At Porchetta, the Namesake Dish Is Just About the Whole Deal
110 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10000 (b/n 1st and A; map); 212-777-2151; porchettanyc.com
Service: Friendly counter people take your order. That's the extent of the service here
Setting: A tiny storefront with counter seating for four
Compare It To: The roast pork sandwich at 'wichcraft, Sophie's, Milanes, or Sandy's Lechoneria
Must-Haves: Porchetta sandwich, potatoes and burnt ends
Cost: $18 for a porchetta sandwich, potatoes, and a soda (don't get the Boylan's Diet Cane Sugar Cola, it tastes like medicine)
If you love pig in all its forms the way I do, a serious chef opening a restaurant dedicated to porchetta is cause for celebration. That's of course assuming that said chef can deliver a fabulous rendition of porchetta, which in central Italy is a crazy delicious whole boned and roasted pig seasoned with lots of salt, pepper, garlic, and wild fennel.
Sara Jenkins, co-author of Figs and Oranges and Porchetta's owner, is an extremely accomplished Italian chef who actually grew up spending summers in Italy. Clearly she knows her way around porchetta.
Her version is made from whole Hampshire pork loins that she cooks for four to five hours in a special combination steam and dry heat oven at two different temperatures (350°F to brown the outside and 220°F to slowly cook the interior). At any one time in the tiny shop you can see two of these beautiful golden brown puppies, with their crunchy exterior skin giving way to streaks of fat and tender, well-seasoned pig flesh.
You can get your porchetta two ways here; as a simple sandwich, no garnish necessary, on a Sullivan Street Bakery ciabatta roll, or as a platter with sauteed greens and beans.
The smallish (think 'wichcraft sizes and prices) sandwich ($9) is a thing of minimalist porcine beauty. It consists of chunks of ultra-crispy skin and chunks of pork, some rimmed with fat and some not, nestled into the ciabatta roll. It is certainly some extremely tasty pig, but I wanted the pig flesh to have a little more internal moisture, to be a little juicier. Who knows? Maybe that will come with time.
The cooking greens ($5) (either Swiss chard or broccoli rabe) were tender and well-cooked (first blanched and then finished in a sauté pan with garlic and chili oil). I did not do this on either of my visits, but you might want to ask the helpful counterwoman to put the greens on the sandwich. If it's good enough for Tony Luke in Philly it should work here. This may be an Italian-American impulse, but that in and of itself doesn't make it bad. If you want your greens uncooked there's also a very bitter chicory salad with creamy garlic dressing ($6).
The platter ($12) gives you more pork, some greens, and a portion of beans ($5) steamed in the comby oven and then finished in a saute pan with cooked down carrot, celery, and onions. The beans are slightly al dente and maintain their structural integrity, which means they are not quite as creamy and flavorful as I would like.
Way better than the beans are the crispy potatoes and burnt ends ($5) , which are tossed with crispy porchetta shards. There's enough pork in an order to get some in every bite. That means it's way better than the peanuts-to-popcorn ratio in a box of Crackerjacks.
If you are not a pig freak, don't worry. Jenkins has put a mozzarella and sun-dried tomato sandwich ($7) on the menu for the likes of you. It's not a mozzarella sandwich for the ages, but it does suffice. And since both the beans and the greens are vegetarian preparations, you can have a pig-free meal at Porchetta pretty easily.
For dessert you can buy a bag of four plain house-baked biscotti ($4) that add very little to the Porchetta experience and don't even satisfy a craving for something sweet to end the meal with.
I think there should be a porchetta sandwich available on every block in NYC (are you listening, Mayor Bloomberg? I would be glad to head up the city's porchetta initiative). At least that's my fantasy. But until my porcine fantasies come true we'll have to make do with visiting Sara Jenkins' tiny storefront. It's not the porchetta sandwich joint of my dreams, but it's still pretty swell.