All Nick Suarez, founder of the wildly popular Food Experiments, ever wanted to do was hang out in a backyard, wear shorts and grill stuff. And now he’s living that dream every Thursday through Sunday night behind a Williamsburg pub.
Suarez has quietly launched “Backyard at Iona,” a charm-filled shanty with a tin ceiling, running water, walls that double as chalkboards and a utensil rack attached to a tree. The grill menu may change weekly depending on the chef’s mood, but he’ll always offer the basics: burgers, brats, sausages, and side salads, like potato and cucumber.
Oh, but these aren’t just any brats and burgers. Suarez got here only after leaving a career in the wine world, going to cooking school at night, working at a highfalutin kitchen, beating Bobby Flay in a hot-dog cook-off, then starting his own cook-off series as well as a catering company.
So why’s he flipping burgers? “[The stand] is really just for me to experiment, for me to work on my burger – just to make the perfect burger,” Suarez says with his standard understated affability.
The perfect burger, in case you’re wondering, is a hybrid between a Shake Shack burger and a Big Mac, and getting the special sauce down is crucial. That’s why Suarez starts with the Thousand Island-like base we all know and love from McDonald’s, but makes it fancier and more acidic with cornichons, pickle juice, lemon zest and paprika. “You put [the sauce] right underneath the burger and that just elevates the whole thing,” he says with amazing conviction.
From there, he adds toasted Martin’s sesame buns (a la Shake Shack), iceberg lettuce, chopped, fried onions, and a grass-fed patty from Marlow & Daughters, via Kinderhook, NY, that he grills simple, with salt and pepper. “If people are seeking out [happy cows], then I can offer it to them,” he says.
Then there are the specialty sausages, sourced from Brian Merkel, Suarez’s old friend and founder of Detroit-based Porktown. Merkel, also a butcher at Dickson’s, creates sausage recipes like a caraway bratwurst with lemon and orange zest, toasted caraway, white pepper and ginger. And he makes a smoked knackwurst that’s outta this world.
“He’s always talking about sausages,” Suarez says of Merkel, who’s clearly his carnivorous soul mate. “He’s always talking about meat. And he’s got lots of crazy ideas.”
If you show up to Iona one weekend and don’t find Suarez in the backyard, it means he’s overseeing a catering event for his burgeoning “anti catering” company, Backyard Cooking Company. But don’t fret: he’ll be back. Because for Suarez, it all comes back to living the dream. “First and foremost, I love wearing shorts while I’m cooking. I love hanging out in backyards. Who’s not happy in a backyard?”
Probably no one, especially when Suarez is grilling.