Breaking it down swine-style.
In this salumi-savvy scene, even options as uncommon as culatello and guanciale are everyday parlance. Which is why the la ventricina teramana , hand-crafted at Le Virtu, grabbed our attention. To know exactly what this spreadable sausage is, you’d have to be a pig farmer and trained butcher from Colonnella, a rural town in Teramo, Abruzzo, near the Marche border—which is exactly what 33-year-old Massimo Conocchioli is. Recently imported by Le Virtu’s Francis Cratil Ceratola and Cathy Lee, Conocchioli uses Country Time pigs—the hogs favored by the Vetri camp—for his ventricina. Generous cuts from the belly create its spreadable, rillettes-like texture, but the head meat is responsible for the spread’s lingering sweetness. Once spiced with garlic, rosemary, salt, pepper and a kiss of orange zest and cased in natural intestinal lining, the ventricina hangs for three weeks in the salumi shed on Le Virtu’s lawn. When ready, Conocchioli spreads a thick slice on crusty grilled bread as part of the restaurant’s salumi plate. In Teramo, ventricina is traditionally made on December 8 to commemorate the Catholic feast of the Immaculate Conception. We feel born-again just eating it.
Le Virtu, 1927 E. Passyunk Ave. 215.271.5626. levirtu.com
Chef Scott Schroeder won’t take credit for the popular head-cheese tacos he serves at South Philly Tap Room. “My sous chef, Jorje Piña, and his dad made them one night, and they were amazing,” remembers Schroeder, who refined the recipe with Country Time pigs’ heads he brines overnight then braises. The skull then gets picked clean—tongue, cheeks and jowl are hand-chopped, while everything else goes through a grinder—and the meat goes into a pan to chill overnight until a natural gelatin forms. The result: head-cheese, and though the slice that goes on the pressed-to-order, lard-toasted tortillas under pickled jalapeño, red onion, cilantro, queso fresco and house-made hot sauce is just the size of a four-pack of postage stamps, it’s chunky, funky, smooth and sweet all at once. Better yet, they’re only $1.
South Philadelphia Tap Room, 1509 Mifflin St. 215.271.7787. southphiladelphiataproom.com
Pairing pork and moules is nothing new, though the way chefs Nicholas Sweeney and Nicholas Matteo do it at their wee BYOB Nicholas tastes fresh. In the deep, $9 bowl of plump Canadian specimens, where you’d expect chips of crispy bacon swimming in the Franziskaner hefeweizen broth are instead big, juicy, beer-braised bands of smoked Cannuli’s pork shank. The hickory flavor haunts the hazy gold broth, a smoky, sea-salted combination that’s like the morning after a New England harbor fire. Roasted garlic, caramelized onions and melted leeks round out the supporting cast.
Nicholas, 2015 E. Moyamensing Ave. 215.271.7177. nicholasphilly.com
Like all great ribs, the south-of-the-border-inspired rack served at Cantina requires a stack of napkins. Slathered with tangy, tamarind- enhanced barbecue sauce, the costillitas shine like bows of varnished mahogany—but beneath the caramelized tops is falling-off-the-bone pork that’s anything but woody. The tamarind glaze recruits a dazzling pineapple salsa and wagon-wheels of sliced pickled jalapeño to keep the ribs’ richness in check.
Cantina Los Caballitos, 1651 E. Passyunk Ave. 215.755.3550. cantinaloscaballitos.com
Of all the parts of a pig, the foot—better known as the trotter —is the most humble: tough, gelatinous and stingy about the amount of meat on its bones. No wonder it was peasant food, just like the hearts and tongues getting haute makeovers in today’s best restaurants. It takes serious skill and a bit of sorcery to make trotters as slammin’ as the ones served at Bibou by chef/owner Pierre Calmels. It’s a three-day process that starts with an overnight ice bath and ends with a 400-degree oven; we don’t want to give away the Frenchman’s secrets, but the foie gras-stuffed result, served over perfectly textured lentils, are anything but peasant.
Bibou, 1009 S. Eighth St. 215.965.8290. biboubyob.com
We’re pretty sure penning a pork story in Philadelphia and excluding the roast pork sandwich would get us excommunicated. We’ve got plenty of great ones (see Paesano’s review, page 36), but the mack daddy is found at a cinderblock luncheonette hemmed in by train tracks on one side and IHOP on another. Welcome to John’s Roast Pork, where the jus-saturated ribbons of herbaceous, garlicky roasted shoulder—rabe, provolone and hot peppers optional—can bring a grown-ass man to his knees. Outdoor picnic tables filled with teamsters and hipsters are often full during John’s 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. hours. No matter; we like to savor the sandwich in reverential solitude on the grassy knoll of the Lowe’s parking lot, washed down with a carton of Arctic Splash.
John’s Roast Pork, 14 Snyder Ave. 215.463.1951. johnsroastpork.com
Growing up Muslim in America has its temptations. Of the rules ripe for breaking, there is none less enticing than indulging in the forbidden pork. But it took just one prosciutto-wrapped melon slice for me to never look back.
If you're too lazy to chew it, read on...
“Making bacon at home is so much easier than you might think,” says Café Estelle’s breakfast meat maestro Marshall Green. “It just takes a little bit of time.”
if you want to dress it up Back in 2008, then-Sen. Obama caused a flap when he compared John McCain’s presidential campaign to “lipstick on a pig.” Feisty liberals shuddered with pleasure and Sarah Palin, as usual, looked confused. Let us be clear, pigs don’t need no gussying up! They’re beautiful and tasty creatures just as God made them but if you must play dress-up, stick to just a few modest accessories. Apple Cider It’s amazing to think that the Mennonite and Amish lifestyle, after so many years as the butt of bad jokes (see Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise”), is now somehow hip. Organic farming practices, locally sourced products and kick-ass beards are all the rage in Philly. The next time you’re in the mood for pork chops, grab a quart of Kauffman’s freshly pressed preservative-free apple cider from Lancaster County Dairy (51...
More than 20 years ago, the National Pork Board started pushing the leanest, cleanest parts of its little piggies with the slogan, “Pork. The Other White Meat,” and the American people—including my mother—totally bought it. And then, for almost the next 20 years, most of us—you, me, our mothers, omnivores all over the country—dutifully ate our tenderloins and center loin chops. They tasted only mildly of pork and had the texture and chewiness of dishtowels, but dammit, they lived up to the slogan and we felt good about eating them. Only, I didn’t. I was unsatisfied and confused. How could the pork we ate for breakfast—crunchy-tender, salty, smoky, juicy, soul-satisfying bacon—be so different from the bland, tough, utilitarian pork we ate for dinner and still come from the same animal? I longed for something more. I wanted bacon—or at least the magical je ne sais quoi of bacon—every time I ate pork. It wasn’t until I was more or less grown up that I would discover—at a...
PW's Summer Guide 2014