It started with fantasy basketball. They call themselves “15 strong,” a group of friends who were part of an NBA fantasy league.
“Then one thing led to another,” said musician Rico Blanco.
“We built an events company. Then it snowballed into this,” added DJ Aaron Atayde.
By “this” they mean Backyard Kitchen and Brew, our new favorite hangout at UP Town Center.
Aaron explained: “We’re trying to create a place where everyone comes together— your family, friends—to have a nice meal, maybe some drinks, stay and talk. That’s what happened with us; it’s really a weird combination of people.”
The group has gotten bigger. There are 21 of them now—an interesting mix that includes rock stars like Rico, Kelvin Yu and Jugs Jugueta; DJs Aaron, Slick Rick, Sam YG and Boom Gonzales; fitness coach Chappy Callanta; and entrepreneurs Mohit Dargani and Paolo Paraiso.
“We’re 15-strong plus friends,” chorused the ones who sat with us a few days before Backyard opened last month.
Rico said, “You might think we’d have a ‘too many cooks’ kind of problem but it works out. And usually, the best idea wins.”
No strangers to business
They aren’t strangers to business; some of them had put up Alphonse Bistro, Vault, Route 196, the Pino group of restaurants, Relik, URBN, Red Kimono and Baskin-Robbins.
Some of the partners may be celebrities but, as Aaron said, “The food is the heart and soul of Backyard.”
Rico added: “Chef Ed Bugia is taking the lead by doing what he’s always wanted to do… We’re just building around that. We’re bound by the same vision—a place where we can just chill and be ourselves.”
Ed, the talented chef behind Pino, said, “Most of my brands were very theme-oriented. Here, I had a bigger range when it came to the menu. We’re going for the farm-totable concept that’s more rustic. The exact term is locovore.We use local produce, local ingredients. It’s rustic comfort food.”
Rico noted that Ed “likes to play with the classics… The things you know, the things you love, we’ll have that and then we’ll have fun with it.”
That evening, Ed served his Salted Egg Chicken Skin Garlic Flat Bread—a dish his partners were really excited about. “It’s like a pizza with salted egg, fresh egg, chicken skin, cherry tomatoes, ricotta and mozzarella,” he said.
His Nose to Tail Fettucini, which has pork cheek, beef brisket, ox tripe and chicken liver, was rich and full of flavor. The pasta is made fresh.
Chef Ed also served stewed itik, “stewed for a long, long time,” he said, “until it’s soft and tender.” He served it with panaderostyle pan de sal (“small, para malasa talaga”), jalapeño, jam and fresh ricotta.
Aaron said, “You put it together, you make your own sandwich with the fresh pan de sal… Oh god.”
The fresh ricotta is made especially for the restaurant. Chef Ed said, “This guy has been supplying all of my cheeses for one of my concepts, Pi Breakfast and Pies. He’s from one of the great dairy makers here. He wanted to retire and make his own cheeses. I said, ‘You have to use all organic.’ When he produced it, grabe, ang layo ng lasa niya sa mga normal na cheese.”
Chappy, a coach and a proponent of healthier food, said, “We believe if we get good ingredients, the food will speak for itself. We really source good ingredients from organic farms—we leased it so we grow what we serve, from our own backyard talaga.”
A couple of weeks later, we returned to Backyard for a late lunch. We had the salted egg chicken skin—the appetizer, not the flat bread. It was so good that we’re practically addicted now. We also tried the lobster and prawn roll—lobster and prawn bits with mayo-butter dressing on a buttered brioche bun topped with cherry tomatoes and fried celery leaves; and the grilled grapes with ricotta.
It was a great meal in a comfortable, unpretentious place.
That’s exactly what the Backyard crew wants. “We want people to come here and experience the kind of fun that we have with each other,” Aaron said, adding that their NBA fantasy league continues. “Last year, Jugs and Rico were in the finals. This year, Gabe Norwood is in first place but we’ll see.”
Backyard Kitchen and Brew is in UP Town Center. Find @backyard_mnl on Twitter and Instagram. Use the hashtags #cometogether and #ourbackyard.