Politicians and pundits inside the Beltway are ranting and raving about all the “pork” in the stimulus package, but as far as we’re concerned, the more pork the better.
It’s not that we love budgetary waste, but simply that we love the pig. Butter-soft pork shoulder. Smoky, chewy baby back ribs. Gooey trotters. Crispy bacon. Ham on rye.
If it comes off a swine, it’s pearls, as far as we’re concerned.
Turns out, we’re not alone. Brooklyn is a fat-filled heaven, thanks to a new wave of chefs and restaurateurs who aren’t afraid to be labeled as supporters of pork.
The good news is that today’s pork products are worthy of such slavish devotion. It’s been a tough road to redemption for the pig, whose reputation was marred by a famed ill-conceived advertising campaign.
“Nothing did more to injure the reputation of pigs than ‘the other white meat’ campaign,” said Tom Mylan, the butcher at Marlow & Daughters, in Williamsburg, which hacks apart carcasses for retail and for several affiliated restaurants, like Diner. Mylan said the unforgettable slogan coincided with the breeding of bland, chicken-like pigs.
“They tasted like nothing,” Mylan squealed.
But that’s all history now. So get your knife and fork, tie your napkin under your chin and join us for a guide to the best pork in the borough.
If anything positive came out of the French disaster in Indochina, it is the Vietnamese sandwich.
Take uniquely Southeast Asian elements like ground up bits of pork, Vietnamese ham, pickled daikon and carrots and cilantro, and add in distinctly French ingredients like mayonnaise and pate — and then pile it on a freshly baked baguette — and you have a sandwich that at least explains what the hell the French were doing on the other side of the globe.
There’s no better place to get your banh mi fix than at Hanco’s, now with two locations. Hanco’s uses a sweet, almost caramelized, ground pork, which stands up to the pickles, pate and spices.
Hanco’s [350 Seventh Ave. at 10th Street in Park Slope, (718) 499-8081; 85 Bergen St., east of Smith Street in Cobble Hill, (718) 858-6818].
There are plenty of places to get great Kansas City, St. Louis or Texas ribs in the borough, but Smoke Joint is the only one that specializes in “Brooklyn-style” ribs.
Some of the traditional tastes are here, of course, but there’s also a distinct hint of the jerk — a tribute to the restaurant’s Fort Greene locale.
Though the meatier spare ribs are great, the standout here are the baby-back ribs, which are smoked and then braised in their own fat — the ’cue equivalent of gilding the lily.
Top them with either the molasses-thick BBQ sauce or the “Holla-peno” version, and you’ll be licking your fingers for hours.
The Smoke Joint [87 S. Elliot St. at Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 797-1011].
Hear us now: Give scrapple a break!
The pride of Middle American diners — a sausage-like concoction with unspeakable ingredients — is reborn by the geniuses at Marlow and Daughters, the throwback butcher shop on Broadway in South Williamsburg.
Yes, it’s made by boiling the head and feet of a pig, picking off whatever meat you can find, mixing it with polenta, and frying it on a grill, but the result is a mushy mound of satisfaction, a sausage with an almost haggis-like softness.
At Diner, owner Andrew Tarlow offers it whenever he can, piling it high with a fried egg, cheddar cheese, pickled onions and mayo on a brioche or five-grain bread.
“People love it,” he said. “Maybe we just have a lot of native Pennsylvanians here.”
Perhaps there’s a better explanation: the butcher shop uses only Berkshire pork, a heritage breed that has real pig flavor (no “other white meat” marketing blather here). And the cheeks and trotters have a natural gooeyness that, when combined with eggs and cheese, results in the perfect breakfast sandwich.
Unfortunately, one bite and you’ll never be able to pull over at a truck stop on I-80 again.
Diner [85 Broadway at Berry Street in Williamsburg, (718) 486-3077].
There’s only one problem with bourbon, as far as our pork-loving team is concerned: you need to put down the glass to pick up your bacon.
Brian Mitchell, the manager of the new Brook-vin wine bar in Park Slope has been infusing Jim Beam with bacon fat since the joint opened in January.
The result is not some kind of gimmick — a cocktail that comes with a curly tail instead of a Chinese umbrella. No, the smokiness of the bacon adds a depth that not only cuts through bourbon’s over-sweetness, but also stiffens alcohol’s thin, medicinal texture with the full mouthfeel that comes only from fat.
“It’s subtle,” said our drinking buddy, author David Shenk. “You don’t want to be drinking a glass of liquid bacon — and I’m not.”
Brook-vin [381 Seventh Ave., between 11th and 12th streets in Park Slope, (718) 768-9463].
Pork sausage is usually made from scraps, but at Piazza Mercato the links are prime cuts — and main attractions.
All of the homemade sausage at the Bay Ridge Italian deli are made from fresh cuts of pork shoulder, including cured sausage for snacking ($12.99 per pound), and sweet sausage, hot sausage, and a house specialty loaded with bits broccoli rabe for pastas, heroes and sauces ($4.99 per pound).
“Pork shoulder is best for sausages — it’s got the right amount of tender fat and lean meat,” said co-owner Salvatore Generoso, whose shop is a veritable shrine to swine where cured cuts of pork hang from the ceiling.
Piazza Mercato [9204 Third Avenue between 92nd and 93rd streets in Bay Ridge, (718) 513-0071].
Pulled pork — whether slathered in a tomato-y Kansas City BBQ sauce, a North Carolina mustard-vinegar blend or even unadorned like they eat it in Texas — can be one of the most satisfying ways to enjoy the smoky cushion of pork shoulder.
But too often, overcooking leaves all the best pork taste in a pool of liquid fat at the bottom of the smoker. That’s why chef Matt Greco at Char No. 4 opts for eight hours over the heat, not the typical half-day. The shorter cook time still yields a butter-soft mound of pig, but one that retains its essential porkiness.
Greco pairs his pork with a hybrid sauce — a tomato and mustard-based concoction — that pays homage to the Kansas City and Carolina traditions, then adds on pickled onions and hot peppers. “This is our version of other restaurants’ burgers,” he said.
Pair it with a glass of rye (it’s drier than bourbon, said co-owner Sean Josephs), and the result is pulled pork perfection.
Char No. 4 [196 Smith St., between Baltic and Warren streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 643-2106].
From nose to tail, every part of a pig is tasty — and the small intestines are no exception.
That explains why chitterlings — a Southern dish made from chewy pork entrails — is one of the most popular items at Carolina Country Kitchen, the famed Atlantic Avenue soul-food buffet.
“Some people are squeamish about it, because it’s the pig’s intestines,” said manager Charlie Lanham. “But throw a little barbecue sauce and a little vinegar in there and it’s good to go.”
Carolina Country Kitchen [1993 Atlantic Ave. At Saratoga Avenue in Crown Heights, (718) 498-0200].