Introducing Taste Shack: Smoked’s Justin van der Linde Brings His Attention to Detail to Classic Sandwiches and Familiar Favorites

Nearly a decade has passed since Justin van der Linde began selling barbecue from a cart on the downtown mall. The crowds that flocked to his cart only grew when, in 2016, he opened a brick and mortar home for Smoked. Even certified barbecue judges heaped praise.

All the while, as passionate as van der Linde was about barbecue, the culinary school graduate could not shake the urge to make other foods he loves. “I get this itch every once in a while to do something new,” said van der Linde. And so, van der Linde has sold his beloved Smoked, to turn all of his attention to a new venture: Taste Shack, which opens next week on 29N.

For van der Lind, “something new” never means reinvent the wheel. That’s not his M.O. Rather, he takes classic foods he loves, like barbecue, and applies obsessive attention to detail. “I am not the great inventor,” said van der Linde. “But, I do like to make a run at it.”

With Taste Shack, he is making a run at a menu of classic sandwiches and other familiar favorites, where the simple names bely the effort behind them. For “Chips and Dip,” for example, van der Linde first slices and soaks Russet potatoes. He then deep fries the sliced potatoes and, while they are still hot and ready to absorb flavor, tosses them in a house-made “red-salt,” which he likens to a dry rub. The dip for the chips is van der Linde’s take on a classic game day bacon-and-onion dip, but requires a lot more care than opening a pouch of powder. Van der Linde roasts onions in butter, which he chops together with cherry-wood smoked bacon, and blends with beef broth, sour cream, and minced chives.

Fans of Carving Board, the sandwich shop he ran with his wife, will be thrilled to know that sandwiches are a focus of Taste Shack, again with van der Linde’s signature attention to detail. For a Steak and Cheese, he says, the cut of beef is crucial. Too fatty and the fat won’t have time to render on the flat-top. Too lean, and the meat will dry out as it sears. That’s why he calls rib-eye the “king of the cut” for the sandwich. “You get that good mouth feel,” said van der Linde, “and there’s enough marbling that you get that good sear before it dries out.”

For the sandwich, Van der Linde starts with whole rib eye, which he trims to an eighth of an inch of fat. He freezes it briefly to firm up before shaving off thin slices. The shaved beef stays raw until order when it is seared on the flat-top and topped with a choice of cheese and toppings. The whole thing is stuffed into an Amoroso roll, which van der Linde re-bakes at the restaurant, yielding a crisp exterior and soft interior.

As good as the Steak and Cheese sounds, van der Linde’s personal favorite is the Country Gentleman, a nostalgic tribute to a childhood favorite from a sandwich shop called Chubb’s, where his father would take him on Sundays. Van der Linde starts with whole turkey breasts, which he de-bones in house. “This ensures the highest quality whole muscle product,” said van der Linde. “Nothing extruded like you would find in most deli turkey.” He brines the turkey breast for 48 hours in 50/50 sugar and salt, rubs it in salt and pepper, and then roasts it whole, adding honey towards the end of the roast time, to bring a touch of sweetness without burning.

For the sandwich, he piles the turkey with Kite’s country ham, Southern style slaw of green cabbage, and a choice of cheese (he recommends Swiss). Next comes the key, van der Linde says. A house-made Russian dressing that he likes so much that he is tight-lipped about its preparation. While all sandwiches come on a choice of bread, van der Linde says grilled rye is the way to go for the Country Gentleman.

And for those cutting carbs, sandwiches can also be ordered over greens instead of on bread. It’s all made from scratch. House-brined corned beef for Reubens. House-brined and house-smoked pastrami. And a smash-burger inspired by the 2017 Dish of the Year.

A Happy, Hometown Place

The COVID-19 pandemic weighed heavily in van der Linde’s planning of Taste Shack. For guests, the pandemic changed the ways many people want to dine, he said: faster, easier, and often on the run, whether from Apps or instore kiosks.

But, it’s not just ease people seek, van der Linde says. More than ever, people crave a happy escape. And so, his aim with Taste Shack is to create what he calls a “hometown place with hometown service,” where everyone feels welcome and happy. Like The Tavern back in the day. “It’s a shack,” he said, “so come as you are. Bring your kids in muddy cleats and shin guards falling out.”

The pandemic’s lessons extend to staff, too. “I am hearing what the industry is saying,” said van der Linde about restaurant workers fleeing the industry. “Message heard loud and clear. Our staff is just as important as the customer.” In addition to “top pay” and a positive environment, the father of two plans for hours that allow staff a quality life outside work: Monday through Friday, 11am – 7pm.

Taste Shack is located on 29N at 2291 Seminole Lane. Check back for an opening date.