When someone decides to open a quick-
service restaurant, slow braising is probably not the first technique that comes to mind. First of all, if you’re braising an item, it means you’re dealing with a tougher cut of beef, lamb, or whatever protein you’ve chosen as a centerpiece. And second, braising relies onpressure, the right amount of heat, and, importantly, time to effectively create a dish robust in flavor. Time is not something you have in spades at a quick-service spot.
Mayhem & Stout founders Jay Brown and Steve Applewhite were willing to try it, though, mostly because they saw no one else was executing the technique in a fast-food-like atmosphere. The team began with appearances at pop-up events like Madison Square Eats and the dearly departed Dekalb Market, deciding that serving braised meats with flavorful
toppings and sauces on a Caputo bakery roll was the best way to win over diners. The strategy worked. The success they found traveling from one local food festival to the next earned them a following. This paved the way for the next phase:
a permanent location.
Using popular combinations along with a mix-and-match menu is a tried-and-true tactic to please the sandwich-eating masses. Some entrants, however, can be tough to swallow despite the
valiant attempt. While the short rib and brisket with red wine “vin-yayo” (vinaigrette mayonnaise) and pickled vegetables ($5.25 half-sandwich/$9 whole) display
a harmonious relationship between the three menu categories, other choices fall flat. One such case: the lamb shoulder with tzatziki, tahini aioli, and red harissa ($5.75/$10). While the creaminess and tang of the tzatziki was refreshing, the red harissa atop the braised lamb shoulder dominated my taste buds. The spicy taste of the dish didn’t mesh well with its
accompaniments, and left the taste of salt lingering on my tongue even after downing a cold lemongrass black tea.
On the do-it-yourself side of the board, choosing a combination that shouts creativity and taste can cause more problems than rewards. Pulled chicken with blueberry Sriracha and pickled onions ($4.75/$8.25) didn’t quite hit the mark, as the smattering of sweet sauce wasn’t enough to overpower the dry taste of chicken. Another make-your-own order of chicken, blue cheese aioli, and potato chips also lacked enough sauce to sufficiently combat the dryness. But adding other toppings with no extra charge enables you to have fun with the process. How about onion confit? Throw it atop any meat you like. What best complements chipotle mango sauce? You be the judge. At the end of the day, the menu aims to be playful, even if it can cause frustration with its execution.
A majority of the suggested combination menu items were middling. Pork shoulder with dragon sauce and spicy slaw ($5/$8.75) turned out more messy than memorable; another pulled chicken, this time with blue cheese, buffalo vin, and celery ($4.75/$8.25), was a bit bland, not at all the boldness of flavors I was expecting. Perhaps the bakery roll isn’t the best choice to showcase the fillings. And maybe the meat, sauces, and toppings all vie for supremacy and wind up hurting one another. Whatever the case, there is reason to believe Mayhem isn’t total chaos. What the food lacks in distinguishable traits is made up for with quick service and big portions. The halves are large enough to fill you up by themselves, and ordering two different sandwiches could qualify as dinner. You leave feeling you got your money’s worth, because you’ll likely be carrying leftovers.
Though Mayhem does its best to offer comfortable surroundings, you’re better off making that order to go. Framed posters with phrases like “Braised and
Confused” on the walls above containers of soda stacked within the dining area give off the vibe you’re in a chef’s unkempt
college dorm room.
While they’re fine for a break in a typical lunch routine if you work nearby, these sandwiches leave a lot to be desired. Braising is a phenomenal way to bring out the flavors in an otherwise unwanted item, but it gets lost here among the pickled toppings and bold sauces. Few menu choices seem to make the journey to Mayhem & Stout worth the trip, great portion size and all. Luckily, ownership is accustomed to working in an environment where things require a slow build to get started. All of the ingredients are in the pot. It’s getting them to work together that’s the hard part.