by Jacque Lynn Schiller
This past April, a little bit of Nashville came to Bedford Stuyvesant with the opening of Peaches HotHouse, courtesy of the guys behind The Smoke Joint and sister establishment Peaches. Ben Grossman and Craig Samuels knew that if they were going to do fried chicken they’d want to cook it to order. The idea for a small “chicken shack” with not much more on the menu than the bird and a couple of sides was born. The day we visited the homey spot, locals popped in and were greeted by name and two guys at the bar explained they were in town visiting but made the trek out to Brooklyn just to try the “extra hot” specialty. Word of advice when you stop by – ask about the milk jug. You might need it.
We chatted with Craig about hot chicken, overlooked local vendors and some seriously scrumptious pie.
What brought you to Brooklyn?
Brooklyn born and raised. Bed Stuy, Do or Die!
How did you first become interested in food?
My earliest influences were my mother and her six sisters and brothers and their husbands and wives. Holidays were a culinary journey through the Caribbean islands. Rice and peas, callaloo, flying fish, curried goat and, of course, the requisite American holiday dishes. The sisters (and two brothers) were the children of Barbadian immigrants who arrived in the early twenties. The husbands hailed from Jamaica and St. Vincent. Each sister had her own method for cooking each delicacy so the gathering of the lot in one kitchen made for low level, [mostly] friendly competition.
The sisters were great cooks, certainly, but one husband set the standard for what has now become hip. Uncle Sidney grew what seemed like bushels of tomatoes, mustard and collard greens, cucumbers, zucchini and peas in the postage stamp sized backyard of his Flatbush home. His codfish cakes were also leagues ahead of any made by anyone else in the family, a fact that I would never have admitted in that kitchen and I probably still wouldn’t were it not a tribute to his memory – my memory, of those often just too spicy, savory morsels of lovingly soaked, shredded, gently bound salt cod, onions and bell pepper from the garden and seasonings, sautéed and placed on paper towels to rest – paper towels whose turmeric stained spots belied the fritters that never made it to the table. Here’s to you Uncle Sidney.
Were you influenced by any particular person or job experience?
My time at Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia was my career-defining job, a 7:30am to 11:30pm internship that introduced me to the rarified world of not just white tablecloth dining, but the highest level of artistry that I had ever experienced. George Perrier created what became one of the most significant restaurants in the world at the time, supremely competitive yet nurturing and educational. Everything I learned about cooking I learned in that kitchen. The rest of the years honed my craft and schooled me on the larger tasks of first, running a kitchen, and then running restaurants.
Biggest surprise opening HotHouse?
Just how hot “Hot Chicken” can really get! We had to back off a little when some of the first customers were spitting fire. But we can still turn it up as high as you think you’d like it.
Tell us about your menu. Does it change? Specials? Holiday items?
The menu changes eight times a year – a “prelude to (season)” menu and a “(season)” menu for each season. Each menu change replaces a couple of soups, salads and starters and introduces seasonal entrée specialties. After twenty years of working every holiday, we take most off now. And we’re happy.
Our seasonal highlights include our Watermelon Salad, which arrives with the summer fruit, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Fresh Peach Cobbler. We’re gearing up for a long, cold winter with Black Eyed Pea and Kale Soup, 12 hour Smoked Beef Short Ribs and Caramelized Pear Upside-Down Cake.
Are there any Brooklyn (or NYC) specific products – that you collaborate with or incorporate in your dishes?
We deal with all sorts of local vendors and producers. I’m going to mention the lesser-considered brands. Companies like BaTampte pickles and sauerkraut (Meyer Silberstein, 1955), Grimaldi Bakery hamburger buns and baguettes (Vito Grimaldi, 1909), Pechters Bakery kaiser rolls and egg bread (Moses Pechter, 1888). Dallis Coffee (Morris and Abe Dallis, 1913).
Our house beer is Sugar Hill (2000) of the Harlem Brewing Company produced by Celeste Beatty. And if you’re a teetotaler, enjoy the vintage taste of Cel-Ray, Dr. Brown’s infamous celery flavored soda (1868).
Any specific approach or philosophy you bring to the table?
Just cook it.
What are your thoughts on Brooklyn food scene? – You’ve got a great community here.
Great word. Community. It feels like a community.
Have a favorite food, drink spot or product in Brooklyn?
Hard to pick one of anything. Coffee – The Glass Shop (Prospect Heights), Bedford Hill (Bed Stuy), Bread Stuy (Stuyvesant Heights). Donuts – Peter Pan (Greenpoint). Pizza – Saraghina (Bed Stuy), Lucali (Carroll Gardens), Roberta’s (Bushwick). Cocktails: Weather Up (Prospect Heights).
What about those pies?!
The Wilklows make the sickest pies using fruit fresh from their orchards. We started having them bake the pies for us while we were building the dessert kitchen and we haven’t stopped ordering them ‘cause our customers love them so much. Try the apple-blueberry and you tell me!
Peaches HotHouse is located at 415 Tompkins Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant. Make sure to save room for dessert.