The crackling of burning wood, the chattering of familiar conversation, the charming Southern decorations on the wall — wait, what’s that smell?
It’s the meat, of course. Lots of it.
That’s what customers can expect when they arrive at Hoodoo Brown BBQ, Ridgefield’s new barbecue restaurant located at 967 Ethan Allen Highway.
“We’re going to have all wood-smoked meats — brisket, beef ribs, pulled pork, pork belly, smoked turkey, smoked lamb breast — you name it,” said Cody Sperry, the restaurant’s owner.
“We’re calling it outlaw barbecue,” he said. “A lot of places say, ‘We’re Texas style or we’re this type,’ but what we’re doing is taking the best of all regions and we’re doing in Connecticut — and we’re going to do it better than anyone else.”
Sperry, a Ridgefielder for the past 16 years, got his start in barbecue with his hometown catering business, CodyQ.
He began entertaining the idea of expanding the business last year and started circling properties up and down Route 7 — all the way from Branchville to the town’s border with Danbury.
The location he wound up settling on, formerly the home to the Bar and Grille on 7, helped solidify the plan.
And then things really fell into place when he brought in his cooking partner, Nestor Laracuente, who was working at Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn.
“There’s a big barbecue community online and we were following each other on Instagram for about a year — that’s where the friendship started through, liking each other’s pictures online,” Sperry said.
“We kept building off each other — exchanging ideas, coming up with recipes and perfecting our game,” he said. “It was a great partnership right off the bat.”
Laracuente recalled first meeting Sperry in October 2014. They were supposed to talk business but wound up talking food for three hours.
“I remember saying when he left, ‘I guess we’re going to have to meet again,’” he said. “We clicked right away — our vision for this place is very similar.”
Laracuente said he had one requirement before making the move from the city to Ridgefield — he needed to cook on a Lang 108 smoker.
“That was my only stipulation,” he said. “I said, ‘I won’t smoke on anything else.’”
“The others just don’t compare,” Sperry said.
In order to get the smoker that currently sits on the back patio of the restaurant, the pair ventured to Georgia in January 2015 to buy the 2,100-pound cooking device that they’ve since nicknamed Lizzie Lang Brown after the wife of the restaurant’s namesake.
“The whole ride home I was looking at the trailer in the back,” Sperry said. “I thought it was going to go flying off on the highway.”
The 2,200-mile trip that included stops in North and South Carolina to some of the best Southern barbecue in the region was a great bonding experience, Laracuente and Sperry said.
Specifically, Home Team BBQ in Charleston, S.C., was where they found the most inspiration for their place up north.
“As soon as we started eating, we looked at each other and said, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” said Laracuente. “They hit on the same philosophy as we do — Home Team is the epitome of high-quality, all-around barbecue.”
Laracuente and Sperry are so dedicated to making Hoodoo Brown that they’ve spent 18 straight hours around the smoker perfecting their recipes and continuing to bounce ideas off one another.
“Nestor is a machine,” said Sperry.
“He’s an absolute rock star,” added Chris Sexton, the store’s manager.
Sperry explained that the brisket he will serve takes 16 hours to cook — and the same goes for all the other smoked meats on the menu.
“Fourteen for the ribs, 12 for the pork belly,” he said. “The secret ingredient is just time.”
“Salt, pepper, smoke, and time — time’s the most important ingredient,” Sexton said.
Although patience is a virtue at Hoodoo Brown, in the barbecue world there’s something that’s more important.
“It’s all about the visual,” said Sperry, who said he learned a lot from starting CodyQ and cooking around town.
“I used to pull up with my portable smoker and a group of 10 dads would circle me asking me questions,” he said. “That’s why we put the window in: We want the customer to know where the meat is coming from; to see that process and what’s going on behind the scenes. That was really big for us.”
“Total transparency,” Laracuente said. “Some places have an electronic smoker in the back, but we have ours for everyone to see.”
Sperry said he used to have to throw one log per hour into his old smoker when doing catering jobs. Now, with the Lang 108, he estimates that a log needs to be thrown on every 20 minutes — if not more frequently.
“We’re not hiding anything,” he said. “There’s no shortcuts for this stuff.”
Who is Hoodoo Brown?
While the smoking process will be a source of entertainment for waiting customers, Sperry and Sexton anticipate they’ll be fielding questions about the restaurant’s name.
“Who is Hoodoo Brown? It’s certainly a conversation starter,” Sperry said.
But it’s not just a conversation — there’s an answer, and a story behind that answer.
Hoodoo Brown was a famous outlaw who formed the Dodge City Gang outside Las Vegas around the early 1880s. Known as “the baddest cowboy of them all,” Hoodoo became the perfect symbol of the restaurant’s outlaw barbecue theme.
“With outlaw barbecue, we’re taking the same equipment and the same traditional stuff, but we’re not using the same flavor profiles that 99.9% of other restaurants are using,” Laracuente said. “For example, when you order pork belly it’s usually served with traditional barbecue sauce — we’re not going that route.
“We’ve developed a sauce we call Hoodoo voodoo sauce to go with the belly,” he said. “It’s earthy and it’s got a lot of garlic. …
“But that’s outlaw barbecue. We’re taking the same techniques but we’re doing it our way — the same way an outlaw does his own thing.”
Sperry and Sexton are both Ridgefield natives and graduates of RHS.
They said cooking for residents at the second Ridgefield’s Gone Country BBQ festival in April couldn’t have been more of an ideal moment for them.
“It was a great platform for us — we loved being at the country fair and being involved in Ridgefield, the place we both grew up,” Sexton said.
“We were really slammed throughout the day, and I remember going over to Cody and asking if he needed a break on the cutting board and he just said, ‘Dude I’m just happy to be serving food again — this is the best.’”
Sperry calls it a labor of love.
“I love cutting it up right in front of someone and handing it to them,” he said. “Making people happy and hearing their responses is why we’re doing this.”
“They’re not opening a restaurant to open a restaurant, they’re opening so they can serve as many people as possible,” Sexton said.
“Ridgefield is home to Cody and I, and working the festival was a reminder of why we stayed in Ridgefield,” he said. “It was the perfect weekend. People were cheerful and very excited about the food we were serving, and that got us very excited to open, because this is something I think the town is ready for and has been for a while.”
The other window
The restaurant’s opening night is scheduled for Friday, May 15. Hoodoo Brown opens for normal business hours, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (kitchen), Saturday, May 16.
Hoodoo Brown will also have a to-go window where customers may order food and pick it up without entering the restaurant.
“If you’re a mom or dad and it’s 6 or 6:30 on a weekday night, then you can pull in without calling ahead of time and we can get you on your way quickly,” said Sexton.
“The cool part of working in a place where the food takes this long to cook is that once it’s ready, it’s slice, scoop and serve,” he said. “We should be able to handle any rush and any type of order, whether it’s two families coming in to sit down together or if it’s a big family order that’s getting picked up in the to-go window.
“We can get them out as soon as they came in.”
Laracuente hopes the to-go window, in addition to the restaurant’s atmosphere, can be a gateway to building the “next wave of barbecue fans.”
“How many times can you really eat Italian or Chinese in a week?” he said. “We realize there’s a lot of young families here, and I think this is such a great opportunity to introduce them to our style of food.”