Philadelphia: Snout to Tail

Breaking it down swine-style.

By Adam Erace and Tim McGinnis
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 17 | Posted Mar. 9, 2010

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Head

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

Head

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

Shank

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

Ribs

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

Foot

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

Picnic Shoulder

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

Butt

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 17 of 17
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1. Barb SCholler said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 02:19PM

“Pigs are closer to human DNA than monkeys. (heard of pig valves for heart patients). Eating pig/pork is about as close as you are going to get to canibalism. Pigs also do not have a lymph system, therefore meat eaters are consuming the waste and toxins a pig produces.”

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2. Kevin V. said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 02:22PM

“This whole article is just disgusting. And that image, very sad.”

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3. silverbullet69 said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 02:48PM

“Do you vegetarian nutjobs just comb the internet for articles about meat??

Precious fossil fuel is being wasted to run the computers you write your innane, predictable comments on.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 03:03PM

“This is disgusting. I'm done with PW.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 03:46PM

“Thank you PW for this article ... I can't wait to try all those restaurants now! And too bad for the non-pig eaters!”

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6. adam said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 03:50PM

“If you don't eat pigs, cool. But don't be a Debbie Downer to those of us that do.”

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7. RGrey said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 08:31PM

“This plus the pro breed descrimination opinion piece is just too much. Seriously. And we I personally don't eat pig because it's horrific and cruel. Sorry to be a "debbie downer" but your base pleasure doesn't condone another being's suffering. It's unnecessary and bad for you and the environment. Seriously, PW -- this is over the top and horrific.”

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8. Alex said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 08:59PM

“I'm not vegetarian. But the food news I've seen this week - this, and the story about cheese that came from a human - is making veganism sound pretty appealing.”

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9. RGrey said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 09:04PM

“"discrimination" not "descrimination." spoiled by spellcheck. sorry!”

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10. Anonymous said... on Mar 10, 2010 at 09:05PM

“All of these Spanish dishes using pork - did you know they originated during the Inquisition? They'd offer salami, and if you wouldn't eat it, they'd know you were a Jew trying to pass as a Christian.”

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11. Cheftestant said... on Mar 11, 2010 at 03:00AM

“Nose to tail is out of respect for the animal... nothing at all is wasted. Save your preaching for the choir.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Mar 11, 2010 at 09:34AM

“@silverbullet69 it's funny how you consider us the "nutjobs" while you are the one condoning the pain, torture and death of a living, breathing feeling being. Just because you were raised to think a certain way doesn't make it right. Perhaps try informing yourself on what truly happens to get a pig on your plate and then we can have an intelligent debate.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Mar 11, 2010 at 09:42AM

“@Cheftestant respect? I'd have to think that killing the animal sort of negates any "respect" you say you have for an animal you then injest. If you respect him so much, then don't kill him.”

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14. Howard Nields said... on Mar 11, 2010 at 11:35AM

“Everyone is entitled to your opinion, just remember that. So even though you may not agree with someone else's opinion, that doesn't mean you have the right to bash it. This country was founded on the freedom of thought. Have we come full circle and become the oppressive England we escaped from all those hundreds of years ago; thinking we all must think as one? LET EVERYONE HAVE THEIR OPINION AND YOU HAVE YOURS, BUT DON'T CRITICIZE OTHERS FOR HAVING THEM.

With that said, I think Philadelphia Weekly did a great inservice by omitting some of the best ribs in the city - Chloe's (in Old City, 232 Arch Street / http://www.chloebyob.com ). Their ribs are so succulent and fall off the bone, basted in some of the best sauce I have ever tasted. They accompany them with homemade mac and cheese and sauteed spinach. The portion size is ENORMOUS - enough to satisfy you for dinner and give you more for lunch the following day. If you have been, RUN NOW AND TRY THEM!!!!

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15. trudy said... on Mar 11, 2010 at 02:28PM

“Really wish the author of this article would turn writing talent for adjectives to promoting more acceptible subject. The author must be aware of the horrific conditions in the pig farming industry and efforts to combat it.”

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16. slickorslide said... on Mar 15, 2010 at 12:56PM

“Mmmmmm... sweet succulent piggy! Thanks for the great article! Can't wait to eat my way from snout to tail!”

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17. Beverly Rolfsmeyer said... on Mar 17, 2010 at 04:15PM

“I love when people talk about animal cruelty like it's an opinion. It's not an opinion, it's a fact. We're not talking religion. Pigs are smart, great animals. I believe they are smarter than some of the folks writing comments on this page. I would certainly rather be around pigs than "slickorslide", who has no humanity or compassion whatsoever. Remember, humans, animals were here millions of years before humans ever slimed out of a stagnant pond! The arrogant attitude of human beings will bring them to extinction one of these days.”

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