Chef Chat

Chef Chat, Part 2: Matt Marcus of Eatsie Boys and 8th Wonder Brewery

Things have been good for Eatsie Boys since our last Chef Chat with Matt Marcus in 2012. He won the Houston Culinary Award for Best Up-And-Coming Chef right after that interview. They got a one-star review from Alison Cook (not too bad, truly) and made her Top 100 Restaurants list in both 2013 and 2014. There was also a positive review by Katharine Shilcutt, the restaurant critic for the Houston Press, at the time.

Marcus, along with his business partners, Ryan Soroka and Alex Vassilakidis, got 8th Wonder Brewery up and running as well and you can find their beer on tap all over Houston, as well as in Austin and Dallas. Following that came a tasting room at the brewery and a new gold truck to serve food just outside of it.

Yesterday we talked with Marcus about his start and food trucks. In this final part of our Chef Chat with Marcus, he'll talk about the sensitive issue of his friendship with chef Grant Gordon, who passed away last year. We'll also talk about 8th Wonder's beers and what first-timers should dine on at Eatsie Boys cafe.

EOW: The original [Eatsie Boys food] truck has been sold.

MM: It's been sold to some nice gentlemen in Cypress that I think are going to open up some sort of hamburger truck. (Author's note: the purchaser was BYG Burgers and they are indeed in Cypress.)

EOW: And the current [Eatsie Boys] truck, of course, is solid gold.

MM: Yes.

EOW: Does it have a new name?

MM: We call her Goldy Box or Goldy.

EOW: I've never seen a solid gold food truck before.

MM: Nobody has. It's the first in the world, we think. We were trying to think of something like we did before with the graffiti and stuff like that. We're very happy with what we did. It's eye-catching, it's beautiful and just fun to drive around.

EOW: What was your inspiration to do that?

MM: To do a gold box?

EOW: Yes.

MM: I don't know. We kind of like have this motif of the hip-hop world and --

EOW: So, gold chains, gold --

MM: Bling-bling and all that stuff. So yeah, there you go.

EOW: I got it. How long was it until you opened the brewery? The brewery came after the restaurant, right?

MM: Yeah. We basically signed the leases at the same time when we opened up the restaurant and the brewery. There was a lot of specialty equipment ordering and stuff for the brewery. The timeline was very similar but it just was -- brewing the beer and then opening the restaurant at the same time became complicated. Each one of us had to do our own skill set. So I've been here [at Eatsie Boys cafe] mostly, and my other two partners kind of help out with the brewery more. [We're] like a board of directors.

EOW: What was the brewery opening like?

MM: When we first opened, we didn't have the tasting room, so it wasn't open to the public. But it was well-received when we first opened. We pretty much sold all the beer that we made.

EOW: What were the first couple of beers that y'all started delivering to area bars and restaurants?

MM: Well, we have got some standard beers. We have Intellectuale, Hopston and Alternate Universe. Those were our three standards, and our biggest seller currently is our Rocket Fuel. It's our Vietnamese coffee porter made with Greenway Coffee. Just like a chef, our brewmaster likes to play and create new cool stuff. We're always coming up with one-offs, but we do have a handful of standard ales that we're always producing: Intellectuale, Alternate Universe, Hopston, Dome Faux'm and Rocket Fuel.

EOW: When did the tasting room open?

MM: The tasting room got opened in the beginning of this year, in January.

EOW: Okay. I thought that was pretty recent. The design was inspired by the Astrodome.

MM: Exactly, yeah. Eighth wonder of the world! The first domed stadium. A lot of our merchandise and a lot of our names are all based on the Astrodome and our love for the city of Houston.

EOW: One of the coolest things there -- to my mind, at least -- is the actual stadium seats from the Dome. I think you've got a couple of the red ones and yellow ones.

MM: Yeah. Just like so many people did, we lined up for the auction and we had to be there because we wanted a piece of Houston history, especially some of that we're named after. So, we snagged some chairs from the Astrodome.

EOW: Are there any future plans that you would like Houston Press readers to be aware of?

MM: We do have plenty of future plans. I don't know if they're ready to be talked about yet, but yes, there definitely are big plans for Eatsie Boys coming up in the next few years.

EOW: This past weekend, there was a huge benefit called "A Night At The Edmont" that was in honor of a very good friend of yours named Grant Gordon. We lost Grant last year. Would you like to talk a little bit about your friendship? I believe you went to school together and worked together.

MM: I was lucky enough first to meet Grant or at least talk to him in 2006. He was about to start culinary school and I was just about to graduate from a bachelor's program there. He called me out of the blue because our mothers knew each other and he said, "Hey, man, can you tell me about the CIA? What's this like, the Culinary Institute of America?"

I was like, "Yeah, man, I'm sorry to miss you but it's a great school. I learned a lot and had fun." The one question that he asked me was "Do they party there?" (smiles) So, he wanted to know about the CIA, of course. And then, as luck would have it, a couple of years later -- randomly -- we're both working in the same restaurant in Sonoma County.

EOW: What restaurant was it?

MM: Cyrus, it's a two-Michelin-star restaurant that's no longer there, but I think [the owner] has plans to open a new one, which is exciting. We worked together, elbows to elbows, as cooks in the kitchen in Cyrus for about a year and a half together. When you're working together in high-pressure situations like that and you're having beers together in a small town in Sonoma after work, you get to know each other. You have a strong bond.

He was an amazing chef and I'm so happy I got to do the [tribute] dinner. It was an amazing night. All the chefs that did it really brought their best. And the people that put it on -- it was amazing. They built the restaurant for the night.

EOW: It was a temporary structure on Westheimer, but the interior was just like actually being in a restaurant.

MM: Yeah, it was as elaborate as any restaurant you could visit.

EOW: Yeah. I saw the photos, I'm super sorry I wasn't able to be there, but I'm so glad y'all did that.

MM: Yeah. I was so happy to be there and to be able to do it for his friends and family. It was awesome for me to be able to meet friends that he grew up with, and I think it was even better for them to meet me because we had such a different relationship than his [other] friends did. Our relationship was very professional. Not always professional, but I always based on the job we always carried together.

EOW: Thank you for talking about that.

MM: It's the only way we can remember the man, and he is worth remembering.

EOW: Agreed. Let's talk about this restaurant [Eatsie Boys cafe]. If someone were to come here for the first time, name three or four dishes that you really think that person should order.

MM: If you're coming here for the first time, I think first you've got to start yourself off with some delicious Greenway Coffee. We serve some of the best coffee in Houston -- cappuccinos, espressos, lattes -- all that good stuff.

Then [try] some of our standards here, which are the Pork Snuggies, our steamed bao buns with crispy pork belly and homemade pickles; and our Frank The Pretzel, which has a sausage made by my father. It's a chicken poblano sausage on our soft pretzel bun made by Slow Dough.

One of my newer favorites which I really like is the Steak Shazam. It's a wheat challah bun with sliced steak, feta, avocado, tomato and a tarragon aioli.

EOW: Of course, the Matzo Ball Pho is the stuff of legend.

MM: Yes. We haven't been running it as much this year because I want to keep it special. We've been rotating and keeping the menu fresh. So we've been rotating different soups; If you're lucky enough, we do have the Matzo Ball Pho every once in a while.

EOW: So maybe keep an eye on y'all's Twitter feed to see when [it's available]?

MM: Exactly. Anything new coming on our menus is always on Twitter and Facebook.

EOW: Last question. Is there anything else that you would like for our readers to know, whether it be about you, Eatsie Boys cafe or 8th Wonder Brewery?

MM: Well, let's see. My birthday is April 24 for anybody who wants to buy me a present. I'm just kidding.

EOW: That's my youngest son's birthday!

MM: You told me that before! You know who else's birthday is April 24? Grant Gordon's. Isn't that crazy?

EOW: Are you serious?

MM: Yeah. I love celebrating my birthday because I get to celebrate Grant's, too. But it's been amazing. I think it's been almost six years that we've been operating in Houston. We are so grateful to the city and all of our fans that have been supporting over the past years. We just hope that we're making the city proud in doing what we do best -- making good food and making beer.

EOW: Wait, one more question. Eric Sandler [of Culturemap Houston] likes to say you are twins separated at birth. True or false?

MM: Very false. I'm much better looking than him.

EOW: Thanks for the interview.

MM: No problem.

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Phaedra Cook
Contact: Phaedra Cook