With no time to cook and most takeout a dismal option, I entrusted my dinner party to three ‘Pig Out’ sampler platters
By Richard Foss
1146 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
(424) 777-8875 • porkbellysla.com
As you might presume of anyone writing about restaurants for nearly 30 years, I’m a big fan of dining out. I am not generally a fan of takeout food, because most of it deteriorates quickly. That crisp-crusted pizza is a soggy thing after 20 minutes in the car, the salad in the same bag with it has wilted, and don’t even get me started on the devastating effects of a Styrofoam box on fresh fried zucchini.
There are, however, cuisines that lend themselves to reheating and times when it’s just too darn inconvenient to get everybody together at a café. Last week I had four people coming from different directions for dinner at my house with no time for me to make something. I remembered a sign I had seen on Abbot Kinney Boulevard for a barbecue joint called Pork Belly’s and decided it would be the perfect thing. Properly reheated barbecue is delicious, and the usual sides work, too. The beans took hours to simmer so they should reheat just fine, and cornbread and potatoes are served cool.
I decided to order three “Pig Out” sampler platters, each of which include a half rack of ribs, chopped brisket, chopped chicken, mac and cheese, cornbread and barbecued beans, and I added a pair of kale salads to have something green on the table. The salads come with a choice of meat, and since there was no pork belly on the sampler platter, I picked that, and chose creamy blue cheese and homemade ranch from the four dressings offered.
The fellow behind the counter packed the meats separately and gave me detailed instructions on how to reheat the ribs. While he packed the order I stopped at the wine shop next door for a bottle of something great with barbecue, and by the time I got back a big bag of food was ready. On departing Pork Belly’s I got a good look at the meals people were eating at the stand-up tables that are the only dining option here. They looked and smelled delicious, and I had a sense of anticipation as I drove home.
When my various guests started to arrive, I ran the items into the oven as instructed, and then laid them out as attractively as possible. I had ordered three dinners for four people, and it was obvious that we were still going to have too much food.
We started with the salad: kale, smoked Spanish onion, radish and big parmesan shavings along with good house-made croutons. I had laid the big chunks of pork belly on top; when we started eating I discovered the error in this. The greens were delicious and nicely balanced, the onion smoked to a delicate flavor, but the meat was almost inedible. Pork belly is usually served hot and in small pieces because it’s a fatty meat and unpleasant cold; had this been eaten while the meat was warm, it would have been delicious. I know because I chopped some of it, heated it in a frying pan, and it was superb: rich, smoky and lightly salty.
The brisket and chicken were excellent, served shredded instead of in chunks so that the crusty exterior was mixed in with more moist and tender inside cuts. The spicing and sauce were mild with a faint peppery bite, just enough to keep things interesting. The ribs, however, had an odd taste that several people at the table described as fishy. They were beautiful and meaty, but nobody ate more than one. This brought up one of the problems with getting things to go — if you have a problem while dining in, you can get food replaced, but I was miles away from anybody who could do anything about it. I called to complain and was told that an adjustment would be made and a manager would call me back. It has been a week and I have not heard from them.
There was plenty of food without the ribs, however, and we focused on the things that worked out well. The beans had a nice molasses finish without being too sweet, and the cornbread was excellent, with a medium grain and pieces of corn in each little muffin. The mac and cheese was a style I’m not a big fan of, hypercreamy and rich, but the rest of the people at the table were happy. We finished with chocolate chip cookies that were tossed in as a complimentary item — a nice touch.
Even without the ribs, the portion that was supposedly designed for three was plenty for four, and we even had leftovers. I’d like to try their ribs sometime and verify that our experience was an anomaly, because everything else from Pork Belly’s hit the spot. I spent just over $80 on the meal, and even with one major component missing it had been a good one.
Pork Belly’s opens at 11 a.m. daily and closes at 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 9 p.m. on Sundays. Street parking only. Take out or dine at the outside table. Menu online.