It all started with chicken on the side of the road
November 27, 2019
Brine has been open for over a year now on Eighth Avenue serving up seriously good chicken and sides. If you’ve had the pleasure of eating at Brine, you’ve probably seen Dan the owner and founder, up front working on a laptop, or even in the back washing dishes. No matter who you see at Brine, they’re some of the kindest and friendliest people in the neighborhood. We sat down to chat with Dan on how, quite literally, chicken on the side of the road was his inspiration to open the business.
Tell us about your inspiration to open Brine.
The inspiration behind Brine was hating chicken growing up. I hated chicken and never wanted to eat it because it was always dry, and I couldn’t stand it.
Several years ago I went to the Caribbean, and went up to a guy cooking and selling chicken out of a metal barrel on the side of a street. The chicken was incredible. It was juicy and tasted like nothing I’d ever had before. I asked him “what is this and why is this so good?” and that’s when he told me about brining. From that moment on, it stuck in my head.
How’d you get here?
I love to cook and always wanted to do something that I didn’t think was out there. About five years ago, I was working for a tech company, and thought, you know what, I want to see if I can do this restaurant business.
I took a course at the Institute of Culinary Education for restaurant entrepreneurs. From there, I wrote a business plan during the eight month long course. After the course, I went to work for a restaurant group as a 40 year old intern. Basically, I wanted to see what it was like to be in the restaurant industry in the real world. I met a ton of people and also met my chef, Joseph Lonigro, there.
I told Joseph my idea about chicken, and said “this is what I want,” and that was where we began. We started meeting like crazy and experimenting with brining. We’d have a certain amount of salt, sugar, garlic, and were just handing out chicken. After brining for 24 hours, we’d give the chicken to friends and family with a sheet to mark off whether it was too sweet, too salty, etc. Then we gave them detailed instructions on how to cook it all while moving hundreds of pounds of chicken around to everyone. We did little variations, big variations and documented everything. Finally, after countless taste tests, we found what is the perfect brine recipe.
What is brining for those that don’t know?
Brine is a process in which you infuse the protein with a certain liquid. In this case, water, sugar, salt, garlic, and all these different things. You take a massive amount of water to boil it, and then put salt and sugar so it becomes part of the water. You then cool it, put the raw chicken inside cold water, and then in the fridge for 24 hours. The water with the sugar, salt, and garlic, infuses inside the protein. If you do it correctly, you can have chicken without anything on it and it’s amazing. Once we take it out of the brine, it has to lay for about 12 hours in the fridge to get out excess moisture. It’s a 36 hour process from start to finish. It’s not the easiest way or sometimes the most cost effective, but it’s the best, and makes the chicken taste incredible.
How long did it take to perfect the recipe?
The recipe for the brine took about a year. It was exhausting because you never knew if something was too little or too much. I was cooking in my kitchen every single day and so was Joe, the chef and the COO. We were both working on the recipe but would let each other know what we were doing so we wouldn’t duplicate efforts. We would work on variations, and then compare.
What sets Brine’s chicken apart from other chicken?
What we do is take the hardest path imaginable. Our brining method takes 36 hours and not a lot of restaurants will do that just because it takes such a long time. It was our insistence that it has to be this way. We wanted to redefine fast casual, by doing fine casual. We wanted the experience to be beyond what people thought of fast casual, we have real plates, silverware, and want the experience to be that of a quality restaurant.
Favorite menu item at Brine?
My favorite, which might sound boring, is the quarter chicken without any sauce, that is by far the best. Also the grilled coleslaw for a side is probably my favorite.
People watching here is incredible. It’s one of the coolest places in NYC because you see everything and everybody. There’s just so many different parts of the district that make it cool and that’s why we’re here because we wanted to be right in the middle of it all.