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  • Oren Hartman

At this restaurant, ‘naked’ is a good thing

  • By Kayla Rutledge, Tribune Contributor

  • Aug 25, 2019

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Oren Hartman, owner and chief pitmaster of NakedQ, was a technology executive for a Fortune 500 company before he put down his laptop and picked up his carving utensils to start his barbecue restaurants.Kimberly Carrillo/Staff Photographer

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Nothing says summer quite like stripping down. Summer is a year-round celebration at NakedQ, a barbecue restaurant that has recently extended its reach to Chandler, where a meat’s best dress is its birthday suit. The Chandler location is the third NakedQ restaurant to go against the barbecue grain and serve meat without sauce. The idea for the non-traditional eatery rubbed off on Oren Hartman after he missed dining with family and friends. During his career as a technology executive for a Fortune 500 company, Hartman ­– the owner and chief pitmaster of NakedQ – was looking for that feeling of being home for meals. On his 100-plus flights a year, finding a sense of home with airplane food became a challenge. When his in-flight steak and martini dinners just weren’t making the cut anymore, Hartman sought comfort in his favorite style of food: barbecue. “It became sort of like a personal challenge to find the best barbecue place where I was staying, and overtime that grew to the best joints in each region I visited,” said Hartman. Soon after Hartman retired, he began slow-cooking meat for friends and family at cookouts and tailgates, and soon enough his hobby became a passion he wanted to share on a wider scale. “I kind of had the opportunity to do something different and I’ve always loved to cook. I like barbecue. I like what barbecue does: It brings people together. It’s very familial,” Hartman said. Three years ago, Hartman came out of retirement on a dare to open his first barbecue restaurant – which has since grown to a trifecta of barbecue mastery with locations in Phoenix, Scottsdale and now Chandler. “When people say, ‘Wow that’s great; that reminds me of home,’ I love that. I just wanted to give people that sense of home anywhere they are in the Valley, so that’s what we did,” he added. However, each customer’s take on what home looks and tastes like is a little different, so the meats are served without sauce, or “naked,” and consumers can choose from a variety of sauces from America’s most notable barbeque regions. The sauces are gluten-free and made in-house to ensure they are fresh and represent what Hartman took from his travels years ago. “I make what I like. It sounds selfish, but I like mine naked so my focus is always on the meat first, but the sauces really let you choose whichever region you want your barbecue to come from,” said Hartman. For those raised on North Carolina barbeque, the vinegar sauce will provide flashbacks of humid summer days filled with fun. Those from Chicago to St. Louis can throw on some sweet sauce to forget the cold winters and instead be reminded of fond, sun-saturated times. And those from here in the Southwest can find a sense of home with the habanero-based spicy sauce. For everyone in between there is the mustard sauce, a perfect blend of sharp and soft flavors. However, Hartman said most of the time people opt to skip the sauce- including himself. “We’re buying high-quality stuff from good people. Why would I want to smother it in a bunch of stuff?” he said. “We certainly don’t mind when people choose to sauce it, but the whole deal is we’re sourcing the highest-quality meats we can, and we’re trying to treat them with love and cook them nice and slow and let you taste the quality of the product we’re putting out,” Hartman added. Customers can stack their sauced or naked pulled pork, brisket, chicken, turkey or jalapeño hot links that have been slow cooked for about 15 to 16 hours on a gluten-free bun or a bed of greens. Plates and platters cost anywhere from $8 to $15, or customers can get right to the point and order meat by the pound from $14 to $20. All of the meat pairs perfectly with the three local beers on tap, iced teas and lemonades, red and white wines and any of NakedQ’s homemade sides. Creamy or vinegar-based Carolina slaw, mac and cheese, potato salad, baked beans or the vegetable of the day with a cornbread muffin and homemade butter pickles work cohesively with the meat to bring customers back to the place they call home. “It’s a big operation to make things from scratch but we’re trying to do competition-style all in-house-made products. which is rare. I think as people get bigger, they go to canned things, but that’s just not our thing. I make what I would eat and what brings me back to the best barbecue I’ve had over the years,” said Hartman. “I think people dig it.” NakedQ even has options for vegans and those following a keto-style diet. “I still don’t think I’m going to get a table full of 10 vegans together, but I think it’s one of those things that as a tag-along you can come here and absolutely find options,” Hartman said, adding, “if you want to come in and gorge yourself on beans and put on extra barbecue sauce and mac and cheese, we’re happy to have you also.” The menu stays consistent throughout the year, but customers of the Chandler restaurant will have the luxury of daily specials starting in the fall. Specials can be found online and last until sold out. The new Chandler location is open from 11 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. “For me the reviews and the smiles mean a lot more to me than the money in the bank. I encourage people to come try us out and see how great the food and the atmosphere we’ve made here is,” said Hartman.

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