Today, we stop by Court Street Grocers – the Carroll Gardens home of quirky, hard-to-find and often inspiring specialty items and a legendary lineup of modern-yet-faithful interpretations of classic sandwiches – for a chat with owner Matt Ross.
So Matt, what’s good today?
Have you ever had Durkee Famous Sauce?
Not that I’m aware of…
I hadn’t either until a little while after we opened the store. Our first chef is the guy who turned us on to it. We’re always looking for interesting things that are have cult followings and are a little bit hard to find to stock here, and he told us to go look for it. So we went and looked for it.
They started making the stuff up in Buffalo in the 1850s, but since then it’s become more of a Midwestern and Southern thing. It’s not easy to find in New York or anywhere in the Northeast really. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it outside of our store.
It’s a condiment that’s like a combination of mustard, mayo and vinegar. It’s got that tang. To me, vinegar and mayonnaise is the perfect flavor combination. The Durkee sauce just adds mustard to it. We’ve tried replicating it. We’ve looked for old recipes. Nothing is as good as the original stuff. We have to buy it in these tiny jars ourselves to use in the kitchen. We use it on our Turkey & Durkee sandwich, and we sell jars of it individually.
Some people come in and see it on the menu and are pretty thrilled about it. Other people order the sandwich because they like the idea of a white meat turkey sandwich. They perceive it as healthy or something, and that’s great, but it’s the sauce that always hooks them.
Our chef’s parents live in Philadelphia, and every time they come up to visit they buy a whole case of it to take home. It’s one of those things – you try it once and you love it. There are very, very few people who don’t try it and love it. I’m not sure I remember one person not liking it since we put it on the menu.
Tell us about the sandwich.
It’s white meat from turkey breasts that we roast in house. We use a dry-ish rub with herbs, brown sugar, salt and pepper. We roast the turkey, keep it super moist, then we slice it pretty thin on the deli slicer. We serve it on white toast made with Balthazar’s Pan de Mie. We’ve done a lot of research here looking for the perfect white bread. The Pan de Mie’s the best we’ve found. They use enough milk and egg in the bread that it never dries out when you toast it, and it holds up really well to all kinds of sandwiches. We top the turkey with some really good butter lettuce and the Durkee Sauce, put it on the press for a minute to give it some color, and that’s it. We like to keep things simple here. Sometimes, anyway.
What do you know about the sauce?
I did read up on it when I was looking to stock it here. Apparently it’s the oldest shelf-stable jarred condiment around. They started making it in the 1850’s well before refrigeration. Supposedly Abe Lincoln loved it, and had it in the White House pantry. I also read somewhere that gold rush-era westbound wagon trails were littered with empty jars of the stuff.
Are you making this up?
No! I swear! [laughter.]
Court Street Grocers is located at 485 Court Street, between Nelson and Huntington, in Carroll Gardens.
Photography by Heather Phelps-Lipton. All rights reserved.