Like the first man who ate an oyster, it was a bold customer who originally pulled up to the slate-gray Turf Catering + Kitchen awning—stuck onto the end of a six-bay Meineke Car Care Center, which itself sits deep inside a Castleton commercial strip—and thought, Let’s give this a try. Open for weekday lunches only, with a smudgy chalkboard menu mainly of sandwiches, and a seating area barely bigger than your average ATM vestibule, Turf doesn’t look like much. Everything comes out wrapped in brown butcher paper or arranged inside foil to-go containers. It doesn’t serve alcohol. There is no bathroom. And yet this concrete-floored nine-seater with a location that feels like the scene of a mob hit pushes the envelope for high-quality, full-flavored takeout food made from scratch.
In Turf’s chef-run kitchen, slices of fresh turkey breasts, butter-smoked in-house for four hours, fill out a bacon-and-Swiss-stacked club sandwich served on homemade Cuban water bread swiped with black-pepper mayo. For the short rib grilled cheese, whole bone-in racks of beef are seared, braised, and pulled before the meat juices are reduced to a demi-glace and drizzled on the sandwich with red-onion jam and soft, rich German butterkäse cheese. Sides range from earthy pesto-roasted root vegetables to charred cauliflower salad warm and tangy from capers to shamelessly greasy state fair-style onion rings fat with batter. But only a fool would sub out the homemade potato chips, hand-sliced every morning and fried to a delicate russet crunch. They are salted. That’s it. Curled and burnt-looking, these gnarly crisps would never pass the Lay’s inspection nor win any potato chip beauty contests. Still, try to eat just one.
The gritty industrial setting is no shtick, not like the polished motorcycle rims stylishly suspended over the bar at B Spot Burgers.
This style of basic food done surprisingly well pretty much sums up the philosophy behind Turf’s entire menu of homey, unfussy food that’s messy enough to require moist towelettes. It’s anything but low cooking, however. Co-owner Tim Kiesling spent more than a decade with Cunningham Restaurant Group. As a corporate executive chef, he opened the first Stone Creek Dining Company in Greenwood and then helped launched the next nine restaurants in the Cunningham canon. He paired up with longtime friend Matt Peterson to start the catering end of Turf in 2013. In May, they unveiled the restaurant—calling it a lunch counter—in front of their 1,000-square-foot commercial kitchen that happens to share a roof with a business that replaces brake pads and rotors.
The gritty industrial setting is no shtick, not like the polished motorcycle rims stylishly suspended over the bar at B Spot Burgers or the garage doors that roll up at Milktooth (housed in a former auto repair shop, no less). It’s hip to be scrappy and DIY, but Kiesling doesn’t even get the reference. “The building was zoned so that we could make it anything we wanted,” he says. “So we built it out and went through all of the hoops to make it a commercial kitchen. People have to look a little bit to find us, for sure. But we are in a very good location as far as the catering aspect goes.”
Indeed, corporate and private gigs make up the bulk of Turf’s catering business, which involves a slightly more polished selection of appetizers (like lobster spring rolls with apricot vinaigrette) and fancy buffet spreads (cod tikka, pork cassoulet, braised chicken thighs with butter-bean succo-tash). With the restaurant piece, Kiesling and Peterson—a Hoosier who returned to his home state after a 10-year stint in Southern California, attending culinary school and working at the meat-centric, James Beard Award–winning Animal in Los Angeles—wanted something that would give them face time with potential catering clients.
The two chefs grind their own hamburger from whole-muscle cuts of meat; smoke chicken, turkey, bacon, pork belly, ribs, ham, brisket, and salmon in a barrel applewood-burner out back; bake all of their breads from scratch; and make their own pickles and condiments, from the spicy Carolina-style barbecue sauce to the elotes-inspired corn mayo slathered onto the Oaxaca cheese–topped Meheelo Burger. “We’re just doing food that we like to eat,” Kiesling says.
That includes a half-chicken—two luscious portions of peppery-skinned bird injected with butter to give the rosy meat a burst of tenderness—and sticky slabs of ribs, brined and rubbed before lounging in the smoker for 10 hours and often selling out early in Turf’s four-hour window for lunch. The stunning brioche-based ham-and-salmon croque, with its rich core of house-smoked meats, caramelized onions, Gruyère, and béchamel sauce, along with an extra layer of lacy cheese toasted into a halo on the outside of the bun, is one of the few items that shows signs of peacocking. Everything else looks more like the lusty Pete’s Sake sandwich that piles five varieties of pork—bacon, ham, sausage, braised pork, and a schmear of pork rillettes—into a fresh Italian roll dripping with the juice of bread-and-butter pickles and wilted celery slaw. You don’t want to photograph a mess like that. You want to eat it, preferably while hunkered over your foil to-go container at a window barstool with a sweeping view of the parking lot, among people who won’t judge. Usually, that includes a few souls with the good fortune of needing car maintenance and lunch at the same time—and an interesting mix of Turf groupies, like the grinning young man who arrived with a buddy in tow one afternoon: “It’s all killer,” he announced as his friend examined the chalkboard menu, wavering between the Turf Burger (with roasted tomatoes and bacon marmalade) and the smoked chicken wings.
I get the enthusiasm. Turf is the kind of off-the-grid place that puts foodies like us in an awkward place of wanting to shout its praises from the corrugated rooftops—to let other like-minded Lucky Peach readers know that we are all ahead of the curve here—but also keep its hidden-secret status all to ourselves. The place has only nine chairs, after all. “It’s word of mouth,” Kiesling says. “It’s people finding us, back here in Car Care Land, who appreciate the kind of food that we make.” So far, it’s been an easy sell.
Craft-food man cave
Smoked meats and huge, roll-up-your-sleeves sandwiches loaded with ingredients made from scratch.
Butter-smoked chicken with enough flavor that you needn’t bother with the accompanying garlic-cream sauce.
Sandwiches $10–$13 with a mound of housemade chips; sides and desserts $4 each.
TURF CATERING + KITCHEN
Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–3 p.m.