I visited Joe McPherson's new digs this evening. He's now symbiotically attached to an establishment called OK Burger, which sits on a great piece of property right next to the Cheonggyecheon. The stream is a fantastic landmark that makes navigating to OK Burger extremely easy. It's impossible to get lost. I took the Line 3 subway to Euljiro 3-ga Station, walked out of Exit 4, crossed the Cheonggyecheon, turned left, walked straight a few minutes, and poof—there was OK Burger, on my right. The establishment has done a great job with signage: if you walk the route I just described, you won't be able to miss the entrance. Enter on the ground floor, and OK Burger is up on the second floor.
Here's the entrance:
Here's a sign indicating that you need to go to the second floor:
I had called the place and made reservations for two because I'd been expecting my buddy Tom to join me, but he flaked out and totally forgot, the fucker, so I ended up going to the burger joint alone. The guy I had spoken with on the phone, a possibly British gent named Ben, greeted me as I came in, and a server (can we still call them waitresses? is that politically incorrect now?) escorted me to a far table. The place was fairly empty for a Friday evening, but I'll talk more about that issue later in this writeup.
Here are some pics of the menu I was given. As you see, the first page shows the burger-related offerings. It was the second page, however, that held my attention: that was the page with all the menu items reminiscent of Joe's previous restaurant.
After some deliberation, I finally settled on the smoked chicken and fries, a side of cole slaw, and two appetizers: the shrimp and the cheese sticks. It didn't take long for the food to come out, although the fries came out a few minutes after everything else. That didn't matter to me, however, because the other food so thoroughly occupied my attention.
In the next photo, below, you get a shot of the resto's interior. As you see, the place was fairly empty, but when I met Joe and talked with him about the situation, Joe noted that the place had recently undergone some important changes in terms of management, staff, and menu—changes that coincided with his and his staff's arrival at OK Burger. With a new basic menu to build on, Joe now feels ready to begin marketing more aggressively. He assures me that, even though the current BBQ selection is fairly limited, it will be growing soon. Joe sounds like a much more cautious, deliberate guy now, compared to the heady days at his Omokgyo-based restaurant. I like this new, careful, methodical approach. It makes me want to visit OK Burger more often, just so I can see how the menu's being expanded.
Below: a shot out the window. You see how huge the "OK" signs are; the restaurant really is impossible to miss. As much as I liked Joe's previous Omokgyo location, I think this location is, frankly, better. There's plenty of foot traffic outside, and the location is undeniably more scenic. There's much more potential to rope in random customers here.
And here's a shot of OK Burger's laminated floor, which features playing cards scattered gleefully about. All in all, I like the place's relaxed, unpretentious ambiance. It's an establishment that doesn't claim to be anything more than what it is: a burger joint and pub that also happens to serve the best damn Bama-style chicken in South Korea.
At last: a shot of my meal. Click to expand. After expanding, right-click on the image and hit "open image in new tab" to see the image at its true full size.
Next: a closeup shot of my appetizers. The cheese sticks were interesting–not your typical store-bought mozzarella sticks that get deep fried and tossed negligently onto a plate along with some back-of-the-rack marinara. According to Joe, who sat down to talk with me a bit, these were made with care, and they contained three types of cheese, all of which had melted into a savory harmony. The cheese sticks and the shrimp went very well with the white sauce—one of two sauces that came with my food, the other being the sweet red cola sauce from Joe's previous resto.
And here, below, is a closer look at the chicken. This was a substantially smaller bird than whatever beast had lain on my Taste of Alabama Platter, but it proved to be enough for me, and it was just as succulent as Joe's original smoked/fried chicken. This time around, though, there was no frying: Joe had smoked the chicken for five hours after lovingly applying a fragrant rub to it, then he had crisped up the skin by setting the smoked chicken under a broiler. Even as I type this report, about six hours after having eaten that chicken, I'm still smelling its smoky, fatty goodness emanating from my fingertips—this despite the fact that I must have washed my hands three or four times since coming back to my apartment. It's as if Joe had figured out a way to capture the chicken's very soul, and that soul-essence had sunk into my fingertips. The chicken and I are now irrevocably one.
Joe noted with some irritation that there are people who don't get the chicken: they look at a thoroughly smoked bird and think it's burned. I raised my eyebrows at this; there's a difference, after all, between burning something and charring it or searing it. Even grill marks aren't really burns in the proper sense: when you burn food, this is a sign of a lack of mindful care. A burn comes from excess and inattention; charring, searing, and grill marks come from the careful application of technique. Even the very darkest parts of the chicken I ate weren't burned at all: they were crispy, and right underneath the skin was a glorious layer of dripping, juicy meat.
Below: slaw. I don't think this is Joe's original slaw (is it, Joe?), but like the previous slaw, this one generally avoided a creamy theme in favor of something tangier.
When Joe sat down with me, he was curious to see how well my chicken had turned out, so I cut the bird open and showed him:
Incredibly moist. And the entire bird was like that—every part of it. I can't begin to describe what a tactile and gustatory pleasure it was to pull that chicken apart, drag it through sauce, and suck it down.
As I mentioned earlier, the fries came a few minutes after everything else, and it didn't matter. I basically ignored the fries until there was nothing else left to eat. When I started on them—they were wedge-cut fries—they had already cooled down, but this wasn't a problem: they were still crispy, and they'd been perfectly salted. I had enough white sauce and cola sauce left over to use with about two-thirds of the fries; I turned to a bottle of ketchup when I ran out of the house-made sauces.
Finally, a shot of the smoking ruin that I left behind:
Some people apparently went to Joe's new place expecting it to be exactly like his previous place. That is, frankly, a stupid expectation. McPherson's BBQ Pub was its own thing; this is a different project—more deliberate, more collaborative, and in some ways more experimental. Joe says he's now ready to reveal his new place to the world; I told him I'd do my part to spread the word. Joe's menu is still in its chrysalis phase; it's going to grow and expand over the coming months as he does trials with various items, gets them right, then adds them to the selection (brisket will be a long way off, Joe says). We, the customers, need to show some patience and understanding as this process unfolds. I, for one, remain hopeful that Joe's place will become well known and will grow into something hugely successful; the quality of the product is beyond question, so all that's left to worry about is the marketing.
Go visit OK Burger. Now. I've already described how to get there, but if you're more of a Naver Maps kind of person, the address is 99 Cheongyecheon-ro (99 청계천로). Phone: (02) 2285-6425. It's absurdly easy to find, and the food will be well worth your while.
ADDENDUM: Charles's review is up, and he notes the red sauce is not the cola sauce. Interesting: I found the red sauce rather sweet.