The Bratl – A Pork Whore’s Bliss

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In her famous book The Art of Eating, in the essay titled “Serve It Forth,” my literary food idol MFK Fisher writes:

“And sensible and kind she remains, although in her directions for Roast Pig she betrays some of that tenderness for sucklings which is even more notable in large men. My father, for instance, who flees sentimentality like the black pox, confesses that one of the loveliest things he has ever seen was—not a sunrise, not a sweet lass naked—was a litter of new piglets, pink and dainty.”

It is the perfect description of a Pork Whore—and I only know this all too well because I am wholeheartedly one of them. Although I can appreciate the desires evoked by sunsets and naked women, it’s a succulent piece of pork that gives me true shivers. And most likely, the particular pork dish I would choose at the moment is the Bratl crafted with an uncanny flair by my favorite Austrian Chef Bernhard Mairinger at his downtown Los Angeles snack shop BierBeisl Imbiss.

The Bratl is an exquisitely sinful sandwich consisting of either a short, round or long oblong home-baked pretzel bun. On one half of the bread sits three plump lengths of pork belly slab, fried to a crispy exterior around a meaty middle. On top of the high class bacon, sits piled a daintily-strung coleslaw, its dressing as appealing as cold milk on a torrid day, studded with seeds of caraway. A swath of good rustic mustard lines the lower bun lending a perfect, subtle tang. The soft innards of a few dill pickles are strung across the entire composition in flimsy ribbons of flavor that weave the whole thing together. I am always too full to finish the sandwich, yet somehow I always manage to anyway. It is a good thing I don’t live close by—otherwise, I would very quickly acquire my very own pork belly.

And, as if you needed anymore derogatory evidence of what a flat out pig slut I can be, I will relate a funny thing that happened while I ate my Bratl alongside my lunch guest who was equally oohing and aahing over her lingonberry studded schnitzel across the table. At one point in the meal, loud sirens started to blare and lights started to flash in the Spring Street Arcade building which houses the restaurant. A voice over the loud speaker started speaking in ominous tones telling all of us inhabitants to clear the area as their had been a major emergency. I still don’t know if there was an emergency or not. All I know is that we briefly looked around at each other—Chef Mairinger in the open kitchen, my guest, the other beer drinking businessmen and myself and then promptly, communally shrugged and dived right back into our food. It is just that good.

Karen Hatfield Inspired New Year’s Bread Bath

IMG_9390While most well meaning citizens of the world are busy embarking on New Year’s Resolutions to lose weight, eat better, exercise more and indulge less, the Cute Gardener and I decided to go the masochistic route as the non-conformists we are and celebrate 2015 with a Karen Hatfield-inspired bread bath.

Karen Hatfield is the prettier half of the husband wife team making some of the best food Los Angeles has to offer. Husband Quinn’s Hatfield’s Restaurant provided one of the dinners early on in my relationship with the CG that made me swoon the most. It is where I had an extremely memorable coconut soup, lamb lollipop and earl grey milkshake before jumping on a flight mid-summer to Santa Fe to see one of my best friend’s get married; a multi-course meal that will forever be connected to whimsy and romance in my mind. It is also where the CG and I ducked in post-dinner elsewhere for an unconventional dessert of exquisite agnolotti and popcorn at the bar one eclectic evening. Good times.

Hatfield’s decided to close its doors this past month to much local chagrin but I think it was a smart move. The CG was already talking about how, after being there multiple times, the food was losing its shine. Not because it was no longer good, but because it was no longer new. The couple decided the restaurant had run its course and are now working on a new venture called Odys and Penelope which is garnering much anticipation. Like true artists they allowed a vision to materialize in Hatfield’s, gave it their all, and are now moving on to the next project. Restaurateurs should be so lucky.

Odys and Penelope will be a few doors down from Karen’s pastry chef passion pit The Sycamore Kitchen. Having never been to the trendy bakery/cafe, we decided to spend New Year’s weekend trying out the goods. At eleven a.m. on a Saturday the line to the order counter was twenty people deep and all seats were taken. The twenty minute wait gave us plenty of time to view the salivation-starter baked goods case overflowing with dense, sweet loaf breads of chocolate, lemon and pumpkin, top hat high quiches, shiny iced fennel flower shaped cookies and thick rosemary shortbread triangles. Normally we aren’t seduced by this kind of display but if Karen makes food anywhere near like her husband we knew we would want to try everything. After ordering our lunch, we added a chocolate chip rye cookie, salted caramel pecan babka, onion and chorizo roll and flaky buttercup to go.

IMG_9384Our meal was heavenly. The woman knows how to bake. Even though I am a pork belly whore by nature, I felt the star of my Double BLT was not the tender, flabby, luscious pork stuffed with avocado, perfectly cooked bacon and butter lettuce into the sandwich, but the soft, doughy, white bread that acted as a perfect sponge to the balsamic-tinged mayo that brightened the traditional dish into something meriting praise. The CG’s grilled short rib sandwich was a runny gooey pile of yum on an equally great piece of bread seared up nicely on the outside. If Karen did bread this good, I couldn’t wait to try my sweets.

IMG_9388The chocolate chip rye cookie didn’t last five minutes after arriving home. It was a crunchy mess with melted disks of chocolate on the inside, accentuated by the sweet-detracting acerbic nature of rye—perfect for a grain lover like me. Later that evening, we participated in a Roman-orgy worthy carb fest. Leftover regular and marbled rye from Diamond Bakery and Brent’s (another two favorite bread joints in L.A.) surrounded tomatoes on a platter for use as carriers of the CG’s homemade chicken liver mousse.

IMG_9386The onion chorizo roll was heated so that the fat from the meat mingled with the warm, sweet onions within the crispy bread exterior. We cut the buttercup into fourths so that we could lick the sweet insides of sugary butter prior to popping the rest of the croissant like, crystal sugar coated bliss into our mouths. We sipped champagne along with this gluttony until the main course was through.

IMG_9393Finally, we transitioned to caramel-noted bourbon to accompany the dessert babka—another bread bomb smothered with thick salted caramel that, once cut into, revealed ant farm like trails of glistening cinnamon.

Being two people who are not prone to eat bread on a regular basis, we sure got our fill in one evening for the entire year and it was worth every bite.