In My Kitchen: Entering the pit with Nick Wallace of Limestone BBQ + Bourbon
Nick Wallace has a photograph of himself at age 5, sleeping in a homemade barbecue smoker. He remembers selling BBQ for Cub Scout fundraisers in Earleville, Maryland, using recipes and smokers that he and his dad, Fred Wallace, created together. And he remembers going to work at age 13 in a Chesapeake restaurant and finding that he could handle the “abuse” that’s a daily part of working on the line in many high-volume restaurants.
Today, at age 29. Nick is the pit master at Limestone BBQ + Bourbon, which was recognized as both Best New Restaurant and Best BBQ in the July 2019 Best of Delaware issue by sister publication Delaware Today.
You’ll hear the name Robbie Jester a lot when talking to Nick. Robbie’s the culinary director for High 5 Hospitality, which in addition to Limestone owns eight Buffalo Wild Wings franchises in Delaware and Maryland, the Stone Balloon Ale House, and the newly opened Eggspectation. Before helping open Limestone BBQ, Nick was the sous chef for the Stone Balloon before Jester decided that Delaware needed a BBQ restaurant and headed to Austin, Texas, to the iconic Franklin’s BBQ to learn from the masters.
“I don’t think we’re far from Franklin’s now,” says Wallace with confidence.
“I like to get my hands dirty,” he says. “I love the fast pace because I get bored. If you’re not good at your job, you won’t last in the kitchen.”
Wallace says the Delaware Today recognition has driven new business, and the restaurant is doing lots of deliveries and offering live music on Fridays and Saturdays. He also says he’s “hoping to get into the competition circuit soon.”
Wallace works 60-70 hours a week — “it was 100-120 hours in the early going, and I even slept here, but now we have a system in place — and hopes to open more Limestone restaurants without “going crazy.” He took time to answer a few questions about his kitchen.
The key to my success is preparation. I have three full composition books that capture the outside temperature, the weight and type of wood. It’s muscle memory now. I can look at the temperature of the smoker and of the meat and tell you exactly how long it will take to finish. If you don’t prep or practice something, you can’t get mad when it doesn’t turn out or taste right. I have been making briskets for almost 20 years; we did not just stumble across the answer. It was all trial and error and a lot of reading and watching.
The thing most people notice first about my kitchen is … all the ball jars that are filled with delicious vegetables and fruits from our garden, or sometimes I have vegetables hanging up by a string drying out.
The kitchen tool I can’t live without … is a solid metal spoon. They are good for everything from stirring, basting, and plating to eating or scraping a burnt pan. I like the old U.S. Military spoons with US engraved in the base of the handle. I also love a good cast-iron pan. I still use one regularly at my house for every meal I cook. They are great for a lot of things, but they hold heat very well.
In my pantry you will always find … Old Bay. I am a Marylander through and through. It’s part of my life blood. But you will also always find pole beans canned, particularly Kentucky Wonders. They are very hard to find nowadays so we use our own seeds each year. They are amazing cooked with a little salt and pork fat of some type.
My favorite cooking trick … is probably deglazing a fried potato pan with apple cider vinegar and hot sauce. It makes the potatoes crazy good. It is a go-to for me every time I fry potatoes now and being from an Irish/Scottish family we eat a lot of potatoes.
The book I repeatedly cook from … has to be “Heritage” by Sean Brock. He is my favorite chef on the scene right now. He has a way of taking dishes I grew up on that are hundreds of years old and making them new. I enjoy that. The dishes pull out memories for me.
The one thing I always have to serve at a family get-together … is my bread pudding. I started working on the recipe in high school for Skills USA and slowly changed it to my liking, but my family goes nuts over it. I like my bread pudding a little more wet and gelatinous. It molds to a scoop and gets nice and sticky.
My time in Delaware has made me a better chef because … where I grew up in Maryland we didn’t have this type of versatility in restaurants. Where I grew up, we were on a peninsula so there were a lot of marinas, old school-style marinas that all serve the same Eastern Shore classics. My time here has brought a whole new wealth of knowledge with ingredients and techniques.
The most difficult thing for me to cook/create in the kitchen … is healthier food. It sounds like a joke, but I was raised using bacon fat like it was butter. We even use it on corn when grilling. My food definitely will fill the cracks in your heart.
My favorite person to cook with … has to be Robbie Jester. We’ve done a lot together but when individuals with a certain skill level work together on a line it changes the whole feeling of it. We’ve spent many Sunday brunches at the Stone Balloon singing Disney songs as we cooked and plated. It may seem weird, but it allowed us to have fun, keep focused, and at the same time stay in time with each other. When you work with true talent, you can feel the dish, not just taste its ingredients.