Buns in the Sun's homemade chicken salad sandwich with house-made mayonnaise.
Buns in the Sun chef and owner Joon Reid.
By John Mullen
December 12, 2017 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA) – The unique thing about Buns in the Sun is most definitely the handmade and house steamed buns.
Yes, they are really steamed. In fact, when you order something at Buns in the Sun, everything you eat, except the bagged chips, is made in-house from the bun up.
“It’s my own recipe,” chef and owner Joon Reid said of his buns. “I hand roll ‘em. I steam ‘em fresh daily to order. It’s still bread, it’s just not baked. It’s just prepared differently. It still has yeast, flour, salt and water, among other things.”
And, those wonderful buns provide the perfect canvas to present the Southern-inspired scratch-kitchen recipes by Joon. Eight of the buns are on the everyday menu and three others come out as specials on Meatloaf Monday, Tuesday’s Korean Barbecue and Friday’s Fiery Chicken.
Buns in the Suns' pork belly sandwich.
“Asian buns with a Southern flair,” Joon says. “The whole concept is the bun and the bun itself is delicious. But it gives me the ability to put a pork belly on there or beef and cheese or Greek-style shrimp or Korean barbecue. It’s just a vessel to carry the flavors of whatever is in it. It goes well with any flavors that I can put inside it.”
Those recipes are built on 19 years of experience working in a variety of restaurants in Birmingham.
“I’ve worked everything from Italian to Tex Mex, Southwest, Greek, Mexican, fine dining, French-style restaurants,” he said. “It helped me and gave me the ability to not be stuck in one type of cuisine. I can pull from whatever places I’ve worked at and use different recipes. I just fine-tune it to what I believe people on the Gulf Coast are going to enjoy.”
A visit to his parents who live in Orange Beach inspired the Buns in the Sun concept.
“There wasn’t anything like it down here,” he said. “That’s why I wanted to do a steamed bun.”
There was a bit of trial and error before he found the bun recipe he liked and the technique to make them work in his restaurant.
Buns in the Sun's pulled pork.
“It took me about 30 tries to get where I’m at,” he said. “I just took a recipe out of a cookbook and tried it verbatim and I didn’t like the way it turned out. Also, I’m not one to take a recipe out of a cookbook and call it my own. I tweaked it, added this and added that took something out, added more of this until I got to the point I’m at now that I’m comfortable with the product and I can say it’s my own recipe.”
Getting it cooked just right took lots of tweaking as well.
“I talked to a woman from Taiwan and her family made steamed buns,” he said. “She showed me an easy way to produce them that wasn’t as labor intensive. I tried it her way and then I realized they weren’t as uniform as I’d like them to be. They weren’t the same size. So, I started weighing them out, rolling them into balls, proofing them and then steaming them. That took out a huge chunk of prep time."
Let’s talk sandwiches. Two of the most popular are the pork belly and chicken salad steamed buns. The pork belly wasn’t on the regular menu when Buns in the Sun opened but debuted as a daily special.
Public demand changed that real quick.
Buns in the Sun's popular pork belly.
“I ran it as a special and I ran out,” Joon said. “People were coming in off of Yelp specifically for the pork belly. I had so many people coming in I had to finally put it on the menu. It’s been going great ever since.”
The crispy pork belly comes with homemade peach bourbon barbecue sauce and fresh arugula.
His fresh take on chicken salad has been a popular item as well. It’s topped with bacon and comes with fresh fruit.
“The mayonnaise for the chicken salad, I make it in-house,” he said. “And, I think one of the reasons the people like the chicken salad here is it doesn’t have that mayonnaisey twang to it like store-bought mayonnaise.”
And the chicken gets a special touch, not just a visit to the boiling pot.
“I take the chicken and I simmer it with some vegetables and some aromatics,” Joon said. “I don’t let it boil. I let it simmer it for an hour so that way the different aromatics in the vegetables get into the chicken. You’re not just eating boiled chicken with the salad makings around it. The chicken’s flavored, the mayonnaise is flavored and that helps round out everything.”
Other delicacies include the Beef & Cheese, a filet with sautéed peppers and onions and provolone cheese. The Barbecue Pork is braised pulled pork with homemade barbecue sauce, house pickles and homemade pickled red onions.
Joon’s take on the chicken bun has grilled chicken, bacon, house ranch, shredded lettuce and fresh parmesan. And, if you want shrimp, try his Gulf Shrimp. It is grilled Greek style with Kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, Greek dressing and feta cheese.
Buns in the Sun also has a veggie option with a black bean burger including quinoa, onions, garlic and bell pepper topped with house-pickled red onion.
J's White Chocolate Bread Pudding.
House-made sides include broccoli salad and a black-eyed pea salad served with tortilla chips. Joon fondly refers to this as Orange Beach Caviar.
And don’t forget dessert. J's Homemade White Chocolate Bread Pudding has been a popular item to order for holiday parties and special occasions.
But definitely, try one of the fresh steamed bun sandwiches.
“With it being steamed I believe it gives it a lighter, fluffier texture,” Joon said. “It’s real light, real airy. It has a little bit of sweetness to it but as soon as you eat it with a filling inside of it, it blends into whatever filling is in there and it helps round out the different flavors inside that bun. If it’s super spicy it helps play into that and gives a sweetness to it.”