Admit it: you watched The Bear and then googled “Italian beef sandwiches near me.” While there are plenty of great sandwich options in the Queen City, there aren’t many around with the pedigree—or flavor—that Brian and Caitlin Young’s sandwiches have.
Brian, a butcher/chef who made a name for himself while cooking in his native Boston and Nashville, met Caitlin, a Cincinnati chef and restaurant owner, in 2018 when both starred on season 16 of Top Chef. While competing, the two fell in love and Brian moved to Cincinnati to cook at Caitlin’s restaurant CWC. In 2020, the couple worked at the much-loved Dear Restaurant & Butchery—Brian as executive chef, Caitlin as pastry chef and later chef de cuisine—for all three years it was open. Now, they’re shifting away from fine dining to “serve food that is for everybody,” Brian says, with their new venture Young Buck Delicatessen.
During Young Buck’s first pop-up at Camp Washington bar Binski’s—where they sold exclusively Italian beef sandwiches—everything was sold out in an hour. Take a look at the process and it’s not hard to see why: top butt, rubbed down with an herb salt and cooked into roast beef. Then, the drippings and meat juice from cooking are collected to make an au jus from scratch. Then the roast beef on your sandwich is sliced right there in front of you.
Next, fresh provolone. Italian bread, of course. Then, you’ve got some choices to make: “hot,” which means your sandwich is topped with Caitlin’s homemade giardiniera (an oil-based Italian relish comprised of various vegetables) or hot Italian sausage, if desired. Or you can choose “sweet,” which means grilled and sautéed sweet green Italian peppers adorn the top of your sandwich. Finally, choose your juice level: dry, wet, or “dipped.” A dry sandwich is self-explanatory: the meat goes into the broth and then gets the juice shaken off. For a wet sandwich, the meat is dunked in broth several times over before being immediately placed in the bun for extra juiciness. And if you order your sandwich dipped, well, the whole thing goes in the broth, bun and all—“totally ridiculous way of eating it, but it’ll be the only way once you’ve had it,” Brian says.
This is just the start for Young Buck—the couple doesn’t plan to sell only sandwiches. But their next pop-up is sandwiches: mortadella on a hot or cold sandwich, specifically, in addition to a summer salad and homemade Oreos. After that? Well, they’re already in advanced talks with local developers to take over the former Holtman’s Donuts space in Over-the-Rhine on Vine Street. And they’ll keep experimenting, too, with wildly different foods on deck—Caitlin has a desire to do a biscuit-themed pop-up, for example. “Especially during the pop-ups, we’re excited to play around,” she says. “It’s our way of finding out ‘What does the city want? Need? How can Brian and I show what we’re capable of?’ We’re doing something different, and we’re trying to make it fun.”
Young Buck’s next pop-up is this Saturday, August 19, starting at 5 p.m. at Oakley Wines (you can pre-order for pickup or take your chances and hope you snag a sandwich before they sell out).
Running food pop-ups at a neighborhood bar is a bit different than working in one of the city’s fanciest restaurants. For now, Brian says he’s had enough of fine dining. Fun is his focus for this pop-up—the same kind of fun he had when planning brunch menus at Dear.
“When it was time to write a brunch menu, it was always our time to have fun,” he continues. “And we would always end up doing big, irreverent sandwiches, and it was always the most fun service we did all week because we could do what we wanted.”
Those same big, irreverent sandwiches are what drew the couple to start up Young Buck. “We want to do whatever we want, y’know?” Brian says, while laughing. “Devil may care attitude. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it! We don’t care!”
While many service workers despise working brunch, it has a special place in the couple’s hearts, as it was the one day they could always cook together during the beginning of their relationship. Initially, Brian “wasn’t the biggest fan of brunch,” Caitlin says, but the way she operated in the kitchen changed his mind. At CWC, they’d start working at 3 a.m. on Sunday mornings to prepare for a 9 a.m. opening, right after working Saturday evening shifts. “But, like, everybody would be happy and in a good mood, whistling Stevie Wonder on the radio together,” she says. “Brian would come in like, ‘Why is everybody smiling right now? What is happening?’”
It’s that same feeling they want to bring to their pop-ups and, eventually, their full restaurant. “We wanna hug you when you come in the door,” Caitlin says. “We want it to be a boisterous place. You’re family! Come in, get excited, have a bite… you know that we’re loving on you, and they’re loving on us.”
Love is a frequent topic for both chefs: love for their fellow Cincinnati chefs, love for their minority partner and graphic designer Jake Staubitz—who, in true Cincinnati fashion, found out at the first pop-up that Caitlin’s dad has known Staubitz’s family for years—and, of course, love for each other.
“Because of Caitlin, I got in touch with the side of cooking I’d forgotten about, that food can be really nourishing and soulful without being touchy and fancy,” Brian says. “Wherever we go, our goal is to do food that makes us happy, and food that we know will make other people happy.”
More information on Young Buck’s pop-ups can be found on Instagram at @youngbuck_delicatessen.