All photos Copyright Phil Provencio
New York comedy photographer Phil Provencio photographed Brooklyn comedian Mike Recine, making his Recine Brothers sauce, in his Brooklyn apartment. Recine is a killer with a mic, and one of the most original comics performing in New York City today. His debut album, Union Delegate was one of our favorite albums of 2015, and he just got back from filming his first television comedy special in New Orleans for Comedy Central. He also makes and jars his own sauce, and sells it after his shows. Phil got to hang out with Mike while he made his infamous sauce, and talk food, family and comedy.
First up, cleared up any rumors that comedian Matteo Lane is behind his secret recipe for homemade sauce. Although he admits Matteo is a good cook, Recine Brothers sauce is his own recipe. “When you start making sauce you talk to people who do are good at it. I think probably Matteo gave me some pointers here and there but ultimately the recipe is mine.” The sauce, is in his blood, in a way. He has a history of great cooks in his family.
“I always liked food. My grandparents had a restaurant in Trenton for 30 years. My great grandfather ran it, my grandmother and great grandmother did all the cooking. It was called Romeo and Juliet’s. They closed the year I was born so I never really got to see it. It had a big banquet hall and weddings. A very working class pizza pasta restaurant with real good food.”
He started making and jarring his own after working at a high end grocery store in Williamsburg for a few months. “I noticed what we were buying the stuff for and selling it for, and thought, well maybe I should give this a shot. Sell it. Anytime something was ‘made in Brooklyn’ people would respond to it. So i was like, I could use the extra money. Let’s see what happens.”
And the Recine Brothers sauce was born.
Making his famous sauce, he said, is a big process. “I drive all the way out to Masbeth, Queens to buy all the stuff. And then it takes about 5 hours to cook a batch. This is going to simmer for about 3 hours,” he said, referring to the batch on the stove.
Mike uses simple ingredients: Garlic, carrots, basil, a few cases of canned tomatoes and some other stuff. “Its a pretty neutral sauce so you can add a lot of stuff. Red wine, meat, whatever. It’s very straight forward. I like when you try tomato sauce and it has that garden fresh taste. It’s a nice, light sauce.”
“I’m a little sick of New York,” Recine said after being asked to name a few favorite restaurants. “I feel like a lot of the food here is overpriced and now that I can cook, I feel like I can make it better at home.” He does love going to Staten Island for pizza. Joe & Pats and Denino’s are two places he called some of the best in the city. “Joe & Pats is super thin light crust. They have pepperoni on it that’s like a little dish. Also Prince Street Pizza in Soho has this pepperoni square that’s like a Sicilian. Real doughy. I think thats one of the best slices that I’ve had.” He also likes to hit up Montana’s Trail House in Bushwick for some really good fried chicken when he’s not staying healthy.
But he still loves to eat out when he’s on the road, particularly in Chicago. “Chicago is one of my favorite- I love going out to eat down there. It’s different. I went to this place called The Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co and its just awesome. A classic family oriented place. They make these pizza pot pies- so like, these pizza bread bowls they bring out to the table and flip them over. It’s like you’re eating pizza out of a bread bowl. Good salad, its just a different kind of meal. Chicago has this place, Au Cheval which was rated best burger in America, great burger and the Little Goat is a diner, and Portillos for Italian Beef Sandwiches.” He also is a big fan of the restaurants in Portland. “Portland was amazing. Every restaurant I went to was great, fresh,” particularly their artisan ice cream.
Mike grew up in Hamilton, New Jersey, which is a suburb of Trenton, and found his love for comedy when he was only eleven years old. “I was 11 and saw History of the World Part One, the Mel Brooks movie, and I’ve always been a huge fan. Saw all his movies. I saw that movie and I wanted to be funny; I wasn’t the funny kid at all. I remember thinking that the age of 11 was too late to start a different career path,” he said, adding, “I’ve always been hard on myself.”
In high school he loved Saturday Night Live, Mad TV, and Chappelle Show and was inspired to put on a comedy variety show where he and his friends would put on sketches with stand up in between. “I can’t imagine it was very good,” he said. “We fought with the principals a lot. They didn’t know if it would be appropriate for school.”
Recine said there’s something about Jersey and Boston, and Philly too that breeds great comics. “People are mad and they’re mean and I think that’s a good thing…it breeds a certain kind of person when your life’s not great, thats where the really funny stuff comes from.” Some of his favorite comics come from Jersey. He mentioned Sean O’Connor, Scott Chaplin, Dina Hashem. and Justin Flanagan. “I love watching Just Flanagan cause he’s super over the top and he works at UPS and I really like what he does,” adding, “Sean O’Connor is such a piece of shit, he’ll just insult you but he’ll insult you so well and he’s so funny. And he’s mad.”
But with a Comedy Central Half Hour recorded (it will debut late summer or early fall), and a great album already released, things are going well for Recine and even though he can be self deprecating, he feels good about his career. “It’s really good. I probably didn’t think I’d ever get to do a special for Comedy Central. I was eating a chicken sandwich when I found out and I was happy. A few years ago, this girl sent a text, ‘I think we should just be friends.’ I was real upset and I was eating a KFC double down at the time so its kind of cool that my life came full circle and I was eating another chicken sandwich.”
As with many comics, depression and anxiety are still around, but managed “I’m not as depressed as I used to be. I think I just realized it was always going to be there and I stopped trying to make it go away. It’s like a roommate that doesn’t leave the couch. Just work around it.”