Back To The Foodture Serves Wings And Burgers With A Side Of Nostalgia
Angel Randolph and Eddie Barnz have turned a former bar in Pitcairn into a culinary destination.
What happens when you fuse the gastronomic lineage of southern grandmothers with the over-the-top culinary carnival of Guy Fieri? You get Angel Randolph. At Back To The Foodture, she serves 104 flavors of chicken wings, more than 30 permutations of hamburgers — including one sandwiched inside of doughnuts — and scores of French fry and hot dog combinations.
Randolph opened the three-table establishment in June with her fiancé, Edward Magwood, who goes by his stage name, Eddie Barnz. He’s a pop-culture enthusiast committed to preserving the memory of the analog age. The two met decades ago as students at Brashear High School; a run-in later in life set the stage for a partnership that weaves destination comfort food into a trip down memory lane in what once was a run-down bar space in Pitcairn, a sleepy borough approximately 15 miles from Downtown.
There’s a vintage Street Fighter II arcade console where, for free, you can journey to the 1990s to pit E. Honda against Balrog in battle. Along the walls are display cases stuffed with vintage video game consoles, board and table games, cameras, action figures and other bric-a-brac, some collected over the years but much of which Barnz has carried with him throughout his life. “I thought when I was a kid that if I held on to these things, my kids would be rich by the time I gave it to them,” he says.
Remember the flashy fashions of the 1970s? You can see photographs of those swinging summers on the long bar, which Barnz and Randolph converted into a pictorial history of the United States from the 1900s to the present day. There are photographs of famous and infamous figures, as well as bullet points describing some of the significant moments of each year. Barnz, who says he often falls asleep watching reruns of TV classics such as “I Love Lucy” and “The Munsters,” peppers the timeline with blurbs about big pop-culture moments, what things used to cost, and the top records of the day. Interspersed throughout are family photographs; you’ll learn, for example, that Randolph’s great-great-grandfather was part of the first publicly educated black kindergarten class in Atlanta.
Take it all in while you’re waiting for Randolph’s scratch-cooked food. Her chicken wings sit at the top of the bone pile in a sports- and beer-loving city that has many places where they know how to make them. Randolph’s offer salty crunch and a little bit of tug when you bite into them, giving way to the tender, juicy meat. You’ll find yourself picking through what you’ve already eaten to search for stray bites. You’ll order more.
What makes Randolph’s wings so habit-forming, though, is the care she puts into crafting her flavorings. Don’t let the fact that she’s preparing chicken wings and hamburgers fool you; Randolph’s savvy layering of flavors demonstrates serious cooking chops. So while 100 flavors seem like a lot, each sings with its own voice — nearly all of them in harmony. Randolph’s hot sauce, which she bottles, has notes of warm spices such as allspice and cinnamon working as undertow for gentle, vinegared heat. Thought you craved salt & vinegar chips? Try Randolph’s wing version; they’re better. Her “Barnzy” sauce — one of many tributes to her family peppered throughout the menu — adds garlic and butter to a hot sauce.
With her most straightforward offering, Beefy Baby, Randolph ranks among Pittsburgh’s top flat-top hamburger-makers. A griddled patty dressed with the traditional fixings and served inside a warm, buttered bun hits all the salty, fatty, savory notes a diner-style burger should hit. Where the self-proclaimed Food Network junkie shines, however, is in the novelty burger genre. One More Chance features two patties dressed with sweet chili sauce, pepper jack cheese and crispy onions inside a soft pretzel bun that Randolph griddles to a near char on its interior to offset the sweetness. “Wow,” is the most appropriate reaction when eating this perfectly balanced hamburger. Buggie Burger, named for her youngest son, is a comically massive tower of hamburger indulgence. Like a club sandwich gone rogue, Randolph stacks a grilled cheese sandwich, hamburger patty, generous portion of bacon, lettuce, tomato, fried egg, mayo-ketchup blend, grilled cheese — and then she repeats the whole thing. It’s wild to look at and so messy to eat. And so satisfying.
While Randolph’s creations venture toward over-the-top, they are rooted in a significant culinary legacy. Among the photos lining the bar are ones that feature the two people who influenced her the most — Grandma Maymi “Sweetie Pie” Burwell and Grandma Ruth “Peaches” Williams. Randolph, the oldest of nine children, spent her early childhood in Monroeville. By the time she was 8, she was Sweetie Pie’s right hand, picking beans from the garden. “She was a deep southern cook. Hog maws, pig’s feet, things like that. She was everything,” Randolph says.
When her parents divorced, Randolph relocated with her mother to Beltzhoover, where Grandma Peaches took over the culinary education. “She was the same way. Make this cornbread. Cook these beans. Learn from using your fingers. Use a pinch of this and a pinch of that. She was the one that taught me how to put strange flavors together. That’s where I learned all of my secrets,” Randolph says.
It’s also where she met Barnz when she was 15. He lived in the Hill District, and the two of them shared overlapping friend groups at Brashear High School. “We came from rough areas during rough times. We grew up in the ’90s when there was a lot of gang violence,” says Randolph.
Barnz says that he’s a product of those times. He was, at one point, homeless for a year, but has channeled adversity into a career that has seen him as a signed recording artist, the creator of a perfume line, the face of a vodka brand and the author of a book, among other things. “I know what it feels like to be homeless. I want to make sure I’m never in that position again,” he says.
Randolph and Barnz reconnected just prior to Randolph’s 30th birthday party. A few weeks later, while cooking for friends at another party, Randolph recalls that she “stepped out of the kitchen for a second and found him in there eating my wings. And, there and then, I knew it was a thing.”
Randolph, a trained nurse, was working at a Veteran’s Administration facility when, following the popularity of her dinner parties, she decided to start a small catering business. Barnz, who was working at the time at a Duquesne Light call center, encouraged her to quit her job and start catering full-time. As her business took off, she started meeting with a real estate agent who led her to Pitcairn and the former bar space. “It was so dark and dingy in here,” she says.
Back To The Foodture is the opposite. Barnz, an exuberant host with an affinity for social media, keeps things lively in front. And Randolph can’t stop working on flavor combinations; eventually, she hopes to have as many hamburger and fry combinations as she does wings.
378 Broadway Blvd, Pitcairn; 412/372-3100, facebook.com/Back-To-The-Foodture-737494689957282/