Standing outside Pork Belly's, the new sandwich shop on Abbot Kinney in Venice, a man voices his displeasure at his Belly Up barbecue sandwich. “It's just all fat,” he explains to one of the guys working at the shop.
The employee patiently explains that those slabs of fatty pork belly are basically the entire premise of the shop. “That's what pork belly is like. It's bacon, just large slabs of uncured bacon.”
He offers to get the guy another sandwich, one not made from the shop's namesake meat, and the customer gladly accepts, saying sheepishly to others standing around the outside table, “Usually a barbecue sandwich is pulled pork; I was expecting pulled pork. This is just slabs of fat.”
It would be easy to scoff at someone complaining about the fat content of a sandwich at a shop called Pork Belly's, but the guy has a point. Even if it's what you're expecting, a sandwich full of pork belly is a lot of fat to swallow in one sitting.
The shop, which opened in the middle of July, is a tiny affair — the kitchen takes up almost the entirety of the inside space, with a small alcove for customers to order and wait for their food. There's no seating, just two tables on the sidewalk you can stand at to eat. It's an exercise in letting go of your inhibitions to eat sandwiches this sloppy while standing in the sun for all of Abbot Kinney to see.
The signature sandwich — the one a certain gentleman was so distraught over — has three thick slices of pork belly on a soft brioche bun, with coleslaw that is almost tangy enough to balance the intensity of the meat and slight sweetness of the barbecue sauce. More balanced is the PBLT, a BLT made with the same slabs of pork belly and served on sourdough toast. The freshness of the lettuce and tomato go a long way toward mitigating the meat.
There are not nearly enough fried pickles in the world, and Pork Belly's furthers the cause with a crispy, salty cornmeal version that comes with a pinkish mayo dipping sauce. You also can get something called “slop tots”: tater tots covered in cheese and chorizo sloppy joe. Just what you need alongside your fat sandwich.
There are those who feel the pork belly obsession has gone too far, and that there are very few preparations that actually manage to do the meat any justice. Then there are those who adore the crisped edges and soft interior, the outrageous richness, the almost dessert-like quality of this cult cut of meat. For the former, Pork Belly's will do nothing to convince them they're wrong. For the latter, the shop is an indulgence that may even be worth smearing your face in grease on one of America's trendiest streets.
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