Born as a single food truck during the economic downturn, Korilla BBQ is now arguably a fledgling culinary empire, its fourth storefront having just debuted in Brooklyn’s MetroTech.
The MetroTech location, by far Korilla’s largest at 700 square feet, according to founder Eddie Song, is its first Brooklyn eatery, serving up ravishing Korean barbecue in four varieties — beef, chicken, pork and tofu — since it opened on February 19.
Song — who said he graduated from Columbia in 2008 and who has made it his mission to familiarize non-Koreans with the delectable offerings of his family’s native land — decided to launch his food truck because other job options were limited at that point.
“I didn’t have any fear of failing, because the entire world was failing,” Song confided.
Failure, however, never appeared to be part of the equation for this economics-math major, whose only prior food business-related experience was opening a frozen yogurt store in partnership with his college roommate in Kansas City, where his roommate hailed from. While they sold the business after the latter got into law school, Song said, “It gave me the spark.”
That spark became a veritable ember when the original Korilla BBQ truck launched on October 24, 2010 at 55th Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, “Literally without any expectations,” Song admitted.
“I happened to be very fortunate in that I was doing the right thing at the right time, selling Korean tacos,” he went on.
The result — a long line the first day that was a harbinger of things to come for Song, a self-styled “culinary ambassador” for Korean food who said, once he realized that non-Koreans had little idea of the gustatory delights represented by his native cuisine, “I took it upon myself to be the new face of Korean barbecue. I wanted to bring Korean food to the masses.”
Fast-forward seven and a half years, and Korean tacos are no longer on Korilla BBQ’s limited menu, which instead features its four proteins, along with a seasonal selection of vegetables, a pair of kimchis, and a selection of flavor-packed sauces for topping, in bowls with a choice of two varieties each of rice or greens as a base, or as the filling for a burrito.
I sampled the full repertoire and found the options both flavorful and filling, as well as reasonably priced with the Pork Slap spicy pork, the Buddha Cup with organic tofu and the Sweet Chix ginger-soy chicken costing just $9.64 with three veggies, and the Ribeye of the Tiger Bulgogi costing $10.10 including the sides.
Everything was good, but I was particularly taken with the bulgogi, with its notes of sweet and savory, rich with garlic, onion and fuji apples (which not only lend sweetness but tenderize the meat, according to chef Eugene Law), as well as the extremely tasty tofu, which wonderfully absorbed the mix of sweet, savory and spicy flavors.
Among the veggies, the sweet-sauced kale, smoky sweet corn and intoxicatingly fermented cucumber kimchi were favorites as was the spicy and herbaceous Green Crack sauce with its notes of cilantro and charred jalapeno.
Of course, food that tastes good isn’t always good for you.
But, says Song, this is, because it focuses on food for people who are “interested in eating healthily and locally.
“We have a seasonal rotation of vegetables from locally sourced purveyors,” he stressed, adding that the kimchi, one of Korea’s most prominent contributions to the culinary world, is, as the menu says, “rich with live cultures, meaning we’ve got living organisms working hard for your well-being.”
It all adds up, says Song, to “authentic Korean barbecue but in a very American way.”
And, as Korilla BBQ continues to grow, “We hope,” he adds, “to continue to pioneer the way people eat.”
Brooklyn, NY 11201