bakes in his own back yard wood fire oven, his blog is hot, generating 2,200 visitors a day. While his day job is freelance advertising and marketing (www.nervecollective.com), Beatty has been profiled in Forbes.com and Food52 for his food exploration and demonstrations. Currently, Joe Pastry is nominated for Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog Awards.
In words, images and humor, the sub-head explains his mission – Baking Techniques, History & Science. His readership is global, ranging from back burner novices to commercial pros – and all are hungry to learn more.
When Beatty, a Chicago native happily transplanted here in Louisville for 8 years, stokes his oven, the aroma of wood and smoke curls around your senses in the morning chill. By the afternoon, the life-affirming fragrance of bread fills the air. The family resides in the Highlands and his wife and two daughters often play a role in Joe Pastry’s daily installments.
I sent in a few questions about the popularity and viability of fire in the dining industry.
What is your favorite thing to eat that comes out of a wood fire oven?
I think pizza. A Neapolitan-style pizza really benefits from all that heat…up to about 1300 hundred degrees if you’re doing it the right way. You get a nice crispy, charred bottom crust and thoroughly melted cheese. Any vegetables that might be on the pizza also get a nice light char, but since the pizza is only in the oven for about a minute, they can’t cook to the point that they get mushy. So the end result is a huge range of flavors and textures. If you can sneak a few wood chips into the fire during the baking you also get a light smokiness, which is the best!
Doesn’t it kind of go back in time? I mean, from the cave to the inns, there was probably fire and a slab.
No question it’s a throwback. Maybe not as far back as the cave, but at least several thousand years. Enclosed ovens aren’t as old as people tend to think. For most of history people baked in the open air on hot rocks, just like you said. But yeah, sometimes I feel like I should be wearing toga when I work mine, or at least those cute little short pants and knee socks that Italian bakers have on in all the old paintings.
What was the inspiration for you to build a wood fire oven in your back yard?
I’d been working as a baker in the years leading up to our move to Louisville. I’d been working a big commercial electric oven, about the size of a small garage. I decided back then that if I ever owned a house with a yard I’d build a “real” oven and learn how to use it. It’s been more of a challenge than I expected. No switches anywhere.
The smoker, a familiar sight around Kentucky, a big ol’ tank that houses a continuous fire and is ready to smoke meats at any time for any occasion. What happens to pork or turkey when put into a smoker as opposed to the family’s kitchen stove or commercial ovens?
Those types of smokers are the greatest. They’re basically a kind of slow roaster, but with added smoke. The low fire does the cooking while the smoke adds the flavor, mostly to the outside of the meat, which is why the brown crusty parts are the bits that everyone fights over!
What is your favorite thing to eat that comes out of a smoker?
Ribs, hands down, at least if we’re talking about hot smoking, which is what those big drum-like offset smokers do. Cold smoking is a very different process, which simply involves curing meat or fish (with a brine or some sort of rub), then exposing it to just the smoke, not the heat, or at least not very much of it. I’m a Great Lakes boy originally so I love, love, love cold-smoked fish. There’s a place up near Door County, Wisconsin that makes a cold-smoked whitefish that’s known to cause grown men to fall to their knees weeping for all the wasted years.
What innovative recipes could you imagine with a wood fire oven and a smoker? Just to be wild…
Golly that’s a toughie…I’m not that innovative with food. But I think there’s a lot of undiscovered country out there, especially when it comes to hot and cold smoking. A hint of smoke can work wonders on just about any protein, even some vegetables. When my girls get older, if I have the time, I plan to experiment more with that!
Enjoy the weekend as we kick off our Derby Festival here in Louisville. Welcome all incoming neighbors and treat them to some local dining traditions that keep our economy fed and hospitality warm!