Our weekly bite explores the city's food trucks, one at a time, highlighting our favorite mobile dishes and snacks.
The Truck: Belly Burgers
The Cuisine: Melting-pot American cuisine
Specialty Items: Pork belly burgers
Worth the Wait in Line? Good god, yes
Ok, so I am cheating a little here. While Belly Burger isn't a truck, it is a vendor at Off the Grid Fort Mason, where I got a chance to sample them during the special Holiday market. The sandwich concept seems excessive even by food truck standards: take a slab of pork belly, grind it, make patties, then fry them up on a griddle. What comes out is something not quite a burger, yet somehow embodying the platonic ideals of a great hamburger: crisp, just fatty enough, meaty, and dressed with condiments that multiply the flavor of the meat. Belly Burger broke the mold and now you should expect that the occasional mobile kitchen not on wheels will appear in this column from time to time.
There are usually three to four different kinds of burgers available, including the Bahn Baby, Bahn Belly Burger ($6 for one, $10 for any two; pork belly patty, fried egg, cilantro, jalapeño, Vietnamese caramel) that had a that great herbal-heat kick of a great bahn mi sandwich. Another staple is the All American Belly Burger ($6 for one, $10 for any two; pork belly patty, rosemary mayo, apples, cheddar cheese), and even though I have never been a fan of cheddar on apple pie, the pork patty tied everything together with crunch, sweetness, and tartness of apple flawlessly.
Maybe it was because it was the first one I tried, and like a first kiss, I could not stop thinking about the Classic Belly Burger ($6 for one, $10 for any two; pork belly patty, fried pobalno and serrano pepper aioli, tomatillo relish, cotija cheese). In fact, a few bites in and I was already kicking myself for not ordering two. The gentle heat of the aioli, salty cheese, and perfectly tuned acidity of the tomatillo relish needed nothing else.
Chef Tom Pizzica is the mastermind behind the Belly Burgers, and got the idea when he was invited to face off in a cooking competition against some cooking heavy weights at Pork Summit. "I was on the bill with the likes of Paul Kahn out of Chicago and Jose Garces of Iron Chef fame and BBQ master Chris Lilly out of Alabama," explained Pizzica. He got the light bulb moment in Des Moines Iowa while filming "Outrageous Food" for the Food Network: a 100% ground pork belly burger.
"When I got home, I ran down to Duc Loi, bought some belly, and ground it up using the meat grinder attachment on my Kitchen Aid mixer," explained Pizzica, adding, "when I fried it up and tasted the patty for the first time I couldn't believe it hadn't been done before on a mainstream level." Using an old steakhouse technique he used simple white bread buns, but butter grilled each half to make them taste great on their own.
Since the Fort Mason Off the Grid is on hibernation until spring, you can find him doing a pop-up at Beast and the Hare (22nd and Guerrero) Friday nights from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m., then hopefully at a retail location this coming year.