Chef Kevin Burkardt got his start in barbecue on the rooftop of the Oaks Theater. He'd haul his smoker to the top of the building and sell his food at the Oakmont venue's concession stand. Burkardt had years of experience working in fine dining, but he says that once he tried his hand at barbecue, there was no turning back.
"That was it for me," recalls Burkardt.
The residency at Oaks Theater turned out to be short-lived and Burkardt soon transitioned to catering only. But a couple months ago, the opportunity popped up to purchase a physical storefront in Oakmont. Burkardt jumped on the chance, bringing head chef and partner Joshua Altimus along for the ride. Tomorrow, Dec. 1, Burk's Barbeque opens its inaugural brick-and-mortar takeout spot at 319 Maryland Ave., in Oakmont.
Altimus and Burkardt spent the last two months cleaning, refurbishing, and rebuilding the space into a standing-room only, take out, catering-centric eatery. The menu, for now, is short and sweet. It lists pulled pork, brisket, and sausage sandwiches, ribs, and homemade sides, including collard greens made with smoked vegetables and a potato salad that Altimus deems “ridiculously good.” The meat at Burk's is smoked for 16-20 hours.
Though barbecue is known for its contentious territorial rivalries, Burkardt doesn't attribute any single region to his style food. He steals a little inspiration from everywhere, with influences from Texas, Nashville, and North Carolina (his signature sauce is vinaigrette based) appear on the menu.
Both Burkardt and Altimus are veterans of Pittsburgh kitchens, with more than 30 years of experience between them. After meeting at Girasole, a Shadyside fine-dining Italian restaurant, the two chefs are ready to ditch the sauté station for a smoker.
That’s what Burkardt loves about barbecue. There’s no sweating over a sauté pan, burns from a fry station, or pushing to extreme limits. With barbecue, all of the heavy lifting is done before customers arrive. It allows for better quality control and consistency.
“I realized you don’t need to make walk-in service so strenuous,” said Burkardt. “You know the product is good before there’s a customer sitting at a table, waiting for food.”
For this first go-round, Burkardt is keeping things simple. He keeps his kitchen local, even down to the wood from his smoker, cut and seasoned in Pittsburgh. Once the restaurant finds its barbecue niche, Burkardt expects the menu to change. But for now, he’s sticking with simplicity.