By Gretchen Kurtz
By Mark Antonation
By Cafe Society
By Kristin Pazulski
By Chris Utterback
By Cafe Society
By Jamie Swinnerton
By Jamie Swinnerton
Our lunch started with pulled-pork sliders with barbecue sauce and bread-and-butter pickles. The sandwich wasn't exactly a faithful reproduction of the Carolina classic (what with the good mini boules instead of Piggly Wiggly white bread, and slaw on the side), but it was damn fine, made with nicely smoked shoulder, tender and fork-shredded — three to a plate, four bites each, gone in under two minutes. Next came the most genius idea I've heard in a year: a bacon flight. One giant white plate laid with four strips of high-quality thick-cut bacon, perfectly cooked (meaning soft and fatty and meaty, not burned to a goddamn crisp by some brain-damaged line dog), and then a scattering of sides for assembling custom BLTs: sliced French bread, garlic chèvre, mango salsa (weird...), shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, a single almond, some other very artsy stuff. I ignored them all and just ate the bacon. There was a brown-sugar bacon, sweet and sticky as honey; an amazing curried strip, which almost caused a fight at our table over the last bit; a garlic-and-spice mix that was distracting at first bite, then good for the rest; and a strange balsamic-vinegar-dressed strip with herbs that looked like it ought to be the grossest thing in the world but was as delicious as a slice of bacon dragged through a puddle of herbed balsamic vin could be — which, surprisingly, was delicious indeed.
That plate was gone even faster than the sliders.
We also had a bowl of the house-roasted red pepper, tomato, basil and parmesan soup, which was excellent — proof that the galley here has some classical grounding, some talent at the stoves beyond that which a pig can bring out in almost anyone — and more sandwiches. The ham and cheese was actually serrano off the slicer, slabs of fresh mozzarella, shredded romaine and roasted tomatoes dripping with sandwich oil all crushed together on a crusty baguette. The King was exactly what you'd expect: peanut butter, bananas and bacon. The bananas had been caramelized in butter, which they'd sucked up like little sponges; the bacon was piled on with glorious, heart-unhealthy abandon; and the sandwich was grilled just enough to melt everything together into one wonderful, huge dripping mess. In my afterlife, poets will write odes to this sandwich and cardiologists will eat it for breakfast.
The Berkshire lunch menu does offer other, pig-free items: an ahi tuna club, a very good, simple grilled cheese (aged cheddar, American and Swiss, run through a sandwich press), salads and even a tofu Reuben with sauerkraut and pastrami spices.
We went back for dinner and found a nice crowd on the floor. Service is always friendly, and no matter what you ask for, the waitress will tell you that you made the right choice. That's either condescension or the truth: It's tough to go wrong with a mostly-pig board of fare. Laura and I joked about the Tijuana Caesar at the top of the menu; it sounded like the kind of thing you could get for fifty bucks in an alley off the American quarter in TJ if you know the right people to ask. We passed by the seared diver scallops (wrapped in bacon) and the stuffed jalapeños (wrapped in pancetta), the filet mignon (with pancetta marsala) and the honey-mint salmon (no pork at all), and went for the meatloaf (made with pork) and the Berkshire pork belly (made of pork).
"Excellent choices," said our waitress. Of course.
The meatloaf was excellent — dense and flavorful, cooked as an individual small loaf studded with onions and fennel, crowned with a glaze of BBQ ketchup and served with mashed potatoes and the world's ugliest tournée carrots. Seriously, it looked like they'd been done by a serial killer. And the pork belly was pure, indulgent overkill — a huge slab of fat-capped belly, seared crisp and roasted until the fat was meltingly soft and the meat pulled away as soon as I looked at it. The meat was deeply earthy, almost gamey, and tasted of hog, hog and more hog — the purest essence of pig save the trotters. The belly was served mounted sideways on a fried grit cake spiked with white cheddar, decorated with a fall of creamed spinach (the only thing on the plate I didn't like because — believe it or not — it was actually too rich, even for me) and crowned with what the menu called "red onion marmalade" but what were actually pieces of candied red onion. They looked like bits of fried pancetta, but they weren't — which I only discovered after scooping up a big mouthful. For onions, they weren't bad. For pancetta, they were awful.
We skipped dessert (peanut butter truffles with bacon — what else?) simply because we didn't need any. Stuffed with pig, we were already waddling. And while Laura might still go for the greasy chrome diner as her perfect restaurant (or, more likely, a Mexican dive with bottomless tequila bottles and magical chips and salsa), I was already halfway to heaven on the streets of Stapleton, wondering only how long it would be before I could get back to the Berkshire again.