Today, while wandering the quiet, residential streets of that narrow neck of Windsor Terrace tucked between Prospect Park and the rolling fields and marble angels of Greenwood Cemetery, we stop in at Brooklyn Commune, where chef and owner Christopher Scott makes us ones of his favorites – a Cuban-style Berkshire pulled pork sandwich with pickled jalapenos, sliced sweet peppers, and piles of fresh cilantro.
So Chris, what should we have today?
I’m going to make you my version of the Cuban pork sandwich, which I think is one of the ultimate street foods. I’ve always loved a good Cuban sandwich, and this is my spin on it.
Tell us about it.
We start with this really nice Berkshire pork. We get ours from D’Artagnan, our meat purveyor. They get the pork from a cooperative of small farms in the Midwest that raise this particular heirloom breed on pasture. They feed them things like hazelnuts and acorns. Their diet is very pure and they live very well, and that comes across in the quality and flavor of the meat.
For this sandwich, I braise the pork in orange juice, with jalapenos, cumin, garlic, and a few other spices for a nice long time. When it’s done, I pull the pork off the bone – it pretty much just falls right off – and serve it on a warm brioche with a nice swiss cheese, more jalapenos – pickled this time – and top those with a ton of really thinly spiced fresh local peppers and cilantro.
So the pork is really tender. It’s got some sweet and tart notes from the orange juice braise, and some nice heat and spice from the jalapenos, cumin and garlic. The melted cheese brings a creamy, nutty flavor into it. The pickled jalapenos add a little acid that brightens things up, and the cool, crunchy sliced sweet peppers and fresh, aromatic herbal flavor of the cilantro work really will with the warm, meaty, earthy flavors of the pork and the cheese. They balance it out.
So you’ve got a ton of flavor in there. To me, it’s the epitome of straight-up street comfort food. It seems like something simple and delicious, but there’s a lot going on in there.
You mentioned the peppers and cilantro are local. Where do you get them?
We get most of our produce in spring, summer and fall from a group of farms called Project Eats. They have about ten locations throughout the city. Most are in Brooklyn. They start farms on empty lots and in schoolyards and that sort of thing. They have locations in Brownsville, East New York, Brighton Beach, Cypress Hills, and in the Bronx and Manhattan.
They grow the peppers and herbs we use on this sandwich, and they grow lots of other stuff – tomatoes, greens, kale, pumpkins…you name it. We get produce from them well into November. We’re constantly changing what we do and always working with what’s seasonal and available to us from the farm.
What led you to open this place?
My wife Eugenie and I, before opening this place, had both worked in the culinary world for a long time. I’ve always been in the kitchen, and she’s mostly been front-of-house. I’m from Philadelphia. I worked for years in some very good restaurants there. I came to New York about six years ago to take a job as the executive chef for the offices of CNN and Turner Broadcasting in Manhattan. I met Eugenie while working there. It was a big operation with an annual budget of six million dollars. [laughter.] It was very different than what we’re doing now.
Anyway, after a while, we decided we wanted to tone things down and do something smaller, on our own – a neighborhood-oriented place where we could really get to know people and be involved with our community. We live right upstairs from here, and when this space became available, we knew we had to go for it. It was perfect.
Before we opened, you had to go to Park Slope or Manhattan for good coffee or good bread. Now you can get that right here, and you can get some good food made with local, sustainable ingredients. We host lots of things like cooking classes for parents and kids, and a CSA that brings in all kinds of produce from Garden of Eve, an organic farm on Long Island, every week. Those are the kinds of things we’ve been all about since day one.
I love it. It’s been an amazing journey. It makes me wonder, you know, what took me so long to actually get here! [laughter.]
Brooklyn Commune is located at 601 Greenwood Avenue, at the corner of Prospect Avenue, in Windsor Terrace.
Photography by Heather Phelps Lipton. All rights reserved.