For the past couple of months, Tennessee native and recent New Orleans transplant Joie Todd Kerns has brought his Dream Steam pop-up to local bars and breweries. Kerns served his steamed sandwiches at different incarnations of his pop-up in Nashville, Tennessee and Austin, Texas before coming to New Orleans. He spoke with Gambit about steamed sandwiches.
What is a steamed sandwich?
Kerns: Well, I just like to say it's the best way to eat a sandwich. I've got a heavy-duty commercial kitchen steamer and a slicer, and it's basically a steamed deli sandwich on a hoagie roll. I use Martin's hoagie rolls; it's a company based out of Pennsylvania that recently started distributing in the South. The steamer I use is the Lincoln Fresh-o-Matic. It's just a stainless steel box that uses distilled water and gets super hot really fast. It's got a pan inside that has just enough room for a couple of 8-inch hoagie sandwiches. It takes a second to get hot, and then it blasts it with steam. It's a pretty fast process — less than a minute. You put it in the steamer and it makes a little magic. It melts the cheese and makes the bread nice, soft and pillowy, while still keeping some of the edge of the crust and holding the sandwich together. It's a simple sandwich, but it's a hot, delicious one.
I do four different types of meats, four different types of cheeses and a couple different mayos, and I do red onion and spinach on the sandwiches. So you can choose your own adventure. There's roast beef, pastrami, turkey and ham; provolone, Swiss, cheddar and pepper Jack; and then regular, garlic, spicy and horseradish mayos. I do a tempeh version as a veggie option, which seems to be pretty popular.
What got you into the pop-up business?
K: I've been working in film production for the last decade, and I was kind of a music guy in the past. Back in my music days, I made these steamers at a bar in Nashville — about 12 years ago. They got to be pretty popular at that bar, and I got known for at least making a good steamer with what I had to work with there. So it was always a kind of fun idea, and I thought about doing it with a food truck or food trailer at some point. Of course, that was 12 years ago — when (in Austin) there was still this mystique surrounding the food truck and trailer business. It's always been in the back of my mind, doing it again.
I started doing it in Austin as kind of a speakeasy thing. It was something where all of my friends would come over and I started having little steamer parties out of the back of my house.
I came to New Orleans, and now I've got a baby and I'm trying to stay at home with her as much as I can and not have to work half my life in the movie (business), and so here we are. And in New Orleans, it feels like the timing is right and the place is right.
Where can diners find you?
K: I've done The Broad Theater for the last 10 weeks, which was a great run, but they're starting up their own kitchen. I've been doing BJ's (Lounge) from time to time and I'm at the Wayward Owl (Brewing Company) on Tuesdays. I've been talking to a couple of other breweries. The brewery scene seems great for this, and it's a great bar sandwich.