The Brisket Whisperer
Brick’s Smoked Meats
It’s been a rough ride for America this past year. Almost every news story shows another rip, another tear, another reason to believe our country is a land divided. Since the dawn of time, however, one thing has always united us: food.
And barbecue ... well, that seems to be the ultimate peacemaker, the be-all and end-all of bringing people together.
It begins even before the first bite. The undeniably delicious scent of open-pit barbecue is like a siren’s song to us all. Even during my most hardcore vegetarian days, one whiff wafting from a grill full of meats cooked low and slow, the smoky spices saturating the sultry, summer air the way a tea bag diffuses in hot water, would stop me dead in my tracks and leave me drooling like a teething baby.
You’ve been there. We all have. There’s no denying it, there’s just something special about barbecue. You know it, I know it, and Mark Gabrick, “Brisket Whisperer,” cofounder and pit master at Brick’s Smoked Meats, surely knows it better than us both.
Barbecue has been in Mark’s bones since birth as grilling was a family tradition well before he was born. “I’ve been smoking meats since I was 5 years old. It’s one of the first things I remember doing with my family,” says Mark, who has lived and learned the art of the ’cue in both Kansas City and Dallas, cities so famed for their barbecue that people pilgrimage there for popular “pit” stops. Texas-style is his preference for Brick’s.
“Real Texas barbecue is cooked over oak with a very simple seasoning,” says Mark. “It’s not what we put on it, it’s what we don’t put on it that makes it great. It’s about allowing that true beef flavor to shine through with simple smoking methods cooked the old-school way,” he says. “Really, it’s so simple. It’s just authentic barbecue.”
And what is the “art of barbecue,” really? Is it the sauce that sets it apart? Is it the quality of the meat or the squishiness of the bread or the company kept while consuming what the pit has produced? Barbecue is such an American staple that most consumers don’t delve into the details required to make such standout smoked meats (and portobello mushrooms for the veg-heads!). But Mark does. He knows every in, out, up, and down associated with barbecue and, most importantly, understands the significance of simplicity while also knowing how to keep old customs current.
Thus, at Brick’s you’ll find traditional Texas barbecue but with a modern, and often Mexican, edge: Think blistered shishito peppers, smoked poblano slaw, or burnt bacon ends in a crispy cotija cilantro tortilla. Yes, a tortilla. You want a bun? You can have a bun. You can have your meat piled high in a seriously squishy bun with sauce slopping out the sides, but you can also have it served with slaw and Mexican street corn in a taco. “Maybe we should call it barbecue without borders,” Mark quips.
Don’t want a taco? How about a melt? Ever thought about turning barbecue into a Cuban sandwich? Brick’s did. The Cue-bano Melt takes a traditional Cuban and turns it on its head by adding pulled pork from Brick’s hugely impressive smoker. And I do mean huge. Brick’s boasts an all-wood Oyler smoker, currently the only one in Florida, aptly named “Big Red” as its seven-story smokestack is so tall it had to be built into the ground floor of the State Street Parking Garage.
So how did Brick’s come to be?
“Funny story, really,” Mark remarks before explaining how his job in advertising in Warsaw, Poland, sparked the inspiration to start his own restaurant. “I often cooked for my creative staff. I would always make barbecue and everyone would ooh and ahh and ask me to make it again. I realized then that I wanted to own my own restaurant,” he reminisces. “When my wife and kids and I moved back to the States, we fell in love with Sarasota. It just felt right.”
For years, Brick’s sold their smoked meats until they were sold out at Saturday’s market until finally deciding to create a real brick-andmortar establishment. “I want people to feel like they are coming into a backyard party,” says Mark. “A warm, hip, industrial backyard.”
Hip indeed. Have you seen this place? Come in for Happy Hour, take a seat at the bar and get yourself some Lone Star Caviar and a good, smoky bourbon while a McLaren, a Rolls-Royce, and an Aston Martin practically belly up to the bar with you. Sounds like a joke, right? “Three cars walk into a bar … ” It’s not a joke. Only an oversized window separates Brick’s from The Sarasota Studio (a Dimmitt Automotive Group gallery showcasing luxury cars), which frequently rotates exotic automobiles in its bright showroom. There’s nothing quite like throwing back a local IPA while staring at $200,000 car. Bet they don’t have that in Texas.
“Barbecue is sensory memory that is, of course, tied to scent and taste,” says Mark, “but it’s also a way to bring people together. We try to have something for every type of taste—in our drinks, our food, and our ambience. My goal is to have a place that withstands the test of time, a spot people can look back on and smile.” A gathering spot for anyone and everyone with a great bar, a stellar smoker, and a whole lot of heart? I think we can all agree on that.
Brick’s Smoked Meats: 1528 State St, Sarasota; 941-993-1435; brickssmokedmeats.com