This Jewish pitmaster in Queens makes barbecue to repair the world
(New York Jewish Week) — Latke sandwiches stuffed with smoked brisket. Barbecue served on challah buns.
Eli Goldman is putting a Jewish spin on his fledgling pop-up barbecue business, but nowhere as loudly, and proudly, as in its name: Tikkun BBQ.
In addition to serving up his food at restaurants and breweries in the area, Goldman is giving back to different organizations that support and enrich his neighborhood of Astoria, Queens.
“I’m a Jew with tattoos selling pork on Shabbat. At the same, it’s called Tikkun BBQ for a reason,” he said, referring to the Hebrew word associated with improving the world through good deeds. “This thing is heavily influenced by my views on Judaism.”
“We have three goals,” he told the New York Jewish Week. “Making exceptional barbecue, inviting everyone to have a seat at our table, and then helping others build their own table.”
As the pandemic began in the spring of 2020 and New York City shut down, Goldman, 33, began cooking barbecue from his home in Astoria. “I was doing it from my balcony during the pandemic,” Goldman said. “You’re definitely not supposed to use a charcoal grill or smoker on a balcony.”
Inspired by an NPR story he heard about Italians helping feed one another during the pandemic, Goldman would lower the food down to the sidewalk in baskets. Word of mouth and social media led to people waiting in line.
Restaurants were closed, COVID was rampant and people were eating outside, so Goldman moved his operation to the open streets. Lines began to form down the block.
From there, he began doing pop-ups at restaurants and breweries in the area. Half of the proceeds of these pop-ups went to different organizations, including Astoria Food Pantry, Astoria Mutual Aid Network, the ACLU and more. The rest went right back into the costs of running a barbecue business.
Goldman doesn’t have a professional cooking background, and when he is not cooking meat on the street he works as a fundraiser at City Harvest, the non-profit food rescue organization.
“At the time things were really bad,” he said. “I wanted to do something that made myself feel more comfortable, but also help people in the process. “This is about doing what we can to support our neighborhood, and making the best food we can.”
Goldman added that he chose barbecue over other cuisines because “more than any other cooking, barbecue exemplifies community.”
This Saturday, March 19, Tikkun BBQ is holding another pop-up outside of Single Cut Brewery in Astoria, where Goldman is partnering with Mama Lam’s to serve smoked red Malaysian curry chicken wings.
The event will also feature a donation drive for The Rolling Library, a literacy organization.
“Mighty Oak Roaster will be with us on Saturday,” Goldman said. “They’re a close friend and supporter, and a local coffee shop in Astoria. We try to show love to local businesses by integrating their products into our menu.”
Goldman said that he was raised religious and went to a Jewish schools in both Florida and New Jersey, where he grew up. He said his parents keep kosher and can’t eat the food he serves, but they’ve attended some of his pop-ups. At one event, he said, his mom made cookies and gave them out for free.
“My mom was concerned that I was buying so much off of Amazon during the pandemic” to maintain the business, he said. “Once they saw I was actually serious about it and there were people coming, they’ve been fairly supportive.”
He spoke about how his community values align with Astoria, which he said is a place where neighbors take care of each other. “Astoria feels real,” he said. “You can walk to your coffee shop and get to know your barber. Those things sound corny and cliche, but they’re not.”
Goldman is now focused on formalizing Tikkun BBQ as a business by making sure all the permits and licenses are in check so it can continue to grow. “I never anticipated it getting this far,” he said. “At the beginning, I was just thinking I might die from this virus. I just feel really grateful and humble. It makes me happy to be alive.”
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