Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Packing Heat In The Hood

It’s cold and dark outside, but as the weekend comes to a close the promise of fresh salsa lures me out of my warm, Park Slope apartment. After enduring a long, circuitous subway ride around Sunday night track work, I finally meet the Pomp team for a much anticipated taste test at the Bushwick birthplace of the Brooklyn Salsa Company

The homegrown business was cooked up by friends Rob Bowman and Matt Burns, whose loft space inside a converted 19th century manse—once home to a pre-eminent German singing society—acts as office, kitchen, and living quarters. In a nod to its musical roots, the imposing brick building is now dubbed the Opera House Lofts and is home to a community of young, free-spirited residents who eagerly feed on the salsa-supply from apartment 112.

“It’s a hipster dorm,” explains Bowman as he guides me and the Young brothers (Royal and Fury) to the subterranean common room, where ping pong tables, plaid shirts, and Michael Jackson provide the backdrop for the salsa-fest in progress. On the table before us, buckets of freshly baked tortilla chips flank trays of cilantro-infused taco fixins, which solicit copious salsa consumption from all in attendance. And that’s just the point for CTO (Creative Taste Operator) Burns, who has learned that free food is the best way to transform friends into flavor analysts.

In fact, the idea for BK Salsa was sparked in the Opera House basement on a night just like this one last April. With praise for Matt’s ever-present, always fresh party snack at a fever pitch, the realization that his tomato-based offerings were good enough to sell, dawned on him and marketing-minded buddy Rob. With the help of a third partner, Jake O’Connor, and all the Opera House taste buds, they have since embarked on a collaborative effort to craft a city-centric line of salsas. There’s one flavor for each borough, resulting in a creative and often surprising mix of ingredients that mirrors the diversity of the Big Apple and offers an irreverent take on traditional conceptions of salsa. It’s an appetizing model well worth exploring.

So, with chips in hand, I begin in a burnt over borough meant for diehards that know how to handle a bit of heat. Initial signs from The Bronx’s fire-roasted chunks of eggplant point me not to Mexico but to the Indian sub-continent, thanks to a surprising curry cameo on the tongue. It’s nothing like my tropical escape to Queens, apparently felt by subway riders emerging into the sun from the Manhattan underworld. The sweet, orange-colored concoction is a pleasant blend of cooling pineapple mixed with Caribbean spices and coconut milk. But not to be outdone as a Manhattan getaway is Staten Island’s suburban salsa verde, which works as a fresh marinade for the evening’s “taco meat,” an oversized portion of pink salmon steak.

While the least exciting of the bunch is the mild-mannered Manhattan, a simple taqueria style salsa, it does act as a good palette cleanser for the trademark Brooklyn variety. That hiccup-inducing blend includes four unique peppers that slowly marinate in my mouth before compelling another dip of the chip. I later devour half a jar on my couch at home, succumbing to the insatiable quality of the chips and salsa experience. “That,” says Matt, “is what New York’s all about. You simply can’t get enough.”

Nor can this city’s way of life be narrowly defined, except to call it eclectic. And that is just the word for BK Salsa. In short, opines Jake, who like Matt is an aspiring actor by day, “our lives make up the salsa.”

As they continue to work towards perfecting all five recipes with as many organic ingredients as they can afford, this artsy, fresh-faced trio of twenty-something entrepreneurs enjoys an outlook characterized by more pomp than circumstance. “We want to bring BK Salsa to the international scene,” declares Matt, who envisions a future roll out of other urban-based salsas and perhaps even a chain of Chipotle style eateries in places as unfamiliar with Mexican-influenced cuisine as Australia. Jake meanwhile, talks about bringing the brand beyond the gastronomic and into the world of fashion, while Rob, influenced by Paul Newman’s philanthropic efforts and his uncle’s own bout with cancer, emphasizes his desire to donate a portion of future profits to charity.

But as they search for the big investment dollars necessary to really launch this project off the ground, they haven’t lost sight of their local circumstances: “Giving back to the community is key,” explains Rob. They’ve already teamed with a number of area bands to host a slew of successful salsa-backed fundraisers.

As our expanded group of five makes its way back to the Myrtle Ave J stop following the party, our take home buckets of salsa attract the excited attention of a hungry passerby eager to talk salsa with us. This stuff, it seems, is already a local hit.

-Jake Englander
(Photos: Amanda Segur)


Fury said...


Anonymous said...

umm... one of those guys looks really really familiar

Anonymous said...

when can i get some of the spicy brooklyn?