Livestock, a Sunday pop-up restaurant at downtown Jersey City art crowd hangout LITM (140 Newark Avenue, 201-536-5557), closes this Sunday, May 17, with an all-day blowout dinner party heavy on the offal.
It was at the same Newark Avenue bar one year earlier where Livestock founders Michael Martello and Alan Cano conceived the idea during a slow shift, convincing the kitchen to fire up burgers on grilled corn muffins they bought down the block at Dunkin Donuts. “We ran back to Dunkin Donuts, made another one, and we said, let’s hang out tomorrow, go to Shop-Rite, and buy the weirdest stuff we could find,” Cano said.
After a food blog gave way to dinner parties over a Weber grill on Martello’s deck in the Jersey City Heights, Livestock found its audience by participating in the Jersey City Project, a street fair centered around city hall last July. “We had a beer-braised beef tongue — thick cut, no pastrami slice — and when one guy came up three times to order the same sandwich we realized we were doing something right,” Cano said.
They simultaneously launched Livestock’s Instagram account, but still had no permanent home for a menu that now includes chicken fried sausage Double Downs, kimchi BLTs, and tater tot poutine, until late last October when their former LITM boss asked if they could man the kitchen during Sunday brunch, freeing up time for an overworked chef.
“We started coming out very fast putting beef cheek on the menu without even thinking about brunch,” Cano said. It was a risky move that ultimately paid off. “As much as we wanted people to try the food, we wanted to cook what we wanted.”
“We love working with offal but people aren’t accustomed to it, so we’d try to hide it in dishes that they are accustomed to, so that down the line, they’ve had this before and they’ll order it again,” Martello added, citing dishes like sweet and springy Buffalo chicken hearts that one customer’s young daughter devours like McNuggets, and slow-cooked pork belly plush with fat melted into a bed of charred leeks, recently favored by a communal table sporting mohawks wall to wall.
Not all good things can last, however. Recent renovations at LITM mean a return to form for the kitchen, and Martello’s just begun studies at the International Culinary Center, bolstered by Livestock’s success. He’s optimistic he’s now on the radar of chefs he hopes can guide his career. Cano, meanwhile, is eager to pursue a teaching degree. “Michelle Pfeiffer circa Dangerous Minds,” he joked.
While they always saw Livestock as a jumping-off point for a brighter future, they’ll also always have a soft spot for cooking that’s coursing in their blood, and made from blood, too. “Mike’s half-Scottish and grew up eating haggis, I’m Filipino, and will have pork blood twice a week,” Cano said, tracing the roots of their offal obsession. “There’s something barbaric and completely beautiful about it.”