By Jamie Larson
No matter how long we've covered the RI
region there are just some places so beautifully bucolic they render us speechless. Papa’s Best Batch
, a smoked meat sandwich trailer in Red Hook, New York is plunked down in such a place. Since your mouth will be agape, we recommend filling it with something off Jody Apap’s unique menu.
Behind Greig Farm
’s big red barn, with a view of the hazy blue Catskills over yellow fields, and shaded under the lazy green branches of two massive weeping willows, sits a cluster of picnic tables and a shiny chrome 1972 Airstream Land Yacht. The trailer's exterior glitters as sunlight passes through the swaying curtain of leaves. Inside, Apap builds a smoked brisket sandwich with Asian slaw, Swiss cheese and homemade Russian dressing.
The big Yacht houses a roomy kitchen that’s not too hot the afternoon of our visit. The meat is smoked outside in a handmade smoker, a quaint sheet metal tower with a pitched little cottage roof. Apap is busy, working solo, running from outside order counter to kitchen, and he’s smiling.
“My task is to get people here the first time." Apap says, pulling halved egg whites out of the smoker. “Once they’ve been here, they come back."
Apap doesn’t rest on the appeal of the location, though: he’s put together a list of offerings that are not only delicious but special.
“I try to make it so it’s stuff people can't get anywhere else," he says, filling his smoked deviled eggs from a piping bag. Only the whites are smoked (lightly) and have a slightly chewy, texture reminiscent of a good smoked cheese. The filling includes homemade mustard, and the combined woodsy flavor is well balanced and refined ($4 for 4).
In addition to the bestselling brisket ($11), Apap’s other sandwiches are well worth a try. There’s smoked chicken with pesto, roasted pecans and sweet red peppers ($9); smoked salmon with cream cheese, capers and red onion (10); and an open face smoked hummus sandwich ($7) made by smoking, then re-rehydrating the chickpeas. That one comes with a couple deviled eggs for good measure.
Apap was a Bard student who couldn’t bring himself to leave. He worked in restaurants as a bartender, but not in the kitchen, and later moved on to the world of software. He always loved to cook, and sold his own maple syrup and jerky at the Greig Farm farmers market. Then, two years ago, between projects, he decided to change directions. He bought the trailer online and renovated it himself. He taught himself how to smoke meat and set up shop, making his own food on his own terms.
“I put my daughter on the bus in the morning and I’m home to cook her dinner," Apap says as a fitting metric of success. “And I like doing it. It’s way better than hanging out by a computer or bartending."
Another metric is the people who show up right as he opens, like loyal moths to a porch light flicking on. The bread delivery guy pulls up, drops off, then picks himself up a sandwich here, despite the fact he visits many delis a day.
“Even my health inspector can't stop raving about it," says Apap. “I think it’s the combination of flavors. I don’t over smoke anything."
If you were wondering, the name Papa’s Best Batch isn’t a play on Apap’s name backwards or his fatherhood but a family inside joke, where everything that came out of the kitchen was papa’s best batch, no matter what it was. That certainly still holds true here under the willows.
Papa’s is a great place to grab a sandwich on the go, but do yourself a great service: sit at a picnic table and soak in the surroundings. The combination of view and food are calming and quintessential Hudson Valley.
Papa's Best Batch
Greig Farm, 223 Pitcher Lane, Red Hook, NY
Open Wednesday--Sunday, Noon to 5 p.m.