March 2024: Issue 39

Taking the Show on the Road, Game on, Prize Inside

by Joey Wolosz | Published March 30, 2024

A Note from Joey Wolosz

March has turned us every which way but loose. Our calendar has us full-bore with our energy and enthusiasm put toward hosting guests, developing recipes, tasting from the cellar, evaluating wine, traveling, acting (yes, acting!), performing music, and various other welcome tousles and turns.

We enjoyed a glittering weekend in West Hollywood, where we attended the wedding of dear friends and star comics Sarah J Halstead and Rich Chassler. 

Among many other talents, Sarah and Rich have a knack for seating. Jeff and I had a fascinating evening sharing a dinner table with the stunt double for the infamous rabid St. Bernard in the Steven King film Cujo, Gary Morgan. 

Our nuptial night of elbow rubbing included other comics, radio personalities, famed contortionists, and one of the Ken dancers of the Oscar night’s performance by Ryan Gosling, bringing full Kenergy to the dance floor. With the wine, the food, the people, and the view, it was a colorful and sensational night full of love.

Working with the inspiration from our short séjour in La La Land, Jeff and I are putting in the work with weekly evening improv classes. Our troupe of roughly 25 people works together to hone performance, stage skills, and improvisation because, as you will read further, “the show must go on.” 

In this March issue, we are coming in like a lion. Jeff and I bring back the Gentleman Farmer roadshow, featuring everything enchanting and wonderful from the kitchen and the cellar. We follow the post-NFL season with offensive guard Kraig Urbik. 

Finally, we go out like a lamb with the prize inside this missive, a sip of rosé, and a crackerjack of a snack mix: the Cracker Jeff.

We last took the show on the road to Dallas, Texas, in November 2019. Jeff and I visited three wine club members’ homes over four days, introducing ourselves, our story, and our wines to their guests.

As many are aware, in addition to our time crafting Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast wines, we cure meats, make sausages, patés, and cheeses, bake bread and brioche, dabble in viennoiseries, develop mustards, and try our hand at pickling.

An exemplary wine club couple has invited us to bring all this tasty goodness and our wines to their home in Indiana this June. We call the evening The Butcher, The Baker, The Cabernet Maker.

Kyle and Megan are very kind in organizing this intimate soirée, letting us tell our story and introducing our wine to their close friends.

Watch out, Indy. Here we come.

Have an event in mind? Drop me a line.

In my childhood home, the televised hum of football season was comforting. It had a steadiness even with the rise and fall of muffled excitement. I get that same assured feeling visiting with Kraig Urbik. His wife Emily and he have been our friends for a few years, making time to stop by and share wine and often lunch when they find themselves in the Napa Valley.

Kraig is retired from the NFL, having played offensive guard for nine seasons, most notably for the Buffalo Bills. I caught up with this wine-loving Wisconsin native, talking about his start in football, pierogi, and slapping a bag of Franzia.

You can find and follow Kraig @kraig_urbik.

The interview was transcribed and edited for clarity.

Joey Wolosz: Tell me about your early interest in football.

Kraig Urbik:  My dad was actually about baseball. We grew up south of Chicago, and he was a Cubs fan. I didn’t get into football until I was in middle school and high school. I started playing in eighth grade. I was a late bloomer for football, for sure.

JW: Many football players, former players, coaches, NBA players, and other celebrities are getting into the wine business. Do you have any favorites?

KU: Drew Bledsoe of Double Back Winery in Washington  State. He played quarterback [for the New England Patriots and finished his career with the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys].  

Also, it surprised me Post Malone’s Rosé is pretty good. We were drinking it in the Outer Banks. It was a good wine; I really liked it. I haven’t had any NBA players’ wines yet unless I did and just didn’t realize it.

JW:  Do you have any plans to be involved in the wine business?

KU: I have wanted to ever since we started coming out to the Napa Valley and fell in love with wine. I don’t know how much I could be involved in Pittsburgh, but I would love the opportunity to be a small partner. It would be fun for us.

JW: What was your initial connection to wine and food growing up in Wisconsin?

KU: It was in college, slapping a bag of Franzia. My parents weren’t drinkers, so I didn’t have that growing up.

It wasn’t really until Emily and I started dating. I had started playing in the NFL, and we started going to steak houses, places with a good wine list, places with food and wine pairings.

Our first time out to Napa, we fell in love with learning about everything that goes into winemaking: farming, the soil, how you store it, how you age it, and different things. 

It was, “Wow, this is interesting.” How can Cabernets from two neighboring vineyards 100 yards apart taste completely different? Why does that happen? We started falling in love with everything that goes into it. We’ve been out to the Napa Valley six, seven, or eight times and continue.

JW: What influences what you cook and eat?

KU: We’re Polish and Czech. Emily’s mom and dad make awesome pierogi. We are going to have them for Easter. We host, and I do a ham. Her parents will bring a couple of trays of pierogi, and I love them. They’re so good, potato and onion with a little cheese. 

JW: Now that you are retired, what are your creative outlets?

KU: I have been helping out with football. I am doing some stuff to recruit and watch films for the defense. I help break down game films and tell them schematically what the other teams are doing. For recruiting films, I tell them which kid looks good or would need some more training. 

Also, I’m working out and just running around. My oldest, Harrison, is eight and does sports after school six days a week. After school, we are going from 3:30 to 6:00 or 7:00 at night.

JW: What do you enjoy doing?

KU: Emily and I love going out to dinner. I love hanging out in our backyard with the kids and going into the pool when it’s warm. I enjoy happy hour with our neighbors, Jeff and Brian, hanging out at their place. 

I love working out a couple of hours a day and going into a sweat. It allows me to drink all the wine. My gym has different classes: pilates, cycling, and other stuff. It’s fun. I started to do yoga, and I do a bit of cycling. They have a cool class called THE TRIP by Les Mills. There is a screen around the entire room that you are interacting with while you’re biking. It’s a cool thing to do. I do it two or three times a week.

JW: Friends and family excluded, living or dead, who are two people that you would like to have a long lingering meal with?

KU: I thought about this question the other day. I’d love to have a long, sit-down dinner with Anthony Bourdain. I think it’d be good to hear his stories about food, culture, and his life. I’ve read some of his books and am fascinated by his life. I’m also sad how that ended. 

I don’t know who the other person would be. Maybe someone obscure like Abraham Lincoln. 

JW: What would you serve Anthony Bourdain and Abraham Lincoln?

KU:  I’m good at smoking meat. I’ve got a couple of smokers. I’d do something like ribs or pulled pork, or I’d go risky and do a brisket and see if that turned out because that would be a “me” thing. I’m good at cooking quite a few things, but I know I’m good at smoked meat, which you can have a beer or wine with.

I’m a meat-and-potatoes guy, salmon or steak and veggies. I’d serve a good pulled pork sandwich with pickles and potato salad. That is always a good meal.

JW: Tell me your approach to smoking.

KU: Because with kids and around sports, I won’t be there the whole time to tend to it, my most trusted smoker is the Yoder. It’s a step above the Traeger. I like the Yoder because it is a thicker gauge steel that retains heat better. If I have someone’s practice from noon to two, I can be gone and not worry about the temperature spiking or dropping. Set it and forget it; the smoke is always consistent. 

I also have a version of a big green egg that uses lump charcoal called Kamado Joe. That one tends to cook things a lot faster. I’ve only had it for a year and a half and need to tinker with it more.

If we’re having a pool party that night and I want stuff done by 5:00, I have to wake up at 3:00 am, prep everything, and get on a smoker so it’s ready in time. There are a couple of different guys that I follow for their methods: smoke for so long, finish it in the oven or on the smoker, then rest in a cooler for a few hours.

The biggest mistake some people make is taking it out of the oven and just putting it on the counter because it’s only 65º or 70º in their house. It sinks it down quickly and allows a lot of juice to come out. When you put it in a Yeti, the heat stays and comes down slowly.

We made pulled pork for a party one time. It was done at 2:00 pm, and we weren’t eating till 5:00. It stayed in the cooler until five o’clock. I pulled it out, and it just fell apart. I still had gloves on; it was so hot, like 180 or 185º degrees internally.

I also do St. Louis-style ribs. I am so dialed in now that I can do it blindfolded: on the smoke for four hours, wrap it, put it in the oven for two, then put it in a cooler to rest for an hour. They come up perfect every single time. Emily’s dad started doing pastrami last year. He used spices, and I think he brined it. He puts it on the smoker, and it turned out phenomenal, which is something I want to do this spring: a couple of pastrami briskets.

JW: Who are you following for these tips?

KU: Aaron Franklin at Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, @franklinbbq. His place is always considered one of the country’s top three or four best. He has a couple of good cookbooks for beginners just getting into it, to more advanced. His books are great. 

He has recipes for how to do every kind of meat, how he does his pork, how he does his ribs, how he does his brisket. He has recipes for barbecue sauce, pickles, and pickled onions. It’s a good book, and I always lean on it whenever I’m in a funk. 

JW: What animal do you most associate with?

KU: I see a bear. I’m big and fuzzy. I’m protective of my kids and my wife. It is cute and cuddly, but you don’t wanna mess with it.

JW: What is your motto?

KU: Our mud room has a sign that says, “Work hard and be nice.” 

It sounds simple: whatever you’re doing, cooking, or playing with the kids, work hard at it, and make sure you’re doing it to your highest ability. And just be nice to people. It doesn’t matter if they have different views or if you disagree, just be nice. It is simple but effective.

This is Jeff’s adult spin on an American classic, the Cracker Jack. Popcorn still plays the leading role in his recipe, with the humble peanut swapped for cashews, walnuts, pistachios, and pecans. Traditional, sticky-sweet molasses receives an upgrade from its pomegranate cousin. Complex, exotic spices and heat come from adding sumac, cayenne, and ground pomegranate seeds – anardana.

Even with these tweaks, the Cracker Jack slogan registered in 1896 is still fitting, “The more you eat, the more you want.” We seem to want this snack with a bit of rosé.

Pairing Recommendations

2022 Sonoma Coast Rosé
Cracker Jeff
2021 Napa Valley Chardonnay