Chef Nick Shankland takes a hands-on approach to barbecue. When he decided to start his own smoked-meats business, he built a smoker from an old horse trailer and converted a run-down party bus into a food truck. In May, Shankland will start parking Gypsy Q at 3410 Brighton Boulevard, where he'll smoke brisket, pork shoulder, chicken and roast beef in that converted trailer, then sell plates, sandwiches and sides from the bus.
"I found it on Craigslist," he says of the Gypsy Q rig. "It was only a couple thousand dollars. The thing was awful, but at least it had good bones...so we gutted the entire thing."
Shankland was the executive chef at Hideaway Kitchen + Bar in Genesee until the restaurant closed in 2016 (before that he worked at Colt & Gray, Old Major and Parker Garage), and has been doing private parties and catering since then, while also working on perfecting his barbecue technique. He came up with the Gypsy Q concept during that time, taking a slightly different approach to barbecue.
"What I want to do is offer unique takes on traditional barbecue," the chef explains. "We'll sell meat by the half-pound with sides, or as three different sandwiches with a choice of meat and slaw, or as a banh mi. And we'll do a sandwich of the day on Instagram."
Brisket, smoked over hickory and pecan, will be the star of the meats, but Shankland has also been working on slow roasts that will be shaved thin for sandwiches. "I've been working on a reverse sear on oddball cuts of meat," he explains. After experimenting with several cuts, he found that the humble chuck roast yielded great results when cooked low and slow to medium-rare.
He also wants to differentiate himself with unique sides influenced by Southeast Asian cuisine, especially Vietnamese, Burmese and Thai: turmeric-poached cauliflower with tomatoes and eggplant, for example.
The Brighton Boulevard address will be a little hidden from traffic; Shankland is leasing space behind a row of garages so that he can maintain a semi-permanent location, but he'll occasionally make forays to local breweries, including the soon-to-open Aero Craft Brewing at West 38th Avenue and Tennyson Street. "The whole point is to have a backyard barbecue party every day," he says.
The property where he'll be hosting that party is slated for redevelopment, and Shankland hopes to convert Gypsy Q to a brick-and-mortar restaurant as one of the first tenants in new retail spaces that will be built on that site. Until then, though, Gypsy Q should be smoking. Shankland says the outfit will be up and running in mid-May (depending on when he can schedule his final inspection with the city) for lunch and dinner. Just look for rising smoke and a backyard party on Brighton Boulevard.
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