Green Bay Press-Gazette
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- Life & Style
The secret to a really good bowl of booyah? A really good booyah cook — with a really reliable alarm clock.
On Wednesdays when the Booyah Shed & Grill dispatches its mobile unit to the Farmers Market on Broadway, chef Dan Nitka is already up at the crack of dawn logging some quality time with his main ingredient and a pair of 90-gallon cast iron kettles.
"He does it the old-fashioned way, where he actually gets up at 4 in the morning and puts all the chickens in with the bones and everything, and then he cooks them, pulls them all out and debones them all,'' said Polly Worthington, owner of the De Pere-based booyah kitchen on wheels. "I think the people who invest the time in it to make the good, authentic stuff know it takes many, many hours.''
The payoff comes later in the afternoon when the Booyah Shed — the one with all the rubber chickens hanging from it — pulls into the market and the crowds are quick to line up for a piping-hot bowl or a take-home quart before the kettles are ladled clean by evening's end.
"There's so many people who say they smell it way over on the other side of Broadway, because he's got the smokestacks coming out the top, and the wind takes it over,'' Worthington said.
Even visitors from France and Germany have gotten a whiff and been curious enough about the regional favorite — a hearty concoction that's part chickensoup, part chicken stew, part you-just-have-to-taste-it — to try a cup. Locals who got hooked early in the season have been calling organizers of the downtown Green Bay market to make sure the shed is still there. College kids have confessed to ducking out of the dorms for dinner and grabbing a quart to take back because it reminds them of their grandma's.
It's been that kind of inaugural season for the Booyah Shed, which launched at the market this summer and has made a handful of other area stops, including Artstreet and Fall Fest De Pere. The response couldn't have been better, Worthington said.
But then again, booyah tends to have that effect on people. Like beer, burgers, chili and Friday fish, just about every Northeastern Wisconsinite has an opinion about how it should be done and who does it best.
"People are very particular (about their booyah),'' Worthington said. "We've had a lot of people come up and say, 'Well, how good is it? Give us a taste first.' We have many people tell us they're connoisseurs, and they take a cup first and then they buy a quart. Dan gets so many compliments.''
Nitka has been brewing up booyah for more than a decade from a family recipe, most notably twice a year when he whips up an 18-gallon kettle for a get-together of family and friends. But when he and Worthington came up with the idea for the Booyah Shed, he also whipped up the actual mobile unit, complete with a grill, griddle and deep fryer for a menu that also includes kneecaps, the Triple B Burger (bison, beef and bacon) and Sweet Golden Cheese Melt.
Guys are almost as interested in hearing about how he built that shed as they are about his booyah. Nitka gets all kinds of questions about what's in his recipe.
"Young, college students, old people … I think they have an emotional attachment to it, and they like to talk about it,'' Worthington said. "I think because people are so particular about their booyah, they make the time to come back and say how much they like it. Because we've heard a lot of people say, 'You know, you can get a bad bowl of booyah.'''
Nitka prides himself on making his thick, right down to the last quart in the bottom of the kettle.
"People don't want to just drink booyah, they want to be able to eat it,'' Worthington said. "They want to see the meat in it, and he's generous with the chicken and the veggies. You can see the carrots, you can see the potatoes and you can see the beans. It's a meal.''
Nitka doesn't fill both 90-gallon kettles in the unit, but instead lets the weather forecast determine how much he'll make for the market on any given week. He usually sells out, but any leftovers get donated to a nearby homeless shelter.
With cooler autumn weather setting in, the demand for take-home quarts has been up, Worthington said. At least one regular has already voiced his concern about the market winding down at month's end.
"I have a problem,'' he told Worthington. "The farmers market is almost over. Where am I supposed to get this booyah from now on?''
It turns out she had just the answer. Given the encouraging response to the Booyah Shed's first summer on wheels, it's opening in November as a sit-down restaurant in Ledgeview's Olde School Square (in the former Dash 4 Dinner location), where Nitka's booyah, along with a full menu focused on homemade goodness, will be available year-round and right from a drive-thru window.