Momma Mia!

By IGOR GURYASHKIN
Staff Writer
The Voice-Tribune

Chad Cooley.

Chad Cooley grew up in Wichita, Kan., on a hearty diet of his mother’s home cooking and Kansan barbecue. Having moved to Louisville thirteen years ago, he decided in May of last year to open up Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ restaurant on Bauer Avenue in St. Matthews.

Serving up smoked meats Kansas City-style, Cooley’s restaurant has quietly become a place of carnivorous worship for Louisville’s barbecue cognoscenti. With demand forcing him to expand into the property that used to be Zazoo’s Bar & Grill and with a second location on the way, Cooley sat down with the Voice-Tribune to explain how the Kentucky Derby of all things led to him spending every day perfecting the perfect smoked cut.

THE VOICE-TRIBUNE: So how did you come to open a Kansas City-style barbecue joint in Louisville?

CHAD COOLEY: Me and my friend Jamie (Given) had been talking about opening a food truck for a long time but then I had someone be extremely rude to me at another bar in the neighborhood. So Jamie and I decided that they needed some competition.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: So you’re like a neighborhood foodie Tony Soprano?

COOLEY: Yeah (laughs), something like that. We bought a food truck a year ago and it’s still not ready. So while we were waiting to do that we used this kitchen to work on our barbecue and dug in a little bit and now we’re opening at another location on Hurstbourne Avenue and Shelbyville Road in about 3 months.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: So you’ve been well received then?

COOLEY: The response we’ve been getting has been tremendous. It’s been just pure gratitude. People are grateful for being given good barbecue. I guess it’s hard to get good barbecue around here.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: Why do you think it’s is it so hard?

COOLEY: It’s so hard to do well. We’ve sent our pitmaster to study with the seven-time world barbeque champion and visit all of the Kansas City barbecue joints. We do Kansas City style which is mostly a dry rub with sweet and tangy flavors. We do smoked wings as well burnt ends, which is the end of the brisket sliced up. That’s pretty unique.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: Speaking of unique have you ever tried smoking anything more unusual? Venison, duck, rabbit?

COOLEY: We tried smoking camel once.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: How on earth did you get camel meat?

COOLEY: I got a guy (laughs). But in truth it was a little tough.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: You seem to spend a lot of time doing this, but this is not even your full-time job, correct?

COOLEY: No, this is actually hobby, a kind of labor of love. Even though I do it everyday, day and night.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: So is barbecue something you grew up on?

COOLEY: Yeah, absolutely. You can’t get bad barbecue going through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. You can’t go wrong there – it’s beef country. But everything we make is done exactly the way I like it. The baked beans, mashed potatoes and pickles are my mum’s recipe. The mustard too. It’s just one thing after another that I used to eat growing up.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: Do you think you’re recreating your childhood by cooking this sort of food?

COOLEY: Well I’ll tell you what, it does bring back some nice memories doesn’t it? My mum used to hand out jars of her homemade mustard and pickles at Christmas time. But I wasn’t trying to, no. I guess I was just trying to share.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: Why do you think people are so picky and passionate when it comes to barbecue?

COOLEY: I personally get passionate about it because it’s delicious (laughs). What other people find most delicious then divides them into different camps. Flavor, texture, color. But because I taste it everyday, I reckon we’ll get it exactly how I like it. And if we do that, we’ll get it really similar to what Oklahoma Joe’s is doing in Kansas City. But barbecue is like sex – it doesn’t have to be good for you to enjoy it. It’s really good stuff.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: Do you ever get bored of eating barbecue?

COOLEY: No! And I’ve got to quit eating so much because I’m eating it two or three times a day now and I’ve been doing that for six months straight now.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: Momma’s and the Kentucky Derby are inextricably tied right? What’s the story there?

COOLEY: Well, when I moved to Louisville I went to my first Kentucky Derby and I bet on Monarchos (winner 2001) and was hooked on racing ever since. On the ride home I started studying up and started buying shares in a few horses and I’ve been owning bits of horses ever since. Later I was in a deal on some horses that weren’t paying out with some friends and they gave me a piece of Mucho Macho Man and it was a dream come true. I got to walk him on the track on Derby day and in the paddock with my dad. It’s just something that you can’t buy – a dream come true. Then later on some owners made me an offer I thought was exorbitant. So I took the money and used it to open this place.

VOICE-TRIBUNE: Oklahoma Joe’s is famously one the best barbecue joints in the country right? People say you have to eat there before you die.

COOLEY: Joe’s is amazing. It’s in a gas station, an actual working gas station and there is always a line outside of the door. That’s my favorite place without a doubt, although Jack Stack comes close. I like some of our stuff better now, and some of what they (Oklahoma Joe’s) do is better, but we continue to improve everyday. You see there’s nothing fancy about barbecue, but if it’s done right, it’s delicious and people enjoy it. It really is as simple as that. People go and eat barbecue in a dive and it almost tastes better. If it tastes good, people find you.

  • Reed

    Looks as if the cat is out of the bag on this place. Best BBQ you can get in Kentucky.

  • Matt R

    Chad is a great guy and deserves all the success in the world. Look out Joe’s!

  • Casey Bernard

    I’ve known Chad since he moved to Louisville. If you had kept that interview up for 5 more minutes it would have gotten seriously more interesting. My point is he can’t contain himself to much for for to long and he will eventually become entertainment why you are at Momma’s!

  • Matt R

    Chad’s a great guy and deserves all the success. Look out Joe’s, Momma’s is coming for you.

  • Ashley Shadburne

    Blows all the other local BBQ joints out of the water. The wins are to die for. If you haven’t tried Momma’s yet, you’re late to the party.