Pork Belly Grub Shack: Fine swining

Pork Belly Grub Shack

4261 Truxel Rd.
Sacramento, CA

(916) 285-6100

Pork Belly Grub Shack encourages its customers to pig out. A prominent painting carries the mantra, “Swine is Fine.” It is very fine, but the cut from the underside of the pig hovers near 90 percent fat with multiple hundreds of calories per serving. Explaining it a different way, when cured and smoked, pork belly is bacon. The words “pork belly” just scream south of the Mason-Dixon Line: “Hey, y’all, let’s git us some grits and pork belly and maybe fry us up a mess o’ catfish.” But, usually cubed or diced, pork belly is routinely showcased in Asian cooking, and now appears with increasing regularity at swanky white-cloth restaurants.

As the name implies, Pork Belly Grub Shack is anything but swanky with its red-and-white checkered tablecloths and towering plastic self-serve napkin dispenser. The space is sunny and utilitarian. It is a joint venture of Aimel Formoli—of Formoli’s Bistro—and Billy Ngo, creator of Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine and the great, lamentably late Red Lotus Kitchen & Bar. The shack sits in a Natomas strip mall, and, on an initial visit, patrons may recognize a friendly face behind the counter: Kim, the waitress who brightened all visits to Momiji Sushi and Grill, the downtown Japanese joint. Now she’s helping Ngo at the Grub Shack, and the eatery is a better place for having her there.

Kim and the other helpful staff tend to steer patrons toward offerings starring the first two words in the restaurant’s name. (Shocking!) But there is also a barbecue chicken salad, a catfish po’boy, a couple of steak options and several powerful burgers. For vegetarians who venture in, there’s the French Pig sandwich—Brie, roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions—and the Porkless Bella Burger—portobello mushroom and jack cheese with tomato and mixed greens.

A brief detour: The bulk of the burgers and sandwiches are garnished with mixed greens, which deliver a panoply of flavorful interplay with the other ingredients that iceberg can only dream of.

But who the hell wants steak and chicken and big-headed mushrooms at a place that so proudly promotes pork belly? Go whole hog with the Big Piggin burger and accompany it with Pork Belly Fries. Then, try and finish the meal. The first bite is salty and sweet. The beef patty is richly flavored and the barbecue sauce piquant. There’s also some bitchin’ mixed greens, cheddar, a strong splash of garlic aioli and sliced pork belly. It’s greasy and begins to fall apart sooner rather than later, but can’t be put down. It’s not quite as big a handful, however, or as fast a disintegrator as the Hot Mess, a similar burger that’s sans pork belly and served on sourdough with a fried egg on top.

The Pork Belly Fries elicit an immediate, “You’re kidding!” The mound is mondo, laced with thick lines of a mayonnaisey lemon pepper aioli. It’s topped with blue cheese, swell seasonings and 1-inch-by-one-half-inch bricks of pork belly that reveal to the naked eye just exactly how little of them aren’t pure fat. Had medical researchers been sequestered in a laboratory and asked to create the definitive heart plug, this would be it. But what bliss on the way to cardiac shutdown, although personal preference would lower the blue-cheese quotient.

The blue cheese, however, works far better in one of the innovative daily specials, The Stinkin’ Pig, which features the aforementioned cheese, plus pepper jack, plus barbecue sauce, plus cured and smoked pork belly, plus caramelized onions, and a hot chili sauce that’s sweetish with a modest end-of-the-bite burn. There’s nothing stinky about his sandwich—it’s the after-meal-paint-peeling breath that the name memorializes. This kind of hog-wild legerdemain, mixing and matching items found elsewhere on the menu to form a new amalgam, is what elevates this grub shack to well beyond a simple sandwich place.