Unlocked: Meet Carlin Brown, Philly’s punk-drumming foodie (recipes included!)
When Carlin Brown isn’t making sweet beats behind the drum kit of Philly punk band Restorations, he’s making sweet eats inside the kitchen of some of the city’s most popular restaurants and bars.
Currently a cook at The Industry Bar, Brown’s restaurant resume is almost as long the list of serious bands he’s played in. He said these two jobs are also surprisingly quite similar.
“Being in a kitchen, you’re trapped in this weird, strange little environment with this one group of people, and you can only rely on this one group of people. These are the only people you have to do this job with you, so you just figure out strengths and weaknesses and go ‘OK, we’re going to make this work.’ We’re going to figure this out,” Brown said. “The band stuff translates just as well. In music and in food, in the same way, sometimes egos get out of check. You’ll have these [musicians] that think they deserve things and that sort of thing. The same thing with chefs. Every now and then, you’ll see a chef get out of line. He’s drinking too much or doing this sort of thing, and everything fails eventually because they don’t care about what the original purpose was in the first place, which was making good music or food. You’re supposed to take care of your friends and make something good happen.”
Today’s post details Brown’s experiences from working in some of the top-rated bars and restaurants in the city, along with a few of his favorite recipes. Brown figures that many musicians in Philly have also picked up the same trade due to flexibility with taking time off to tour.
“When you’re in Philadelphia, if you walk into a kitchen and the people who are working in the kitchen don’t have tattoos, the food is probably going to suck,” he said.Photo by Kate McCann | KateMcCannPhotography.com
Royal Tavern – 937 East Passyunk Avenue
Carlin worked here from 2004-2006
“When I was there it was a completely different chef, a completely different staff, and I only worked brunch. I worked three days a week but I worked about 40 hours in those three days. We’d get there at 6 a.m. and just cook and cook and cook and cook. Sometimes I’d be there at 9 or 10 at night, just making sure we had everything. Not only were we prepping everything that we needed for brunch, we would turn over the entire dining room like five times. We were also prepping all of the 10 specials for the week, and prepping the regular menu. … It would be bad. It would get to the point where were having drinks trying to get our work done. Then as soon as we’d get our work done we were all exhausted and the chef would be like ‘Nope, were going out!’ He would take us out and make us drink all night long, we’d get like three hours of sleep and then there you are, back again at 6 a.m. … After a while it was like ‘I can’t do this anymore dude!’ That’s why I had to have five days off or four days off a week.”
North Star Bar – 2639 Poplar St
Carlin worked here from 2006-2008
“North Star Bar was a strange experience because I was essentially the only cook. There was no chef, there was no anything. There was one other cook who worked there like one or two days a week, so it was just this bare-bones sort of bar menu. I looked at the menu with the owner and said like ‘I can redo this whole thing for you.’ I essentially just took over the kitchen and redid it, and he was all about it. That was pretty cool because I was still pretty young then, maybe 23 or 24 around that time, and essentially I was just given a kitchen. … I was the prep cook, the regular cook, the line cook, I did all of it, ordering. It was even to the point that we didn’t have a dish washer, so I was washing dishes and I was running food out to the bartenders.
“It was one of those things where people would come in and be like ‘there’s a kitchen here?’ No one knew there was food and then all of a sudden people knew about it, and he had to start hiring people. He had to start hiring servers, but it was basically still just me in the kitchen doing everything. He took care of me, and it was really fun because it was just me. I had to rely on myself to make sure the kitchen ran appropriately. At the same time I had this army of beautiful bartenders who were constantly just feeding me alcohol. It was like a big, happy family there. We were all having a very, very good time at work. And there’s a lot of cool bands that come through there, so sometimes we’d get to hang out with our friends or see our friends’ bands play. So it was a really cool environment and a cool thing for me at that age. But it did finally get to the point where it was too much, to the point where it wasn’t worth it for me to do it anymore because I couldn’t do anything else. It was fine, it worked, because I was there for like a year and a half or two years doing that. Off and on, he was letting me go on tour. I would just go, in the middle of the summer, just be like ‘Oh, I’m going to be gone for eight and a half weeks. See ya.’ Then I’d go on some horrible tour with whatever terrible band I was in, waste all my money, come back and do it all over again.”
Monk’s Cafe – 264 S 16th St
Carlin worked here from 2008-2010
“I came back from a really long tour. We (Carlin was in the metalcore band Giving Chase) were off and on in Europe for a month or something like that. I quit the band, and I wanted to get a really job. I figured I would do the kitchen thing for real, so I was looking around for restaurants to work in. Monk’s was voted, what, one of the top 10 places in the world to have a beer, or something like that? It seemed to be the cuisine that I was into and wanted to work with, so I went for it. I hate talking about the way it was, but it was just such a disorganized mess when I was there. And the place is so busy, there is no down time, and it seemed like whatever contraption you needed to make whatever food you were making, was broken that day. That was always how it was. … But it was also fun, and it had its moments. It was cool because we’d be in the kitchen all screaming at each other and stressed out and freaking out, then we’d all stay and hang out until 5 a.m. drinking. … What I learned from there is just being able to get things done, no excuses. You have to make the food, it’s got to go out. We were so busy that I just learned how to work in a high-volume situation like that. It was also a bad time for me. I had a girlfriend I was always fighting with. I also wasn’t happy at my job. I was living in a place I couldn’t even afford, working two jobs. I was working seven days a week, 72 hours a week, just killing myself trying to afford this place. My job was making me miserable. And I did that at Monk’s for over a year before I finally got out and went to the Taproom.”
Memphis Taproom – 2331 E Cumberland St
Carlin worked here from February to September in 2010
I worked there for about a year. I basically was filling in for someone, but I really wanted to get out of Monk’s because it was killing me. It was right up the road from where I lived at the time, and just like a smaller, quieter operation. … It went from this meticulous grind [at Monk’s] to just sort of hanging out. Right before I left Monk’s, I started playing drums in Dirty Tactics because I wanted to do something. I was playing drums in another band called El Toro de Oro, but it was basically just friends having fun and wasn’t really serious by any stretch of the imagination. The Dirty Tactics thing started happening, so once again, here I am going on tour and Memphis Taproom was letting me. And every time I came back it was just chilling in this awesome kitchen with awesome guys. It was a nice grounding, coming back to something familiar after [those] strange places.
Swift Half Pub (Now Gunner’s Run) – 224 S 15th St
Carlin worked here from September 2010 to late 2011
This new place had just opened up in a place called The Piazza, which I had never even been to before. One of the bartenders I knew said she knew all the people that worked there. [She to me to] get your resume and come with me. She drags me down there, we go in, get lunch, and I’m like ‘Hey, I’m looking for a job.’ I give my resume to the sous chef and he’s looking at it. He looks up at me and says ‘These are all of my favorite bars in the city.’ I was like alright then. He said they’d give me a call. … They let me come and go because The Piazza dies in the winter. It’s just a complete ghost town. The restaurant eventually went under because we were having a lot of arguments with our landlord. He kept basically kept raising our rent. But Swift Half was one of those places, the same thing as Memphis Taproom, that was like my happy getaway place. So I would go to work and it was just this euphoric little place for me to make food and have fun.
Good Dog Bar – 224 South 15th Street
Carlin worked here from 2010-2012
I met Jess, the chef at Good Dog. She called me and had me come in for an interview. The interview is going real good. We’re hitting it off and she is laughing about stuff. Then she goes alright well I’m not hiring right now. I was like ‘Come on!’ Then a week or two weeks go by, and she calls me and says ‘One of my guys is going into the Army, come on in.’ It was that easy. … While I was there, for maybe about four or five months, I was working at Vintage, but I wasn’t really there for very long. I eventually had to quit because of this whole band thing. I’d be working three days at Good Dog and 40 hours a week at Vintage. I work a lot … When I quit Vintage I was back at Good Dog, but I knew I needed a second job. I had to do something easy that I wouldn’t care about, so I was like screw it I’m just going to go to Chipolte or Qdoba and get some dumb job working a few days a week. The owner of Good Dog heard about it and was like ‘Oh, hell no.’ She pulled me over to Industry to do prep.
The Industry Bar – 1401 E. Moyamensing Ave.
Carlin worked here from 2012-present
I was there the first night of service, the first weekend of service. I was there in the morning for the first brunch we did and, I don’t remember what happened, but basically the chef got mad at everybody. He got mad at all the cooks and kicked them all off the line and into the basement. He said to me, ‘Get up here, you’re cooking with me.’ Within the first hour of cooking, he’s going to [the owners] and being like ‘Can we please have him? Can I take him?’ They were like, ‘no he’s Jess’ employee.’ But one of my good friends came back [to Good Dog] and took my job, so they sent me to Industry to cook. So that’s why I’m there now. But now, when we’re at work and getting all frustrated, my chef will turn and be like, ‘Why did we hire you again?’ I always get to go ‘It was your idea.’ But it’s really exciting for me to be working under my chef Pat, because we both have similar ethics and beliefs about how a kitchen should run. To be able to work under someone who has worked at places like Vetri and The Farm and Fisherman is a daily learning experience. I’m always encouraged to be experimental and creative. ”
Banana’s Foster (Royal Tavern)
• 4 eggs
• 1 teaspoon sugar, optional
• dash salt
• 1 cup milk
• 10 to 12 slices white bread
• maple syrup or other syrup
• Bunch of ripe bananas
• Brown sugar
• Goslings black seal Bermuda rum
• Confectionary sugar
Break eggs into a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate; beat lightly with a fork. Stir in sugar, salt, and milk.
Over medium-low heat, heat griddle or skillet coated with a thin layer of butter or margarine.
Place the bread slices into the bowl or plate, letting slices soak up egg mixture for a few seconds, then carefully turn to coat the other side.
Transfer bread slices to griddle or skillet, heating slowly until bottom is golden brown. Turn and brown the other side
In a smaller pan place a good 2 tablespoons of butter and allow it brown over medium heat.
Cut a banana or two down into 1/2 inch thick circles and “sear” on both sides.
Once you have nice color on them throw in about 2-3 ounces of rum.
CAUTION! This will make fire!!! Allow the alcohol to burn off and the fire to die down and add brown sugar till it gains the consistency of maple syrup.
Cut your French toast in half and stack on top of each other and pour your banana “syrup” on top. Cover then with chopped walnuts and shake powdered sugar on top.
Polenta (Monk’s Café)
• Small dice carrots onions and some raw bacon.
• Sliced Spanish olives.
• Veal cheeks trimmed and cleaned from the fat.
• Fresh herbs, sage rosemary thyme
• salt and pepper to taste.
Throw into a hotel pan all ingrediants with 2 bottles of Val dieu brown ale and enough water to cover the meat.
Cover with foil and throw in oven at 325 degrees for 3 1/2 hours. Then move on to Polenta
• 6 cups water
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• Sharp cheddar cheese grated fine
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Add cheese to taste and consistency after grating. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until mixed in. Remove cheeks from your liquid and separate.
In a pan combine 3 cheeks with enough of the liquid and veggies to almost cover them. Cook them hard so the liquid is boiling and reducing. Once it’s starting to get a thicker glazy kind of consistency finish with butter to thicken more and add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour this over top of the polenta.
Marinated Tofu BLT (Memphis Taproom)
1 box of extra firm tofu
Head of lettuce iceberg
1 head of garlic
Loaf of whole grain bread.
Remove tofu from water and cut the block into 1/2 inch slabs
Place in lemon juice and chopped fresh garlic and allow to marinate.
Bake cocoanut at 350 till it start to spew from the inside and has cracked open. Remove the husk and use a potato peeler to make “bacon strips”
Smoke in a smoker for a good hour
After smoking, drop in a deep fryer till crispy and delicious
Remove your tofu from marinade and throw on a grill and get nice grill marks on both sides.
Now you just assemble the sandwich like you would any other club sandwich!!
Right now the Taproom also has a vegan spaghetti sandwich that’s pretty out of control. I don’t have a recipe exactly but the secrets I will divulge are for these incredible little vegan meatballs made from scratch. A combination of:
Wheat gluten flour
They are almost the exact texture of the meatballs we all grew up eating. It’s served on a long roll with marinara and spaghetti.
Fried Chicken (The Industry)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
3 cups veal broth
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 pound fresh collard greens, cut into 2-inch pieces
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add bacon, and cook until crisp. Add onion, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until just fragrant. Add collard greens, and fry until they start to wilt.
Pour in veal broth, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes, or until greens are tender.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup half and half
¼ cup melted butter or shortening
¼ cup sugar
Preheat oven to 400° F.
Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
Combine the half and half, eggs, fat, and sugar.
Thoroughly grease and flour a 9″ × 9″ baking pan (or use a nonstick baking pan or a flexible silicone pan).
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ones and mix just until the flour is moistened
Once the liquid and dry ingredients have been combined, pan and bake the cornbread immediately.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean and the edge of the bread starts to separate from the pan.
Mix honey and sambal oelek a ratio of 5 parts honey to one part sambal
Honestly you can use whatever ratio you want.
One quart flour
2 cups corn meal
1T garlic powder
Red chili flake
2T black pepper
1 gallon warm water
3/4 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup sugar
5 Bay leaf
1T red chili flake
2T black peppercorns
Pour the warm water into a container that is twice the volume of the water. Pour in the salt, sugar, soy sauce, and olive oil. Stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved, then allow the brine to cool to room temperature.
To use, place chicken in the brine, cover, and refrigerate overnight Drain and pat the chicken dry before cooking.
Ok so now after your chicken has brined for a day remove from liquid and while it is still wet place into your breading mixture. Keep turning it from side to side and pushing the breading onto the chicken. If you want you can dredge the breaded chicken in water or beer or your brine mixture and add a second coating of breading if you are so inclined.
Place in a 350 degree fryer till cook thoroughly.
After cooking drizzle on honey sambal mixture.
Carlin’s band Restorations celebrates the release of its new album, LP2, tonight at the First Unitarian Church. It was is the featured album in this edition of Unlocked; download the spotlighted single “Kind of Comfort” in Monday’s post, read Tuesday’s album review, watch a video chronology in Wednesday’s post, read yesterday’s interview and check back for more Unlocked features from The Key.