By Emily Churchill
BANGKOK — Pass through a French bistro, with its cheeses and breads displayed in glass cases on the ground floor of the FooJohn building in Charoen Krung. Go upstairs, guided by the art deco mirrored walls wrapping the stairs. Walk up, past the wandering jazz and velvet of the second-floor, prohibition-style cocktail bar.
One could stop at either place and enjoy the new bar opened by scene luminaries with credentials stretching from Soulbar to Rain Dogs, but tonight we’re here for the food and that means making a beeline to the third floor.
SpareParts is one of Bangkok’s newest barbecue joints, home to an entirely new style of meats in an area that’s taking off. It’s run by Caitlin Lee Chullasapya, the woman behind Deli-Q Bangkok – a barbecue and sandwich food truck that went on hiatus about eight months ago – scheduled to reopen at the end of the year.
Though she says clearly that SpareParts is not a second iteration of Deli-Q, she does see the restaurant as the next step in her path through Bangkok’s food world.
“We are in the post-food truck era now,” Chullasapya says. “I feel like the type of support we were looking for as food truck owners never happened.”
She says that the disrespect that food truck owners faced from event planners – coupled with the ongoing crackdown on street food – were the straws that broke the camel’s back. It pushed her to start looking into options that took her food off the street and into a building.
“I think this was our original goal from the beginning,” she says. “We wanted to have a true blue smoked food and meat place, which was never really an option in our truck.”
She says that most other food trucks she knew during her time on the road have faced issues with the police and have either closed down or become restaurants.
Fear not for the street food lovers, however. Not only has Chullasapya brought some fan-favorite recipes with her, but SpareParts also boasts a double balcony that allows patrons to enjoy the fresh air.
Though Chullasapya was born in Texas, she has lived in Thailand since she was 6. While it would be easy to assume that the ribs that emerge from the kitchen – loaded on a platter with other meaty morsels – were inspired by her heritage, she says this isn’t the case.
“I can’t say our ribs are Memphis-made and our sauce is from Austin or Houston, you know,” she says. “I’ve never gotten into that genre of things… They get so into barbecue in the States that I don’t think I’m qualified to say what it is. I’m not into that, I just want to make really good barbeque.”
The proof is on the plate. Well smoked – in a smoker designed by Chullasapya’s father – and tender, the ribs are dry-coated in a mix of Thai spices, a far cry from the wet, ketchup-y barbeque sauces that so frequently are slathered across barbecue in the USA. She says that these are the only dry-rub ribs in Bangkok.
The innovation doesn’t stop there. As Chullasapya says, she is lucky to have a team that is always thinking of new ways to prepare food. Also on the plate are grilled shallots and pulled pork, though the star of the night is nestled under the ribs themselves – burned pork ends. These nuggets of pork goodness are incredibly chewy on the outside, blackened and tasty, with insides that melt with a bite.
The drinks, as well, are works of invention. The top seller is the Pineapple Express, a bourbon-based drink featuring smoked pineapple.
While the havoc that has been wreaked on the food truck and street food scene of the city is obviously a shame, we can find solace in that some of these vendors have made their way indoors. Chullasapya and her team at FooJohn are confident that their joints won’t be lonely for long – Charoen Krung is just starting to boom. Chullasapya says this can be predicted because of the large-scale investors buying up large bits of area around them.
Chullasapya says that it is her hope that places such as SpareParts can keep Charoen Krung a locally-focused neighborhood joint in the face of incoming gentrification.
“We want to make this a destination,” she says. “You can come in and eat up or downstairs, and end the night partying on the second floor.”
The dream doesn’t end here. As the restaurant keeps bringing in customers and the area becomes more prominent, Chullasapya hopes to start a farm for meat and produce for SpareParts.
SpareParts is open 7pm to 11:30pm, Wednesday through Sunday.