For the better part of his still-young career, Chef Ray Gruezke was known for his deft work in fine dining, from his stints at Commander’s Palace and Le Foret to his charming bistro Rue 127. But throughout his white tablecloth career, Gruezke continually sought out opportunities to embrace his inner casual carnivore, from competing in the High on the Hog Cook-off at Hogs for the Cause to hosting fried chicken pop-ups as the Endymion parade rolled down Carrollton Avenue in front of Rue 127. In late 2016, Gruezke converted his part-time obsession into a full-time gig with the opening of Frey Smoked Meat Co.
Barbecue is front and center on the menu at Frey, with Flintstones-sized beef ribs (typically seen only as a fleeting special around other joints in town) offered daily. Tender St. Louis–style pork ribs (a first-place winner at this year’s Hogs) are not to be forgotten, nor is the juicy and flavorful sausage made in-house. Brisket and pulled pork are best enjoyed in sandwich form, the former in the Bar-B-Cuban, and the latter when paired with caramelized onions and slathered with horseradish cream inside a soft roll.
Burgers are divided into “fatties” (a single half-pound thick backyard-style patty grilled over an open flame) and “flatties” (a duo of quarter-pound diner-style patties griddled on the flat top). In the fatty category, decadence unsurprisingly abounds, with burgers topped with pulled pork and coleslaw or jalapeño mac and cheese. Excess is not lost in the flatty category, though, either with the triple-decker Big Daddy Flatty or the Half & Half with one beef patty and one hot sausage patty, layered with melted American cheese and dressed with house sauce.
The aforementioned fried chicken is cooked to order and arrives fire-engine hot, with a crunchy crust encasing a juicy interior. Pair a leg and thigh with one of the four types of mac and cheese, with partiality going to either the bacon and pepper jack or pimento cheese varieties. To start, order a basket of gargantuan biscuits, standing nearly three inches high and served with honey butter, and cheese fries topped with brisket chili (worthy of ordering on its own), shredded cheddar and sour cream. Should there remain any room left in the tank at the conclusion of the entrée round, an overindulgent shake or an avalanche of cookies makes for quite the exclamation point at the end of the meal.
Frey traces its roots back through multiple generations of the Gruezke family to L.A. Frey and Sons, which was owned by Chef Ray’s great-great-grandfather Andreas Frey. What started as a small stall in the French Market eventually grew to a packaging plant in the Ninth Ward and a slaughterhouse in Lafayette. Although that business and those facilities have long since closed, the family tradition continues and looks to have a bright future, complete with pork belly poppers.
4141 Bienville Street; Sun–Wed 11a–9p, Thur–Sat 11a–10p; freysmokedmeat.com;