The charity cook-off Hogs for the Cause has helped fan the flames of barbecue appreciation in New Orleans, creating almost 100 barbecue teams that compete at the event and pursue great 'cue year round.
Now, Hogs for the Cause has also inspired a new barbecue restaurant in New Orleans.
Frey Smoked Meat Co. officially opens Friday (Nov. 11). It shares its name with the Hogs for the Cause team started by the local Gruezke family. That family includes Ray Gruezke, chef/owner of the new American bistro Rue 127, just a few blocks away.
Having a chef in the family was key to the new restaurant concept, but so was the extracurricular cook-off experience at Hogs for the Cause.
"If we didn't do Hogs, this never would have happened," said Ray Gruezke. "I didn't even start doing barbecue until Hogs."
Naturally, the menu is anchored by barbecue platters and sandwiches, with meats smoked over a mix of oak and pecan in a gleaming new smoker that’s roughly the size of a bank vault. The menu at this full-service eatery also has burgers (fat single patties or slim double patties), fried chicken, smoked oyster salad, an array of mac and cheese options, and “Frey shakes,” or over-the-top dessert concoctions that ring in at $15.
The new restaurant is a family affair, just like the Frey Smoked Meat Co. cook-off team.
The eatery is part of Mid-City Market development, in a building that was previously home to Loubat foodservice supply. The address has never before been a restaurant. Starting with that blank slate, the Gruezke family hand-built much of the interior. They've worked details all across the space.
Door handles are fashioned after meat cleavers. The bar, which resembles a burly pergola, faces roll-up garage doors opening to patio seating. Racks above the dining room booths hold logwood for the smoker. Order a tasting flight of bourbon and five glasses arrive notched in a long, bent stave pulled from a bourbon barrel (the bourbon flights — in the $10 to $13 range — come with a snack, too, pork belly poppers of Brussels sprouts).
The Hogs for the Cause connection is clear across the eatery. The Frey team's trophies decorate a wall, and sales of the bar's "hogarita" cocktail go to bolster the team's fundraising total.
For one weekend, Hogs for the Cause transforms a green glade in City Park into something lik…
Hogs for the Cause raises money for pediatric brain cancer support services, and more than 90 teams now compete in various categories of whole hog cookery. Each year, these teams seem to up the ante, with more ambitious levels of outdoor cooking, bigger production values for the camps and barbecue stands they build for the event, and higher fundraising totals. Still, a restaurant stemming from the event is new.
“We had no idea when we started this that it would grow like it has, but it’s really become a community among the different teams,” said Rene Louapre, who co-founded the event in 2008. “To see a new restaurant come out of that community is really cool.”
The Gruezke family first fielded a team in 2013. After racking up awards for top ribs and second overall in the competition, plans for a permanent concept started taking shape.
The cook-off experience is also what got Boe Reboul into the hospitality business. He was previously in corporate sales, but after being bitten by the barbecue bug at Hogs for the Cause, he’s now kitchen manager at Frey Smoked Meat Co.
“The first year, all we had was a folding table and a plastic tablecloth. Then we won first place for ribs. It’s grown exponentially from there,” said Reboul.
For the name Frey Smoked Meat Co., the family reached farther back into its own history. The chef’s great-great grandfather Andreas Frey was an immigrant from the Alsace-Lorraine region on the French/German border. In the 1850s he had a stall in the French Market. A generation later, the family business became L.A. Frey and Sons, which evolved into a meat packing company based in Lafayette and a commercial brand used across the region.
4141 Bienville St., 504-488-7427
Opening schedule: Nov. 11 and 12 for dinner.
Regular schedule (beginning Nov. 13): open daily 11 a.m.-10 p.m.