Prosciutto di parma and jamón ibérico might hog all the porkcentric attention, but what some chefs are really excited about these days is a bit more déclassé. Mystery meats like pork roll and Spam are making somewhat subversive inroads on inventive menus around town, spurred on by both the quest for novelty and a nostalgic embrace of regional-American roots. “Bologna just occurred to me one day,” says No. 7’s Tyler Kord, the René Magritte of surrealist sandwiches. “I’d forgotten about it for so long it was like discovering a new ingredient.” Here, a breakdown of three lowbrow lunch meats and where to find them, plus a shout-out to mortadella, the original bologna, from Bologna—Oscar Mayer’s aristocratic ancestor.
WHAT: The Italian version (and mother of all bologna) is made from finely ground pork and luscious blobs of back fat called lardelli, plus seasonings and, often, pistachios; good domestic versions are increasingly available. Aficionados prefer the larger sizes, cut into small cubes rather than sliced.
WHERE: At Osteria Morini (218 Lafayette St., nr. Kenmare St.; 212-965-8777), Michael White fashions two chunks into a mini corn dog of sorts, skewered with a piece of cheese on his fritto plate; at brunch, “the Morini” combines a mortadella cutlet with two sunnyside-up eggs and truffled cream spinach. At Motorino in Williamsburg (319 Graham Ave., at Devoe St.; 718-599-8899), it makes a perfect appetizer, cubed and roasted in the wood-fired oven.
BUY: Di Palo Dairy (200 Grand St., at Mott St.; 212-226-1033; $8.99 a pound; pictured) and Salumeria Rosi (283 Amsterdam Ave., nr. 73rd St.; 212-877-4800; $11 a pound) import theirs from Bologna, while the Meat Hook (100 Frost St., nr. Meeker Ave., Williamsburg; 718-349-5033; $10 a pound) makes its own.
Taylor Pork Roll
WHAT: Born in Trenton in 1856, this supersalty, compulsively edible precooked pork sausage is the unofficial state meat of New Jersey and the pride of Garden State natives like Prune’s Gabrielle Hamilton, who has featured it on her menu. Some folks are partial to Case’s, a Taylor competitor, and depending on geography, it’s also known as Taylor ham.
WHERE: The exuberantly stocked Court Street Grocers in Carroll Gardens (485 Court St., nr. Nelson St.; 718-722-7229) serves a classic pork roll, egg, and cheese (pictured). Jersey native Matt Ross notches the meat so it doesn’t bubble up and crisps it on a sandwich press until “it squeals.” Also essential to the experience: “Ketchup. You gotta have ketchup.” At Crif Dogs (113 St. Marks Pl., nr. Ave. A; 212-614-2728), pork roll is swaddled around the shop’s signature franks, deep-fried, and garnished with everything from fried eggs to chili.
BUY: Jersey Pork Roll (jerseyporkroll.com) ships three-pound Taylor pork rolls for $22.95.
What: Launched in 1937, Hormel’s finely ground pork-and-ham gift to World War II Army grunts is spiced with salt and sugar (“SPiced” plus “hAM” equals SPAM) and bound together with potato starch. It’s huge in Hawaii, and thus gaining ground during New York’s tiki moment. At the Polynesian-themed Lani Kai in Soho, chef Craig Rivard reverse-engineered a tin of the stuff to create his own from naturally raised pork butt, prosciutto cotto, garlic, shallots, brandy, and various secret spices (above).
WHERE: Pop-up brunch spot Maharlika (351 E. 12th St., nr. First Ave.; no phone) employs thinly sliced Spam and calamansi hollandaise to reinterpret eggs Benedict as eggs Benigno. And Rivard’s housemade version graces a pressed “Spam-and-cheese” (above) and studs the mac and cheese at Lani Kai (525 Broome St., nr. Thompson St.; 646-596-8778).
BUY: Your local bodega.
WHAT: Finely ground sausage—typically a beef-and-pork combo—is rich in collagen, characteristically bouncy, and lovingly layered between two slices of white bread with a Kraft single by moms everywhere.
WHERE: At No. 7 (7 Greene Ave., nr. Fulton St., Ft. Greene; 718-522-6370), Tyler Kord soaks thick slabs of Schaller & Weber bologna in a Korean-style bulgogi marinade, grills them, and stacks them with fried eggs, feta, and pickled onions on housemade “everything” rolls for brunch (pictured). At Seersucker (329 Smith St., nr. President St., Carroll Gardens; 718-422-0444), Rob Newton prefers Boar’s Head brand (“You can’t get too fancy with this stuff”), which he fries until crisp and tucks into a Thomas’s English muffin with an elegant swipe of Dijon mustard.
BUY: Schaller & Weber (1654 Second Ave., nr. 86th St.; 212-879-3047; $7.59 a pound).