“It all started with $600 and a dream,” Mighty Quinn's barbecue pitmaster Hugh Mangum told me over the weekend.
With $600 from his last paycheck and encouragement from his wife Laura (whom he had met while at school at the French Culinary Institute in New York), Hugh bought slabs of brisket and racks of fat-flecked ribs beef and pork that he seasoned simply with salt and pepper and smoked slowly in a pit for hours, just the way he had watched his late Texan father do when was growing up. Mangum then sold them at Smorgasburg, an outdoor weekend market in Brooklyn, New York.
His barbecued meats were an instant hit, drawing the longest lines in the Williamsburg market. Two years later, in 2013, Hugh opened his first restaurant, in New York’s East Village, which immediately became of the talk of the town and soon afterward, the darling of the press. Hugh says that while the eatery was already successful when it first opened, a review in the New York Times a few months later made its success meteoric.
This week, with six restaurants under his belt in the United States and one in Taiwan, Hugh opens his eighth, this time, in the Philippines, via the Standard Hospitality Group, the company behind Yabu.
“Who would have thought my life would’ve turned out this way? I thought music would be my life,” Hugh said to me after dinner Saturday in the elegant yet edgy, mostly wood and brick space that I must proudly say was designed by my sister Lara Fernandez Barrios.
Hugh said he had gone to culinary school as a way to get over the death of his beloved father. His muscled tattooed forearms are remnants of his previous life as a drummer in a popular rock band. They’re now used to wield a knife and carve those marbled slices of beef from their large bones. Hugh calls them Brontosaurus ribs, and I must say, a loud “wow” escaped my barbecue-loving lips as soon as I bit into those chunks of smoky, tender flesh sliced from that Jurassic-style bone.
Mighty Quinn’s brisket, cut from the breast or the lower chest of the cow, is some of the best I have ever had. And oh, the burnt ends, chunks cut from the fattiest top half of the brisket, are pure sin. Perhaps at my age it is best to eat just bits of them thrown into the side dish of charred baked beans.
Side dishes are not a mere afterthought at Mighty Quinn’s. The broccoli salad is tossed with nuts, bacon, and cranberries. The roasted potato salad is rich with bacon, onions, and cucumber. Whipped sweet potatoes are swirled with brown sugar. For the Filipino eater, Hugh has created a special rice dish not yet served in his other restaurants.
Pittmaster Hugh Mangum and John Concepcion of Standard Hospitality Group
I’m usually not a fan of bread pudding, but I liked this one: firm, not too mushy, with just the right hint of sweetness. Served a la mode with vanilla ice cream, it ends the evening just right.
Life is good.
Mighty Quinn's is at SM Mega Fashion Hall, Mandaluyong.