Robert Cho, the pitmaster and operator of Kimchi Smoke/Fatboy BBQ Shack, a North Jersey-based mobile BBQ outfit, and I have become internet acquaintances, largely because he follows this blog and seems to revel in busting my balls, thereby drawing much of my attention to himself. It's infuriating at times, I must admit. But we also both share a passion for BBQ, and we've had a bunch of conversations on that subject.
More interesting to me than his incessant ball-busting and his love of BBQ is his approach to BBQ--he's a fan of Texas brisket, and he's incorporating the food of his Korean culture into the mix.
A few weeks ago he posted a picture of a new creation to Twitter/Facebook called the Fat Gangnam Boy Hero: bulgogi ribeye, cheese, kimchi pickles, BBQ sauce, on a hero. The idea of this sandwich immediately resonated with me and I have really really been looking forward to getting my hands on one. I was finally able to eat this thing this past Saturday at the Fort Lee Arts and Music Festival.
For some reason I rolled into the festival at 10.30am. I had no idea it was that early, and had thought that things kicked off at 10. They didn't. Things didn't kick off until after 11, and the Kimchi Smoke team wasn't going to be ready to about noon.
I killed some time taking pictures of the motorcycle cops doing low speed slaloms around cones in the parking lot. This was pretty impressive maneuvering and interesting to watch. They'd come to a complete stop and take hard turns at a snail's pace, in tight formation and on top of each other. You can see how these skills would come in handy for a motorcycle cop in a town largely known for being one of the 3 arteries into Manhattan from New Jersey.
I checked out some of the other food stalls and trucks. The Callahan's hot dog guys were there. That Johnny Meatballs fellow was there. I saw a guy making wood-fired pizza. Just to name a few of the options. There seemed to be some stiff competition, but I'd suggest that the Kimchi Smoke boys were probably making the most interesting food there. This opinion, of course, formed from nothing but ignorance, since I didn't try anyone else's food.
Let's get back to this sandwich.
The sandwich is a slightly spicy, slightly sweet, slightly acidic, creamy, crunchy perfectly balanced masterpiece. The bulgogi and onions pack a load of flavor, as bulgogi does. The pickled cucumbers/carrots add a bright and spicy crunch. It's garnished with some scallion and BBQ sauce.
The sauce, I'm told by Robert, is his regular BBQ sauce. It seems a bit different than the molasses/brown sugar/ketchup based sauces of southern BBQ, but I couldn't get a good handle on the flavor profile in the context of this sandwich. I thought it had some "Asian" flavors, but Robert has told me that there's no Asian twist. It works perfectly here, reacting cuttlefish-like, turning into what it needs to in order to suit this sandwich.
Those ingredients alone are fantastic, and would make a very good dish on their own. Perhaps over rice. But the two MVPs for this thing are the most unassuming: the roll, and the cheese.
The roll is a perfect, crisp, Philly-style hero. Light and airy, so it's not overpowering the sandwich or stepping on its texture. Grilled so it's warm and a bit dry, ready to take the wet load of meat and vegetables. The use of a baguette or wonderful Italian hero would be a huge mistake here.
And the cheese? I think if I were coming up with this sandwich, I'd be thinking of some sort of notable cheese. Maybe a smoked gouda. Something marketable. Not here, they're not. And they make no apologies--this sandwich has processed American cheese. Another nod, intended or not, to Philly's "whiz." And it's just perfect. Gooey, creamy, melty, damn.
The sandwich tasted pretty much like I hoped it would after thinking about it for those few weeks, and was better than I thought it could be. It's going to be hard for me to order the brisket offerings here, which are Robert's pride and joy. Maybe after a few more go arounds with this sandwich I'll stray. Perhaps if I say something nice about his brisket, too, I'll get a reprieve from the ball-busting.
Find out where Kimchi Smoke will be serving this sandwich by following them on social media: