Stomach: a meat that is rarely served – one of the "offal" cuts that is usually discarded or ground up into sausage where no one knows what's inside. Tripe (cow stomach) is a true delicacy in some cultures. Traditional Mexican cooks extol menudo as the quintessential hangover cure. Sheep stomach is used as the casing for haggis, a savory Scottish delicacy. Regardless of stomach's role in traditional ethnic cuisine, the American palate approaches with trepidation.
Except for one kind of belly – pork belly. And that's mainly because most bacon is made from pork belly. Bacon has been the "it" food for years now and even if it is on its way out, bacon will almost always be more popular than, say, Brussels sprouts or beef heart, if for no other reason than its versatility. Pork belly, by proxy, is just as versatile, just with a little more fat.
Since pork belly and bacon are virtually synonymous, it means restaurants are willing to experiment with it. From your local watering hole to food trucks to fine dining, each establishment will present it in a different and equally fascinating fashion. While it hasn't happened yet, there is a pretty good chance that pork belly will start ending up on the dessert side of things, too.
Pork belly shows up no less than three times on One Eyed Betty's menu. It makes sense, too. One Eyed Betty's is a beer bar. The fatty, well-salted deliciousness of pork belly pairs smashingly with beer, especially India pale ales or darker beers (oh, who are we kidding? Pork belly will go with just about any beer).
Betty's dishes are literally all over the menu from appetizers to sandwiches. Their now legendary "bacon with a side of bacon" is pork belly served with apple-wood smoked bacon and a deep-fried poached egg. This may seem like overkill (no slaughterhouse pun intended), but it's really quite a dish – one that showcases pork belly's versatility in one dish.
Then Betty's takes it a step further by making the new "it" food more itty by topping it with the belly. Pork Belly Poutine might be the most outrageous food ever for your arteries, but your palate will swoon for its different textures and flavors. I mean pork belly, French fries, gravy, cheese curds and a poached egg all harmonizing together on one plate. Poutine is a quintessential drunk food, so indulge in this dish after a couple pints. Don't get me wrong, it'll taste good before beer, but will be even better after a couple.
Food trucks are a relatively new phenomenon around metro Detroit. Sure, they've been around for years in Southwest Detroit, but most folks are familiar with the newer trucks that started up in the last couple years. Most of the trucks around SW are taco trucks, so it is fitting that Detroit's first "official" truck was a taco truck, but to call El Guapo a taco truck is a little misleading.
El Guapo definitely serves tacos and burritos, but their ingredients put them a head and shoulders above the rest. For example, pork belly shows up not once but twice on their menu. The cleverly named "hot bacon on bacon action" has pork belly confit, bacon, eggs, cheese, onions, guacamole and salsa. If there's a better burrito to be dubbed the breakfast of champions, we're not sure what it is. All of that porky goodness will go a long way in powering your day. El Guapo is known to park on or near Wayne State's campus often. I bet students study more efficiently with pork belly in their bellies at the start of the day.
Can't handle a porcine burrito in the morning? Don't worry. El Guapo has a couple tacos that will satisfy your pork craving. Pork belly confit and "Aloha, Mr. Hand" are both focused on belly. One is a straightforward taco with guacamole, slaw, and the now famous "Guapo Sauce," while the other has Hawaiian flair with pineapple salsa and Asian slaw. Either way, you'll be happier than a pig in slop.
Let's take a trip north to a town called White Lake. White Lake happens to be the location of one of metro Detroit's most exciting restaurants. The Root Restaurant & Bar has almost singlehandly put White Lake on the culinary map. A big part of that is The Root's executive chef, James Rigato. Rigato is obsessed with locality. His "if it's not local, why bother?" attitude is refreshing and worthy of admiration.
Also worthy of admiration is Rigato's take on pork belly. It is truly a celebration of pork belly in all its glory. Rigato starts with Michigan raised pork and braises it in New Holland's Dragon Milk Oak Barrel Ale. Coincidentally, Dragon's Milk is a Michigan beer and is always available on tap at The Root making it the ideal drink to pair with this dish. After braising, the belly is finished in a hot pan to crisp it up. Served atop Asian style peanut sauce with spicy pickled slaw, Rigato's dish is an exploration of textures and flavors. The fatty saltiness of the belly, the sweet earthiness of the peanut sauce and spicy tartness of the pickled slaw all blend perfectly together. This dish would tempt even the strictest vegetarian.
It's been said that bacon is the gateway meat that brings vegetarians and vegans back to the "dark side." If pork belly is more powerful bacon, imagine what it can do. If you've never tried pork belly and you like bacon, you've got nothing to lose. Well, except for a little artery space, but it's so worth it! | RDW