Watch out, John Taylor… there’s a new pork roll in town

For a century, pork roll in New Jersey has gone by one name, despite competitors: John Taylor.

IMG_20141123_092808Our beloved “Taylor Ham,” or pork roll, we can argue about what it’s actually called, but let’s agree that our unofficial state Mystery Meat is delicious. The spice recipe is a well-guarded secret, and because it is a type of sausage, we know not to look too closely as to how it is made. So I’ve drastically cut down my consumption, as processed food products, especially those with nitrites, have become a health concern.

Well now there’s a grass-fed, pasture raised and antibiotic-free contender in the ring, from Vincenza meats. Available in New Jersey at Whole Foods, in the deli, I first learned of them in a Saturday Star-Ledger article, and immediately walked up Bloomfield Avenue to my local Whole Paycheck. I had to scour the store; it’s not packaged, it is a deli item. I ordered mine a little thin because I like mine crispy, but forgot this is “deli thin” so normal thicker slices might have been better to mimic the packaged pork roll slices.

IMG_20141123_093051

They cook up nicely in a little butter. They have enough fat to not need butter, but why not? I didn’t slice the edges to keep them flat, because I thought they’d fry more like salami, but they still puffed up like the classic. You can see the spices once they start cooking.I let the edges get crisp and then flipped them, and because I don’t have rolls, I simply fried up some tomatoes and eggs to go with.

IMG_20141123_093550

The taste? Like good pork roll. Nothing unique or different, which was the idea- to make it taste like classic Jersey pork roll. It has some tang to it, thanks to the fermentation, and the article states they put a little port wine in the mix, but it doesn’t taste fancified. So, if you’ve been looking for a pork roll made from humanely raised pigs, Vincenza pork roll will satisfy your conscience. At $14.99 a pound (versus $7.49 for John Taylor pork roll) it’s twice the price, for about the same taste. I haven’t been able to verify the ingredients, if he adds nitrates, whether from celery juice or not.

Next time I’ll do a side by side test with kaiser rolls and Land O’ Lakes American cheese.

Taylor Ham or Pork Roll?

If you don’t know what either of those are, you are missing out on the king of breakfast meats. Thinly sliced, spicy breakfast salami, it is the official breakfast meat of New Jersey:

Taylor Pork Roll

Some call it pork roll, others Taylor Ham, though it only vaguely resembles ham. It’s not rubbery like Spam, or grainy like scrapple. It has a spice all its own, and when sliced thin and fried to crisp edges, it is the perfect accompaniment to a fried egg and slice of American cheese (Land O’ Lakes preferred) on a kaiser roll, bagel, English muffin, tortilla, or my favorite, challah French Toast:

jersey farmer
The Jersey Farmer at the Candlewyck Diner

P.S.: Challah is pronounced “Holla!”

You can get this at the Candlewyck Diner near Giants stadium in the Meadowlands, and I reviewed this great Jersey diner for Devil Gourmet, in my weekly column The Big Eat.

 

Krug’s Tavern – still the best

Open since 1938, once owned by Raging Bull boxer Jake “The Bronx Bull” LaMotta and still owned by his family, Krug’s Tavern in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood is housed in an unassuming and dilapidated building that could be mistaken for a run of the gin mill bar full of cranky old men drinking piss-yellow beer out of tiny glasses. Inside, it has that kind of feel. A few high top tables, a long mahogany bar with patched red vinyl stools. A poster of LaMotta behind the bar, amidst the bottles of Tullamore Dew.

But if you venture in the flimsy storm door and linger, you’ll find an energetic blue collar crowd stuffing the place at lunch hour, from electrical workers and hard hats in uniform, the boys from the docks in their tracksuits, and cop brass stretching their conservatively cut sport coats. The kind of place where crook and law alike will belly up to the bar. Behind which sits a glass case brimming with meatballs the size of grapefruit, which will soon become a legendary burger for those with king size appetites. Order one and they’ll flatten out that softball of fat speckled chuck on the griddle and sizzle it low and slow so it remains juicy even if you order it well done.

When I was a kid, there was a diner car named Nunzio’s, run by an eponymous, mustachioed fellow who could’ve jumped in a pair of overalls and white gloves to play Super Mario. He served a juicy burger on a Kaiser roll that remains the paragon of burgers to me. He wouldn’t serve me one on Friday during Lent, either. I had to get peppers and eggs on a roll. Krug’s burger hits that nostalgic memory in the bullseye. They serve theirs on a large sesame seed bun that is just barely up to the task. It stays together, but you eat your burger wondering if you’ll have to finish with a knife and fork, especially if you’re generous with the ketchup.

Places that manage a juicy griddle burger are uncommon these days. Ann’s Snack Bar in Atlanta makes an even bigger patty than Krug’s, their infamous Ghetto Burger- a full pound of well-seasoned beef topped with chili and cheese, the size of the paper plate it’s served on- and Jimmy’s in Harlem steams theirs under a steel ice cream cup. Both are worth visiting, but if you’re in New Jersey, only Krug’s will do. Oh, I love the burgers at the Cloverleaf Tavern. If you get them medium rare, those perfect chewy rolls handle any number of toppings, from their Cajun Crunch burger topped with house-made spicy potato chips, to the Fatburger with Monterey Jack cheese sticks and Taylor Ham pork roll. But Krug’s is all about the beef.

I’ve had bacon cheese burgers at Krug’s, and most recently, a Taylor Ham & cheese (pictured above). It is that rare burger that is not overwhelmed by a crisp and smoky slice of bacon, or two slices of fat and spicy pork roll. All you taste is good, juicy, ground beef. What a burger should be. They pack 3/4 of a pound into that bun for $6.50. Bacon or Taylor is a buck extra. Fries and battered onion rings- both excellent, crispy and always fried in fresh, tasteless oil- are extra. And enormous. Their mozzarella sticks are house made, never frozen, fried to bursting, crisp and gooey as they are meant to be. They have a good selection on tap, with Harpoon and Sam Adams available as well as the American trinity of Bud-Miller-Coors. They serve Cokes in the can, and your meal begins with a fresh sour pickle and two hot cherry vinegar peppers arranged in vulgar fashion.

I’ve written about Krug’s before for Serious Eats, and it is always a memorable experience. They are consistent, and I’ve never had a bad burger. Doing it since 1938 must help. The place ain’t pretty, but it’s got character. There’s a biscuit shaped elbow of pipe jutting through the tiles in the men’s room. A ’58 Thunderbird rusts on flat tires in the parking lot. Loud men lunch here, venting out the day’s woes. But it’s an original, and without pretense. My kind of place. Next, I’ll give you the rundown on my favorite seafood joint- not Legal Seafood, despite their excellent food- but a little hole in the wall in Garfield where a bowl of fried clams and a beer won’t set you back more than six bucks.

© 2012 Thomas Pluck
I post on Twitter as TommySalami ~ My Facebook Page