MAIN INGREDIENTS: cured and smoked duck breast, bacon, tomato jam, and cheddar
FUN FACT: Inventor/chef Bruce Bogartz got the first-ever perfect five-star rating from former Metro Pulse restaurant reviewer Bonnie Appetit for his restaurant Southbound, open just one year from 1995-6
He can't pinpoint the day or even the month when he first put together a duck club for his self-named Bogartz restaurant nearly nine years ago, says chef Bruce Bogartz. "I don't really know," he says. "I did it more just on a lark, not really thinking it would ever catch on. Maybe we were out of something one day, and I put this together from what we had on hand. I just thought, ‘A duck sandwich in Knoxville, that'll never sell.'"
Bogartz, who is 43, graduated from the Philadelphia Culinary School in 1989, and the club does draw from two of his signature items. "I've always been known for duck—I'd cure a duck breast and do a leg-and-thigh confit," he says. "And I'd long been doing chicken livers with tomato jam. So this was a marriage of two of my signatures." The salt and sugar involved in the curing of the duck, says Bogartz, pull moisture from the breast, and do something to the protein, creating "kind of a hammy" texture.
Bogartz moved to Knoxville at the tender age of 4 and attended Bearden when it was still a junior high, then Webb for high school. After culinary school and executive chef jobs at places like Warner Bros., he came back to town in '95 and has since developed menus all over, from World Grotto to a to-go menu for the Shrimp Dock seafood market. But the duck club is making its latest appearance at RouXbarb, the intimate Northshore Drive restaurant he and business partner Jay Chia opened in February. "Here, we've one-upped it by smoking the duck as well as curing it," he says. "We have a smoker here at RouXbarb, that was a godsend. This is a smoker you could put a Volkswagen in."
At the old Bogartz, certain customers would come once a week just for a duck club, says Bogartz. The RouXbarb duck club hasn't attained that level of loyalty yet, but it's still very popular. "It spans men, women—it attracts a very strange audience," he says. "People you wouldn't identify as adventuresome eaters love it." But Bogartz himself? "I don't know if I've ever eaten one," he says.
He does know of at least one other place in town that serves a duck club. "I've trained a lot of cooks who have taken certain menu items with them," he says. "They do typically credit me, and they say imitation is the highest former of flattery. But I'm not really concerned about someone stealing from me, because I don't write my recipes. I cook from feel. I just do something that makes sense to me. It's too late in my career to be something I'm not."