A Finger-Licking Tale of Supply and Demand (and Sisterhood)

At Loaded, a burger and barbecue joint in Garwood, a dish called Brisket Gravy Fries has a life of its own—brief but intense.

Brisket Gravy Fries are available only on Fridays and Saturdays. Owners Jacob Han and Kevin Conti, who created the dish, make it in batches that seem insufficient to meet demand. They sell out before many people even get their gastric juices flowing for dinner.

That the dish looks impossible to digest is no deterrent. Looks deceive. Brisket Gravy Fries are, ultimately, irresistible.

At about 6 pm on a Saturday, I stepped to the counter of this two-room eatery and, before I could utter a word, was told Brisket Gravy Fries were done for the night. Crushing.

Also gone were the almost-as-popular Pulled Pork Fries. Ditto the pulled pork itself.

“We’ve just got burgers left,” said Han, as Conti looked at me and shrugged. “Sorry,” Han added, sounding sincere.

As I tried to contain tears, Han grilled burgers while Conti tried to console by reciting all the great burger combos at Loaded.

These two are charmers, I told myself. I placed an order for five burgers, smoked chicken and fries every which way they do them.

Think of Han and Conti as the Butch and Sundance of meat-and-potatoes. Their spirit and humor rob you of your sanity as you go for whatever they toss on a grill, fry, smoke or slow-cook.

So call me Etta (as in Etta Place, the real Sundance’s sweetheart). Except that, after an evening of burger-and-fries at Loaded, I, unlike the real Etta, would take a bullet for these guys.

First, Han and Conti know how to dress a burger. Their burger sauce, dispensed in squirt bottles, is made of mayo, whole-grain mustard and a minor amount of ketchup. Perfect. Pure ketchup, to my mind, ruins a burger.

Second, they emphatically state on their blackboard menu what I’ve maintained for years: Lettuce and tomato are just plain wrong on a burger. I’ve been waiting for decades for someone who gets this stuff.

Will they marry me?

Anyway: Before I get to the burgers, I’ll talk smoked chicken. Loaded seasons theirs with a spice mixture called Team Sweet Mama’s BBQ Chicken Rub, which the guys buy from Savory Spice Shop in Westfield. It’s got salt, garlic, brown sugar, onion powder, paprika, cayenne and, I suspect, a pinch of magic.

Loaded’s smoked chicken legs were most flavorful, juiciest bird parts I have ever had.

How’d that happen?

Another shrug, this one from Han, who says: “Yeah, we sprinkle the chicken with the rub and throw it in the smoker. Then we take it out and caramelize it with a torch.”

Now I’m carrying a torch for them.

I loved every burger I ordered. They’re made with beef that comes from the esteemed purveyor D’Artagnan—all natural, from grass-fed cattle, sustainably raised.

Try these combos: cheddar-avocado-mushroom; blue cheese and frizzled shallots; goat cheese and bacon; avocado and shallots; Swiss cheese-mushrooms-shallots.

Cheese fries with a Swiss mushroom shallot burger at Loaded Burgers & BBQ in Garwood, New Jersey

Cheese fries with a Swiss mushroom shallot burger

All burgers come on a brioche bun, a puffy, elegant, golden-brown vessel that serves beef and its accents very well.

The mushrooms were extraordinary. Sliced super-skinny and pan-seared with salt and pepper in canola oil, they were just shy of crunchy and full-on delicious. They kick up the typical sauteed mushrooms by about 1,000 notches. .

Loaded’s regular fries—get them seasoned with hot spices, salt-pepper-secret spices or vanilla, or ladled with cheese or gravy—are good, but not in the same league as Brisket Gravy Fries.

Sigh. I paid up and was about to leave. But I needed to know something.

“What does a girl have to do around here to get some Brisket Gravy Fries?” I asked Han. “I’ll follow the protocol. Just tell me what it is.”

“Just a second,” he replied.

He turned to the griddle, messed with a couple utensils, then handed me a small container.

Gasp! It was a two-bite portion of Brisket Gravy Fries.

Down the hatch it went, delivering exactly what the name promises. As I smacked my lips, a young woman sitting at the counter spoke up.

“They gave you some of my Brisket Gravy Fries,” she said, smiling widely.

Sure enough, a heaping order of Brisket Gravy Fries was in front of her.

“Hey!” I called to Han. “How’d she get these?”

“She ordered them in advance, and we set aside a portion for her.”

Ah-ha! So that’s the secret. Become a regular; learn the Order-Ahead trick.

I snapped this photo so you can see what all the fuss is about. To tell you the truth, they are so delicious, I’d jump off a cliff to eat ’em.

Brisket Gravy Fries at Loaded Burgers and BBQ in Garwood, New Jersey

Brisket Gravy Fries

Loaded, 103 Center Street, Garwood. Open 11 am to 9 pm daily, except Sunday, when the hours are 1 to 6 pm. 908-264-7222. loadednj.com

Photos: Andrea Clurfeld

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