Our last interview for this week’s South Jersey Restaurant Week gave us a chance to chat with Brad Cook, Co-owner of Carolina Blue Smokehouse & Taproom in Pitman. Carolina Blue is doing great things to advance the causes of craft beer, tasty BBQ and using local ingredients. We were happy to get a few moment with Brad.
EiSJ: Where in the restaurant industry does your passion lie?
Brad: Delivering on a great dining experience certainly is my passion. Whether it’s in my home or our restaurants I truly love entertaining friends, family and customers alike. I can’t trace it back to one moment in particular but I would say it comes more from the combination of growing up in the business, having the good fortune of being exposed to many different culinary experiences, and of course genuinely enjoying making people happy.
EiSJ: There are so many things to love about barbecue. If you had to pick one aspect that you love most, what would it be?
Brad: Emeril said it best: pork fat rules. Seriously, is there anything better than ribs done right? And by right I mean smoked not boiled or steamed, which unfortunately far too many places do.
EiSJ: What is it about barbecue and beer that makes them so wonderful together?
Brad: Pairings are all about the balance and co-mingling of flavors. Beer is great because there are so many styles with distinguishable flavor profiles that the pairing potential is endless not only for BBQ but for all foods.
EiSJ: Have you noticed more of your customers willing to taste craft beers and venture away from the big national brands?
Brad: Absolutely. More and more people are turning to not just craft but more full flavored beer in general. What’s really exciting is that beer is getting much more respect than it ever has before. People are finally looking for a drinking experience that in the past has always been exclusively associated with wine and cocktails. People want and are now beginning to expect their beer served in the proper glass, and poured correctly which is fantastic. I like to think we had a little to do with that trend in this area and I’m very proud of that.
EiSJ: How exciting is it to have more locally brewed craft beers available?
Brad: It’s amazing. We truly are lucky to be surrounded by so many fantastic breweries if for no other reason than you can go and visit them. I always encourage people to take a Flying Fish Brewery tour or shoot over to Victory for the day. It’s free, it’s a great way to get educated and supporting local businesses has a positive ripple effect throughout the whole region.
EiSJ: Talk about the importance of being able to use local produce and local wood for your restaurant.
Brad: It’s the ultimate win-win scenario. We utilize local ingredients whenever possible and in return we get amazing fruit, vegetables, honey, wine and more produced right here in South Jersey. All of our wood we use for smoking our ‘que comes from Macheronne Farms and Summit City. It’s been really amazing to be able to build such great relationships with so many local farmers.
EiSJ: Name one ingredient that people should be cooking with more at home.
Brad: Salt and Pepper. Seasoning is KEY!
EiSJ: Where do you see the South Jersey dining scene right now, and where is it headed?
Brad: Strong and getting better all the time. Just like with beer, people are demanding a better dining experience. As such, local restaurants have really stepped up their game in recent years. From food and beverage to service and decor, South Jersey is in the middle of a culinary renaissance.
EiSJ: What do you like about Restaurant Week?
Brad: We have some amazing culinary minds in this area and Restaurant Week really showcases that talent. We love restaurant week because it gives us an opportunity to step out of our usual menu get our creative juices flowing and come up with some truly fantastic dishes.
EiSJ: What do you want customers who might try you for the first time during Restaurant Week to leave with…what impressions?
Brad: I think people will be surprised at how eclectic our menu is and how well it’s executed. Most people know about our BBQ and beer offerings but the word is really starting to get out about the rest of our menu and Restaurant Week has a lot to do with that.