The notion of the pop-up dining event is no longer novel to Columbus. It’s served as a good way to connect personality with plate for some of the city’s top fine dining chefs (like Hilton’s Bill Glover, Kraft House No. 5’s Marcus Meacham), but the culinary nomads already accustomed to the pop-up lifestyle have also embraced it, naturally.
Catie Randazzo’s Challah food truck and Four Thieves Thirst Parlour recently teamed up for an extra challenge—a five-course, five-cocktail collaborative brunch at The Commissary, pulled together with half the staff of those running big-time brick-and-mortar kitchens.
Here, Stock & Barrel
tells the story in a series of images, with commentary from the principal players, on what it’s like to run such a gauntlet—and more importantly, what it’s like to take off the apron, put down the shaker, and enjoy the moment.
Act I: Prep
“Sometimes a good idea in the planning is entirely different in its execution,” said Four Thieves co-founder Luke Pierce. “Poaching almost 300 quail eggs was one of those things.”
It’s months after the fact, but you can almost hear the brow-mopping involved with that sentiment. Ironically, in this, Four Thieves’ third pop-up, it was intended be stripped down, simpler. Of course, none of the diners in the front of the house taking their seats at the pop-up’s communal seating would have guessed that anything simple was taking place behind the curtain.
Besides the poached quail eggs, the two teams put careful thought into the details—candied kumquats in the “Kumquats & Cardamaro” cocktail and yellow cherry tomatoes wrapped in celery ribbons as garnish for “The Undiluted Champ.”
Speaking of detail, Pierce said it’s their goal to never let the guests leave empty-handed. For this occasion, many walked away with small samples of hot sauce-infused salt with black pepper, toasted celery leaves, and dehydrated lime zest.
Act II: Service
This is when the pop-up kicks into full-go mode. Part prep, part presentation, and all hustle. Guests are welcomed with more than just a smile, with first bites/drinks landing in their hands first thing through the door.
The “amuse course,” said Pierce, has always been very important to the cocktail side—that first crucial taste combination to set the tone. He praised Randazzo’s amuse component, an oyster/salmon/scallop ceviche with ginger dressing and caviar, and the chef was equally inspired by the cocktail pairing. “This dish is going in my little black book,” Randazzo said.
Columbus Culinary Institute instructor/chef Maria Ginsberg kept sneaking into the kitchen for more oysters, laughed Randazzo. “If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am. She is a ball-buster.”
The team resets, refills, and replates between courses, stopping only momentarily for a celebratory drink, and then back into action. Create, gather, repeat. The charred asparagus second—with fried capers, roasted garlic, cured egg yolk, and balsamic—pleased patrons in the inviting Commissary space, started last year by Kate Djupe with just such an event in mind. The space and its occupants and its workers make up the vibe of the morning.
“It was so refreshing to work with like-minded, passionate people who upheld integrity in what they/we created together,” Randazzo said.
Next, diners feast on the main course of duck confit with a Blue Sherry Cobbler cocktail.
“Food should be kept simple,” Randazzo said. “Use quality ingredients, treat them with respect, and the dish will speak for itself.”
Act III: Celebration
The crowd settles into the dessert course, a medley of collaborative brilliance from this one-off team: a coffee-infused rum cocktail with a pinch of pink salt, cayenne syrup, topped with banana foam, and paired with burnt chicken and waffle ice cream. The latter is a “crazy idea” from Pierce, executed to perfection by Randazzo, who has now given it regular space on Challah’s menu.
“This is hands down one of the best things I have ever made,” she said. “Thanks Luke!”
But the group of diners express the most gratitude on this day. They applaud the team, who get to sip a cocktail of their own and join their guests for the final course. One of the guests drove all the way from Cincinnati, having met the Four Thieves team a month before at another event.
Four hours, five courses, 90 cocktails, and 300 quail eggs later, this one’s in the books. Williams takes a pull of champagne straight from the bottle. There’s much to celebrate.
“It’s really intimate to be purposefully creative with another individual. I’d do it again in an instant.”
For more about Four Thieves, visit fourthievesthirstparlour.com. Challah (challahfoodtruck.com) can be found every Sunday at Seventh Son Brewing Co. for brunch, and The Commissary has events scheduled every month at thecommissarycolumbus.com. See more of Nathan Ward’s photos by following @thisismeddude on Instagram.
Images by Nathan Ward
Narrative by Travis Hoewischer
Commentary by Luke Pierce,
Annie Williams, and Catie Randazzo