Ugly Drum is the smoked meat concept from Erik Black and Joe Marcos, who recently held a high value Pastrami Pop-Up at the 7thatFig branch of Mendocino Farms. The chefs became friends at Campanile and subsequently worked together at restaurants like Osteria Mozza, Literati II and The Spice Table. It was at that late, great Southeast Asian restaurant that Ugly Drum started popping up on Tuesday nights, featuring meats smoked in steel drums, along with complementary sides. When The Spice Table closed, Mario Del Pero of Mendocino Farms brought the duo in to develop a unique smoked pastrami, to be used in Mendo’s sandwiches. Until they can figure how to scale up production, Del Pero, wife Ellen Chen, and chef Judy Han opened their kitchens to Ugly Drum to host Pastrami Pop-Ups. They started downtown on March 5 & 6 with what was the best value of any pop-up I’ve attended, $25 per person for farmers market pickles, toast with English peas and smoked turkey, two kinds of sausage, two large sides, two kinds of bread, two desserts from Creme Caramel LA, beer pairings from Saint Archer Brewery, and some damn fine pastrami.
Black and Marcos started by hand-trimming Angus beef brisket. They cured the slabs “for days,” applied a dry rub and smoked the meat with pecan wood low and slow for 12 hours. The result was sensational, better than most pastrami in town, and on par with L.A.’s best Texas-style barbecue, smoke ring excluded. The dry rub and wood smoke both contributed to a pronounced outer bark, and the meat remained rosy, fat-streaked and juicy, which is where tangy, mustard-based, South Carolina-inspired moppin’ sauce came in handy.
There’s talk about Ugly Drum becoming a brick-and-mortar concept someday, and their pastrami would be a great permanent addition to L.A.’s culinary landscape.