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Po’ Brothers draws on Southern roots but finds fun flavor fusions 

CAJUN COLLABORATION

click to enlarge The pork belly po’boy features a vibrant house spice blend made with mixed chiles. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The pork belly po’boy features a vibrant house spice blend made with mixed chiles.

My favorite Detail/glean from Po’ Brothers co-owner and Executive Chef Tom Gillispie is how he couldn’t get his iPhone to read his fingerprints for two weeks because he basically burned them off frying Oreos, Twinkies, strawberry shortcake rolls and apple pie slices.

Co-owner/Chef Audrey DeJesus explains that after battering the items with a pancake-like batter, they must hold them as close to the deep fryer as possible before dropping them in with a slight twist maneuver that helps coat the sweets more evenly. The hot oil burns are battle scars familiar to culinarians everywhere — cooking professionally’s a labor of love that exacts payment.

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And if you’ve been to a county or state fair anywhere, you’ve probably come across all-things-fried vendors that have popularized just about any commercial treat you can think of. I don’t have to tell you what any of those things taste like because you already know from your childhood, but suffice to say once you envelop them in a fluffy beignet-esque batter they take on a new level of guilty goodness that cloys me into a sugar buzz after tiny bites of each but leaves the 11-year-old I’m with proffering her own critique: “Amazing” she says.

But the story of fried desserts falls far short of characterizing month-old Po’ Brothers, a mobile food trailer that is not gimmicky beyond that dessert board. In fact it’s a legit, chef-driven (no pun intended) business built on exemplary Cajun food as a foundation and springboard.

Gillispie grew up in New York and Ohio. He spent four years in the Army, based at Fort Carson, including two Iraq deployments as a cook with a combat engineer company. He then spent two years in the National Guard in New York while attending the Hyde Park Culinary Institute of America. His cheffing career brought him back to the Springs to work at The Summit at The Broadmoor, but with a sixth kid on the way, he departed for more stable work hours to cook in retirement facilities for the past decade. “But this was the goal throughout all that,” he says. He built out Po’ Brothers’ sleek trailer himself during the pandemic downtime.

DeJesus, who developed the menu with him, grew up in a Colombian family in Orlando, where her parents owned a restaurant. She says she wrote her first menu at age 6. Most recently, she was the executive sous chef at Marigold before a transitional stint at The French Kitchen as it pivoted largely to home meals during the COVID-19 on-site shutdown. They chose Cajun, she says, because it’s a melting pot cuisine they both love, that touches on so many other cooking styles.

They aren’t purists about it either, blending in some barbecue techniques and creating fun fusion points like a gator bite appetizer served with a nuoc cham (Vietnamese sweet fish sauce) barbecue sauce dip that pops with apple cider vinegar acidity, brown sugar sweetness and a little sambal-garlic spice. 

click to enlarge Gator, crawfish and shrimp gumbo pops with peppery notes. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Gator, crawfish and shrimp gumbo pops with peppery notes.

On my first visit I also try beautifully breaded frog legs with that same dip and a tangy house remoulade, and a pretty phenomenal banana pepper-topped pork belly po’ boy on a buttery French Kitchen baguette. They braise the pork in lard with their ever-changing-by-mood house Po’ Brothers spice blend (which shows up throughout the menu as a unifying theme) plus a mix of chiles that includes ancho and chile de árbol.

Quickly persuaded that there was more going on here than an average comfort-food  truck, I returned for the true litmus tests: gumbo and jambalaya, plus a generous plate of braised pulled pork (also nuoc cham-laced and strong but not spicy with chile flavors) with sides of potato salad (smoky and outstanding), baked beans (meaty, smoky and a touch sweet), watermelon and garlic bread, for only $10.

Po’ Brothers dishes three variants of gumbo that top out at my gator, crawfish and shrimp gumbo for $20, and two jambalaya options for a few bucks less — I go chicken, sausage and shrimp jambalaya. Both my plates host generous protein portions and the flavors go deep in their respective directions. 

For the gumbo, Gillispie says he builds his flavor up from Cajun trinity-infused chicken stock, finishing with a dark roux made with grapeseed oil. The final product’s not brown and muddy but more a green hue enhanced by ample okra, which lends a sappy goo throughout, coating soft prawns and the tender crawfish bits plus the chewier gator hunks. Though wet, it’s not a full soup like some renditions and pops with peppery notes with an assist from garnishing lime wedge juice.

The jambalaya’s a bit drier but still moist and tacky, muddy crimson from its rich, tart tomato base. Big skin-on chicken wedges are a highlight as are, again, sizable shrimp pieces, and slices of juicy mild andouille. (If you want it spicier, request their fire-roasted pepper paste, which I only learn about in a follow-up phone chat.) The house Hurricane punch (non-alcoholic) makes a fabulous passion fruit-flavored pairing, almost slushy-textured and wanting for nothing despite the missing rum; its cooling fruit and citrus edge helps wash the richness from the palate and refreshes on a near 90-degree day. 

That’s of course not as saccharine a finish as the fried junk food — which, in moderation, I suppose rates kinda amazing after all. The kid’s right. And when someone burns themselves in service of your satisfaction, give some due credit. Po’ Brothers on the whole impresses with foundational wisdom intact, plus that spirit of play and adventure informing familiar Cajun favorites. 

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