Chef Chat, Part 2: Jeff Axline of Brooklyn Athletic Club, on "Americana"-Style Food, His Menu, and How the Houston and Austin Food Scenes Compare
Jeff Axline of Brooklyn Athletic Club
Photos by Mai Pham
This is Part 2 of a three-part Chef Chat series. You can read Part 1 here and Part 3 in this same space Friday.
EOW: Tell me about Brooklyn Athletic Club.
JA: This was originally Shepard's idea. He's had the idea for a long time, but it was hard to come to fruition without having a property that had this outdoor space. When this property came up, it was kind of a no-brainer for him to jump on this idea. We had a whole undeveloped lot back here that we could put gaming on without doing a whole lot, so that's kind of where "Bam!" That's when the phone call happened. So, yeah. Idea is all his, food is all mine. Obviously he had some input on some things we had to have.
EOW: So his idea was to have this kind of country club atmosphere, and so then, from the food standpoint, it's all yours.
JA: Well, he wanted a Reuben on the menu, a kick-ass meatball, a pasta, a meatball sub. You know, New York deli-type things.
EOW: So he wanted the meatball and the Reuben. Tell me the rest of the menu. What was your inspiration?
EOW: Which means what to you?
JA: We'll take the name Brooklyn, for example. By no stretch of the imagination are we trying to be a New York themed-restaurant or New York-style restaurant. The name Brooklyn to us reminds us a lot of Houston; where there's so many diverse ethnic groups in Brooklyn, it's a lot like Houston. Where you have the Asian neighborhoods, the African-American neighborhoods, the Turkish neighborhoods, the Greeks...all that, and that's kind of where the menu comes from.
EOW: And that's Americana? It's all ethnic.
JA: Well, that's what America is. We are an ethnic melting pot. My family's German, you're Asian...
Axline in the open kitchen
EOW: Okay, so Shepard wanted his thing. What did you absolutely have to have on the menu?
JA: Well, I've kind of been known for the mac and cheese thing since Glass Wall and BRC, so, you know, I had to have a mac and cheese -- people would have wanted it. I just wanted to make sure it was a small, compact menu. I wanted everything to be fresh, seasonal as much as possible. I wanted the ability to have the ever-changing specials on the board. I think our brunch is unique. A lot of times you'll go to brunch, and there's a whole brunch menu, and you're thinking, "I kind of want what I had for lunch last Tuesday today," so we keep our lunch menu, and we use the big board to supplement for brunch, and that's where all the egg dishes, the French toast, whatever we have that day are listed. I wanted somewhere where we could just be creative -- me and my sous chefs and my cooks -- we've worked together for a long time, and I just didn't want us to be dormant.
EOW: How often are you doing specials?
JA: Everyday, we do specials every day. We're not really doing them for lunch. Again, we just opened two months ago. Dinner's always a special. Right now, we're kind of locked into the S'mores bread pudding -- it's taken on a life of its own, inspired by the S'Mores pits outside. That can't go away. We generally run an appetizer of some kind. We've been doing crab cakes; this weekend we're doing quail. We always have a steak of some kind, whether it's a filet or rib eye or strip. Sometimes pasta -- we've had a wagyu beef pasta, always have a fish.
EOW: Those are a lot of specials! What's on your regular menu?
JA: A little bit of everything. We have a steak frites, striped bass, meatballs, mussels. Our burger is killer -- it's got a green tomato jalapeño jam on it. Our porcobucco is probably our most popular item right now -- both being talked about and eaten. It's a pork shank cooked like an osso bucco. It's treated exactly the same as you would cook an osso bucco.
EOW: But does it taste the same?
JA: Well, it's pork-y. It's not lamb-y, it's "pork-y." It tastes like pork.
EOW: Okay, you just got back here from Austin. How would you compare the two cities?
JA: The lifestyles are similar depending on where you live. There's a lot more outdoor activity in Austin. I'd say the Montrose area is very similar to any of the neighborhoods in Austin.
EOW: How would you compare the food scenes?
JA: I think the Houston food scene is a lot more up and coming. I think we press it a bit more here. I think the camaraderie here is very good. I was way out in Lake Travis, so the camaraderie for me in Austin wasn't very easy to come by. Obviously we're a world-class culinary city. You look at the James Beard award this year and you see how many have been nominated. We're very similar cities, but we have a much more multicultural society than they do in Austin. You go to Chinatown in Austin, there's nothing there, it's just two square blocks. You go to Bellaire Boulevard here, and you can drive for days and stop at different restaurants and not even know what you're eating.
EOW: Okay, so last question. If you were to have a last meal, who would make it and what would it be?
JA: I'd have to go with my mom. Mom's making her fried chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and gravy, and I'm in hog heaven.
Check back with us tomorrow as we taste some of Axline's food.
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