Fette Sau opens in Fishtown on Frankford Avenue. The restaurant is a joint venture from Stephen Starr and Joe Carroll, who owns four restaurants in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, including the original outpost of this ultra-popular beer, brown spirits and ‘cue stop (long lines form regularly outside its door). We caught up with Carroll over the weekend at Frankford Hall’s Oktoberfest to get a glimpse of the in-progress space (the back wall is covered in a mural of diagrammed meat cuts), and to find out what he has in store for Philly’s meat-hungry diners. Read on to find out how he ended up here, why there will only be communal seating, and what the key ingredient is for his dry rub that has so many salivating.
How the idea of a Philly Fette Sau get started?
For years I’ve been wanting to open in another city. I have four spots already, but they’re all in Williamsburg, close to each other to where I live. My background is not in operations - before I opened Spuyten Duyvil, I was in the music business. I didn’t want to franchise - I have hands-on oversight of everything that happens at my restaurants, and that’s really important to me, it’s important to the brand. So here I am, wanting to expand, but thinking to myself, “How the f**k do I get Fette Sau to another city?”
Was Philly your first choice?
Definitely. Philly was the obvious place to go - there’s a growing food scene and an amazing beer scene here. I come down every year for Philly Beer Week, and I’ve even spoken on some panels for beer week events. However, it’s still a totally different city, with different rules and codes you have to follow. And I didn’t want to lose a whole bunch of staff by shipping them down from NYC.
Then you met Stephen Starr?
Yup. A mutual friend introduced us, a year or so ago. We hit it off immediately - maybe because we both have music backgrounds. He was looking for a new concept, and I was looking for a new place. It was just a perfect fit.
How did you decide on this location, right next to Starr Restaurants’ Frankford Hall?
I always knew I wanted to open in Fishtown - I’m good friends with the owners of Barcade [another NYC transplant that opened last year on Frankford Avenue]. The neighborhood is a lot like Williamsburg, gritty, not in the main downtown. As soon as I saw this spot, I knew it was the one.
It’s almost uncanny how much it looks like my spot in Brooklyn. The barbed wire fence at the entrance. The brick patio leading up to an old barn-like door (in Williamsburg we took over a former auto body shop). That’s what I love about Fette Sau - it’s high brow ingredients served in a low brow atmosphere.
Speaking of ingredients, will the menu be the same as Fette Sau in New York?
Very, very similar. We’ll use most of the same meat suppliers - small farms, for the most part, who care for their herds - and we’ll have six meats available at any given time. Over a year we might offer 40 different types of meat, though. And we’ll have the same side dishes.
The beer list will be different, because we’ll focus more on local beers. Out of our 10 tap lines, one will always be cider, and one will be the house beer from Brooklyn Brewery, but three will be special beers made just for us by Philadelphia breweries. The whiskey list will be pretty much the same - there are only a few circumstances where I couldn’t get a liquor I offer in NYC because it wasn’t on the PLCB’s approved vendor list.
What kind of BBQ do you serve?
Fette Sau doesn’t serve a specific kind of BBQ. It’s just my recipe, one I worked on for years as an amateur cook. It’s not traditional. I didn’t want anyone to approach the food with a preconceived notion of how it should taste - Texas BBQ, Carolina BBQ, Memphis BBQ, etc. I grew up in New Jersey, and my family’s from the Bronx, so it’s not like I’m using a secret recipe passed down through generations.
Before I opened any restaurants, I used to throw of BBQ parties and cook for family and friends, and I developed this rub. The main ingredient is ground espresso beans - I got the idea thinking about how cowboys used to rub coffee on their ultra fresh steaks. There are 7-8 ingredients total, but the main flavors come from espresso, brown sugar and salt. That’s it.
Will the ordering work the same way as in New York?
Definitely. You walk in and there’s the food counter, where you order meat and sides by the pound. There’s a bar - this gorgeous old zinc bar that was in one of Stephen’s restaurants once upon a time - where you walk up and order your own drinks or pints or gallons of beer. Then you choose a seat at one of the communal style picnic tables throughout the dining room. The communal seating is very important. Like pizza or burgers, BBQ is a democratizing food. Everyone eats shoulder to shoulder, no matter who you are. We have around 130 seats, so it should be a fun place to get to know other Philadelphians.
That’s a lot of people. Is this restaurant larger than your Brooklyn space?
So much larger. It’s really a luxury. In Williamsburg, we don’t even have a walk-in refrigerator; here we have two! We’ll be able to do more things because of that, like cure more of our own meat. We also have two smokers, compared to just one up north.
When do we get to partake in all this tastiness?
We’re aiming to open sometime around the middle of October, and things look right on schedule.