“I’d Don’t Care.” “I Don’t Know.” “I’m Not Hungry.” “Whatever.”
The names of food items on the kids’ menu at Tom Brown’s Restaurant are a hoot.
Even the title of that section of the menu, “I Want To Go Home,” is inspired.
Tom Brown, the namesake chef and owner of TBR, explains the appellations.
“That’s just what you hear from kids all the time,” Brown says. “You know, What do you want to eat? ‘I want to go home.’ Well, OK they have that section on here. What are you hungry for? ‘I don’t know.’ Well, they got that too.”
At Tom Brown’s, “I Don’t Care” is a grilled cheese made with cheddar; “I Don’t Know,” sliced chicken breast; “Whatever,” a four-ounce sirloin cap steak; and “I’m Not Hungry,” a Wagyu cheeseburger. They’re each served with fries.
Tom Brown’s Restaurant opened in June, at 8141 Hwy. 72 W. in Madison. Described as a “premium casual restaurant,” their main menu is built around steak and seafood.
Tom Brown’s is housed in a former pizzeria. Tom and wife Ashley Brown had the place gutted and totally redid the space, with Ashley designing a comfy-chic interior dotted with boho chandeliers overhead.
One day back in September, Tom Brown checked in from one of the restaurant’s two patios for the following phone interview. Edited excerpts are below.
Tom, since your wife designed your restaurant’s dining room is to fair to say the kitchen there is your “man cave”?
Yeah, that’s fair to say. The kitchen, that’s me, all my recipes and all that. She doesn’t go back there and I don’t help her design (the décor).
Your first restaurant job was washing dishes at age 13. What pot, pan, etc. was the biggest pain to get clean back then?
It was always the pan from the stream well (table). It had dried stuff stuck to it. That was in a little city called Shenandoah, Texas just outside Woodland, Texas and Houston. The restaurant was called The Hungry Hobo and it was kind of like a Denny’s.
If Tom Brown’s was to be known for just one item on the menu, which would you want to be known for?
Probably the Chilean sea bass. It’s not something you get all the time, it’s a higher end fish and just for the buttery melt in your mouth flavor.
There’s a 38-ounce steak on your menu called Tomahawk Steak. Why call it that?
That was just because the restaurant’s called Tom Brown’s so it’s just a big steak that looks like a tomahawk and it has the word “Tom” in there. It’s a bone -in ribeye and ours has like about an 18-inch bone in it.
There’s a fried alligator app on the menu. Anything interesting about cooking or acquiring alligator?
Actually, we sell a lot of it. But the alligator, as far as getting it, it hasn’t been that hard yet. Other things have come and gone worse (during the earlier, more shutdown part of the pandemic), just because of COVID, like the steaks and your seafood and stuff. A lot of those places kind of closed down. Because restaurants weren’t open. So your cattle wasn’t being directed to restaurants, seafood wasn’t being directed to restaurants. It was all going to markets. So you’re going to the grocery store to pick them up. That’s been tougher than getting alligator.
Tom Brown’s first opened during the pandemic and even had its opening delayed because of it. What’s something you’ve learned from launching during such a challenging time?
Opening during the middle of a pandemic, there’s no manual for it, so we kind of had to figure it out own our own and do it. It gives us a chance to spend a little more time … Because you’re probably going to be opening with 25, 50 percent and you want to make sure you take care of your guests. So we spent a lot of time focusing on that.
And then the adaptability to the change the menu and things because (at that time) you didn’t know what you were getting until the truck pulled up and they took it off the back of the truck. You could order it. But it didn’t you were going to get it. It may in stock, it may be out of stock. You just had no idea. That’s for any kind of food, supplies. It was just crazy.
The last fast-food you ate?
It would probably be a pizza. MOD Pizza here in Madison, they have them all over.
At Tom Brown’s, there’s a cocktail called Pistol Packin’ Papa with real gold flakes in it. How much gold goes in a drink? And where do you get the gold from?
It’s actually an edible gold flake that you can get. We found them online, a couple different companies that sell them. It’s a gold flake you can sprinkle on the drink. You can eat it, drink it, it doesn’t matter.
What else is in there?
It’s got Four Roses Bourbon, Malbec wine, simple syrup and a little bit of lemon juice.
What are your other interests outside of food, and the usual “spend time with family” stuff?
I’ve always liked building things. And I have a passion for flying just to get away, small airplanes, and I love to play golf.
You ran a restaurant in Mississippi before opening Tom Brown’s. What was the Mississippi place like?
The name of the restaurant was DT Grinders. It was a 1900s house that was converted into a restaurant and we bought it and built it back to how it was before. It was steak, seafood, some Southern cuisine.
What drew you from Mississippi to Madison?
Well, before Mississippi, I was Los Angeles for a long time. There’s a lot more people in Los Angeles than there was in Meridian and we just felt like we needed to grow. We went from Meridian looking around and Huntsville kept popping up on a lot of the charts as far as growth and what was happening, infrastructure, all that type of thing. Ashley said, “I’m not moving to Huntsville, Alabama.” We drove up here one day and here we are. [Laughs] We just love the place. It’s the feel of a small city that doesn’t have your skyline and all that of larger cities. There’s lots of trees and land around so it’s not like it’s a concrete city. But then you still have all the (economic development) growth going on here.
The bio on your website says you worked in other industries for a while before getting back into restaurants. What other industries?
A lot of everything. I had an air ambulance charter business back in California. Did real estate for over 20 years.
Best you’ve got some stories from the air ambulance business.
Tom Brown’s Restaurant’s hours are 4 – 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 4 – 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Phone 256-715-1283. More info at tombrownsrestaurant.com
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