the grub street diet

Little Brother’s Phonte Wouldn’t Trust Himself With Biscoff Butter

“I know I’m not that strong.”

Phonte at Frankie and Johnnie’s. Photo: Christian Rodriguez
Phonte at Frankie and Johnnie’s. Photo: Christian Rodriguez

Almost a decade after the cult rap group Little Brother broke up, it was food, of all things, that helped them reunite: Phonte and Big Pooh got together for a cookout where they talked seriously about a comeback. (“Ribs is really what I put my focus on,” Phonte says of his cookouts.) So, last month, the duo — now without their third member, 9th Wonder — dropped May the Lord Watch, a record that Vibe calls “beautiful,” and which Pitchfork describes as “the result of clear-eyed reflection, of getting older and wiser and realizing that petty differences shouldn’t dissolve a true brotherhood.” This week, Phonte was in New York with Pooh to promote the album, feast at the Stand and hit a favorite steakhouse before heading home to North Carolina. Read it all in this week’s Grub Street Diet.

Wednesday, August 28
Woke up to the news that an acquaintance of mine from high school passed. R.I.P. to Allen Travis, one of the most spirited people this world will ever see. I had to call one of my friends and confirm because I saw a lot of stuff on Instagram, but yeah he was a brilliant guy.

I generally try to start the day with some kind of protein, but I didn’t have much of an appetite. I figured I’d probably grab a white-chocolate mocha from Starbucks (with no whip because I have morals).

Around 2 p.m., Pooh and I ended up drinking wine with Elliott Wilson and B. Dot from Rap Radar. I don’t really drink a lot of wine, I do it when the occasion calls for it. It was a red. I generally am a red-wine fan, particularly if I’m going to have a steak. Took my vitamin-C packet with water beforehand. This is rap after 40.

I didn’t have my first meal of the day until 4 p.m. Field Trip teriyaki beef jerky, boxed water, and Bougie Lunchables. That should be a brand, absolutely. But these are Hillshire Snacking — it’s just this meat, cheese, and crackers platter thing that they were selling in the hotel store. Yeah, man, that shit, it held me down. It was like six little crackers, they were like toasty, and then six slices of Swiss cheese, six little pieces of salami, and I think it was only just like 300 calories? Between that and my coffee, I was just strapped fully for starters.

Finished another interview at 6:30 p.m. with the help of Starbucks. God help me.

Around 10:19 p.m., I finally had a meal, at the Stand, courtesy of the homie, Chef Harold. Man. Chef Harold don’t fuck around! You know shit is about to get real when the chef takes your menus away. Crispy fried chicken, spare ribs, pizza, mac and cheese, a double cheeseburger, fried shrimp, and a half roasted chicken. It was absolutely delicious. Out of all that food, I really liked his ribs.

Our comedy buddies Monroe Martin, Derek Gaines, Sam Jay, and Dulcé Sloan sat around the table and helped us run through all of the options. We were just all hanging out, people were coming by the table. We was like, “Man, y’all, please, take something! We can’t eat all this shit!” Hungry as I was, we couldn’t finish all that.

Highlight of the night was definitely Dulcé refusing to let me make my own plate of mac and cheese, saying “I was raised in the south. We don’t do that.” Behold, a lady.

Thursday, August 29
Third day of our press run. Shoot me.

Around 10 a.m., thought I’d start the day with something better and more filling than a white-chocolate mocha from Starbucks, but that was not the case. Coffee and Bougie Lunchables FTW. Again. Snagged some waters from our Genius “Verified” shoot.

We did a “Cop or Drop” segment at High Snobiety and they gave us some boxed water. Before this week, I didn’t even know water came in a box.

By 6 p.m., I still hadn’t ate a real meal. This not-eating-for-the-whole-day shit is for the birds. Is this what the life of a supermodel is like?

Had to break out my Bougie Lunchables a half-hour later during an interview with The Library podcast. Eating cheese and crackers on camera was not how I intended to end my day, but here we are nonetheless.

Finally, a real fucking meal! We stopped by Frankie and Johnnie’s and had my favorite meal, a medium-rare rib eye and broccoli. I’ve been going here for about two or three years now. When I first started doing the Questlove Supreme podcast, we would always stay in the city. Sometimes we’d go to the Village, and we started kicking it at this spot called Reservoir, which is on 37th, and so a lot of times we’d pull up to the spot and we’d get this feel for it. The closest thing was this steakhouse, so I just went and they had a great rib eye. That’s my favorite cut of steak and the broccoli was super good, too. Seasoned well, they don’t overcook it. I was like, “Yeah, this is all I need. My meat, and my veggies.”

When I’m being social, I’ll do a Jameson and ginger ale. That’s kind of my go-to, just my basic. But, after maybe about one or two of them, it’s over. I ain’t drinking nothing else.

Had another podcast taping with Grass Routes. We only drank water during this one. No wine, unfortunately.

Made it back to the hotel at 11 p.m. for yet another interview, this time with the homie Reg from Ambrosia for Heads. If this were anybody else we would’ve told them to go to hell. I’d been talking for 12 continuous hours and was exhausted. But Reg is a longtime supporter and a solid dude. Gotta show up for those who show up for you.

It was time for sleep at 12:30, but not before I busted down these minibar Pringles and a 7 Up. Because, after midnight, I develop the appetite of a 12-year-old.

Friday, August 30
Checkout time! Yes. It was time to go home — but not before one more interview. No coffee or Bougie Lunchables to start the day.

Got on my flight at noon and had my customary combo of ginger ale and Biscoff. Breakfast (?) of champions.

Man, listen, I love Biscoff cookies. They have the Biscoff butter and I can’t do it. I just refuse. I haven’t even tried it. All my friends swear by it. They say it tastes better, but I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I know I’m not that strong.

Finally made it home to have my first home-cooked meal — a bowl of my wife’s spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce and garlic bread. My wife is already a great cook, but after three days of eating on the run, this shit tasted like manna from heaven.

Whenever she gets a craving for some kind of carb, she just cooks every carb dish known to man: She’ll cook pasta, she’ll cook cheese potatoes, mashed potatoes, crêpes. She just had a craving for pasta, so she made some spaghetti.

Seeing as though I had to get on another plane in less then 24 hours, I decided to keep the road-food tradition alive and got some fast food from our local burger joint, Cook Out. I call it a burger joint, but they sell burgers, dogs, chicken, barbecue, quesadillas, chicken nuggets, wraps, and have over 40 different milkshake flavors. I opted for a cheeseburger (“Cook Out Style” with bacon), seasoned Cajun fries, and a sweet tea. It is where diets go to die. It is also a North Carolina staple and you must put respect on their name.

Watched A Black Lady Sketch Show around 11 and collapsed.

Saturday, August 31
Woke up at 11 a.m. Hadn’t been able to sleep this late in awhile. GLORY. Wife decided to make breakfast of eggs, pancakes, and bacon. The eggs were scrambled with cheese and she put a little turkey in them — that’s how I like them. For pancakes, sometimes she’ll buy this mix — I think it’s from Trader Joe’s — and use that to make the pancakes. When this run of shows is over, me and the gym will be getting reacquainted.

After a whole day of running around getting ready for this flight that leaves crack-ass in the morning, I finally had dinner at 11 p.m.: Baked chicken thighs, rice, and mixed veggies. Simple, yet effective.

I didn’t get to cook much this week because of the album. When I cookout, ribs is really what I put my focus on. Yeah, ribs is tougher to cook than people think. They require a little bit of finesse. They’re tough to do. Anything else, you can finesse your way up. Chicken, burgers, hot dogs, there ain’t nothing to that. But if you can do ribs, if you can get a real good slab of ribs, man … yeah. That’s a sign of somebody who knows what they doing on a grill.

I do mine simple. Normally, I buy the baby backs or sometimes I buy the Kansas City cut. Most times I go with the baby backs, though. You get them, take a butter knife, cut the membrane off the back of them. That keeps it from getting chewy when they cook. Then I just spice them down with garlic powder and onion powder. Sometimes I’ll do a cherry rub that I have, to slightly sweeten it, and top it off with the basics: garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, a little sea salt. I usually seal the top with some extra garlic salt or paprika! I’ll hit it with that at the end.

Then, I’ll just cook them on the grill. I like to do them with some smoke, so I’ll hit it with some cherry, apple, and hickory smoke because the apple always gives it a little sweetness on the end. It’s really mild, but then the hickory gives it that really, that real-deal wood essence. I do that.

Ideally, you want to cook them slow and low. A buddy of mine, he’s a competition barbecue guy. There was a big controversy because a lot of times when you grill, a sign in the black community of good food is that it quote-unquote falls right off the bone, and was just what we thought: “Oh, man, the ribs fall off the bone. Chicken fall off the bone.” But when you talk to those guys who cook in competitions or whatever, like pit masters, they say that if the meat falls off the bone, it’s a sign of it being overcooked. So I was like, “Ah, okay!” It’s a certain kind of texture they were looking for, so it’s levels to this. I’ve been taking the past couple years and just kind of perfecting my cook.

Every time I do it, I learn something new. I love doing my ribs on the grill. I love doing chili-lime butterfly chicken. Cut the whole chicken, marinate it overnight with a little bit of lime juice and then just do some chili-lime up over that. When I’m home, when I have time to actually cook, and actually eat with my family, that’s what I like to do.

And never boil your ribs — please! Put that in full, boldface, like: NEVER BOIL YOUR RIBS! Anybody who starts off their recipe and they say, “Yeah, boil the ribs”? They don’t know what they fuck they doing, and that is a crime in their state.

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