Bringing Home the Bacon Bros.

| July 1, 2017

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Bacon Bros. Public House is located on Sugar Land Town Square. (photo by Mara Soloway)

Travis Cook And Joseph Zerwas Bring Inventive Restaurant To Sugar Land Town Square

Text by Mara Soloway

As you walk toward Bacon Bros. Public House on Sugar Land Town Square, the smell of bacon being smoked hits you about a block away. If you can’t get to the restaurant by following your sense of smell, the hoof prints painted on the sidewalk that say “Bringin’ Home the Bacon” will point you in the right direction. The pork-eater’s paradise is Bacon Bros.’ first expansion from its Greenville, South Carolina base. At the helm are Houston entrepreneur Travis Cook, 27, and Joseph Zerwas, 35, who is a Fort Bend native and chef du cuisine.

Cook was familiar with Bacon Bros. through his business travels through Greenville and decided he wanted to bring it to Texas. He and the key players there began discussing bringing the concept here in 2016. The restaurant opened in Town Square in February 2017. It has its own smoke house and a charcuterie chamber visible from the street where many of the menu items are cured. Craft beverages are served, along with locally sourced dishes such as pulled pork shoulder, coffee crusted pork chop and a burger that includes ground bacon. It also has a variety of chicken dishes and salads.

“Farm-fresh food, powered by bacon” is the restaurant’s tagline. “Most things we do are powered by some sort of pork product. We try to use every bit of it – we break down the pigs and use the bones to make stocks, the rendered fat to sauté, and we make head cheese. It’s a respect for the entire animal,” said Zerwas. The crispy tail on the Greenville menu may become part of the menu here.

The restaurant is also part of the farm to table, locally sourced movement. The biggest challenge is finding farms that deliver the amount Bacon Bros. needs but Zerwas has developed several sources. Eggs and chickens come from Three Sisters Farm in Humble and pork from Yonder Way Farm in Fayetteville on the way to Austin. “Their philosophy is to treat the pig to its best life every day with it having just one bad day,” Zerwas said.

Working at Bacon Bros. seems like the perfect gig for Zerwas, whose taste buds can discern the different flavors of pork meat cuts. “Bacon, ham, ribs – everything tastes so good. Pork has a sweetness to it, it’s easy to flavor, it’s easy to smoke, and you can cure it. We make all the charcuterie we use here in our chamber, including our bacon,” he said. “Our biggest complaint is that we don’t have enough bacon.”

He learned how to make charcuterie in South Carolina from Bacon Bros. chef Anthony Gray. “It’s very much a science, and he’s perfected it over 15 years. Everything that goes into a charcuterie chamber makes such different flavors depending on the environment.” That drying and smoking meats is a process people have used for a very long time appeals to Zerwas. “Not only does it taste great but it creates a very long shelf life.”

It’s been an interesting road for Zerwas from his days as a college student to Bacon Bros. Public House. His journey might have been vastly different if he’d had 1) a better TV at one time in his life and 2) more gas in his car at another. During his last semester at Texas State University, Zerwas had a television that only played the Food Network. “That’s what I watched the entire semester. That hit it home to me that I wanted to go to culinary school after I graduated,” he said, which is just what his mother had encouraged him to study while growing up in Richmond with parents John and Cindy and three siblings. He created a chicken and ranch dressing casserole that his mom kept making for years afterwards. His mom, who passed away in 2014, is the inspiration for Zerwas to do what he does.

In college he finally figured it out for himself. “I wanted to have a job where my job is my hobby. My mom and dad always told me you should pick somewhere to work where you would work for free,” he said.

After graduating from Texas Culinary Institute in 2007, Zerwas started his nine-year career at catering firm Behind the Bash, working his way up to executive chef. While there, he and some close friends developed Bourbon and Bacon. “We started doing pop-ups around town mainly at bars that didn’t serve food. One of the bars, Little J’s, really loved it so much that when the owner expanded we partnered up,” Zerwas said. His company owned the kitchen; it was like a food truck parked in a bar. His efforts while working at Beyond the Bash and Bourbon and Bacon earned several first place culinary awards such as those from Eater, Thrillist and Knot.

Zerwas says the day he and Cook met in June 2016 went from being the worst day of his life to being a Cinderella story. “I ran out of gas in the only turning lane on Shepherd in 5 o’clock traffic. It was only a block to a repair shop, but I only had a one-gallon gas can so I ran back and forth four times. And on the fourth time, my credit card was cut off for irregular activity. When I went back to my car, I was finally able to turn it and blew the alternator.” Sweating and in his chef suit, he pushed his car into the shop. Travis Cook happened to be there waiting on his car, with the idea of opening a local Bacon Bros. already on his mind. Cook struck up a conversation with Zerwas and soon visited Bourbon and Bacon several times, and the two formed a relationship from there.

“Joseph has extensive culinary training, both formal and informal, and does a great job cooking with feeling and passion,” Cook said. “He was the perfect fit to helm the kitchen for this concept, and we couldn’t be more excited to have him on board.”

The restaurant is powered by bacon, and Zerwas is powered by the restaurant and the people he works with. “Working in a restaurant, you see these people more than you see your family, so I want everybody to have a smile on their face and have fun.” But he’s also powered by food in general.

“It’s amazing that taking four simple ingredients and putting them together in the correct way can change the expression on someone’s face. Seeing people happy – I love being able to do that.”

Joseph Zerwas and Travis Cook.

Joseph Zerwas and Travis Cook. (photo by Julie Soefer)

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Curing meats hang in the charcuterie chamber visible from the street. (photo by Mara Soloway)


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