Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Brohugs and Pork Belly

Chef Ray Tatum (L) and Michael Corenblith

So, a couple of weeks back one of my bestest and long-timiest buddies was in town for a quick weekend visit, Michael Corenblith, AKA “Mickey” Corenblith. The nickname is important, because having the same name is how we met back in the summer of 1963, in the swimming pool at Camp Tom Wooten Boy Scout Camp, on Bull Creek, where a bunch of ugly, very expensive and very large houses now sit (I’m sure their owners think they look very nice).  Our respective troops happened to be in the pool at the same time for free swim and we were asked to buddy-up. Once we realized we had the same nicknames, relatively unusual nicknames at that, the bond was set, and even though we hadn’t gone to school together up to that point, at the end of the summer we would both be at the same junior high school. The friendship would continue through high school, and college, up to this very day. His folks, Louis and Lois, are like a second set of parents to me. When I’m over there I get called Jon Michael and he gets called Michael, so we know which of the sons named Michael is being addressed.

Anyway, Michael (as he prefers to be called these days) went out to Hollywood after film school at UT and worked his way up to be an award-winning and highly respected Production Designer in the film biz, and having a nickname like “Mickey” didn’t fit into that highfalutin world, so Michael he is. After schedules were coordinated, it was agreed that we would go to our other long-time buddy’s food trailer for Saturday evening supper. Ray Tatum is another best friend from way back in the school days, and he owns Three Little Pigs in east Austin, where 11th and Rosewood diverge; one of the top trailers in town, serving some of the best food in Austin.


So after hearty salutations and brohugs we decided to run the menu, one of everything. I’ll follow the dishes as they are pictured on the tray. The pork belly slider is overstuffed with unctuous braised pork belly that melts in your mouth and the apple adds a perfect crunch, while the crispy scallions and maple-soy glaze balance dish. A perfect series of bites. The noodles had crunchy chunks of pork belly and mushroom, wok-kissed baby bok choy, all tossed with al dente noodles and a spicy black bean sauce.  Is this dude Sichuan?....nope, he's from NE Austin.  Ray makes a bacon-wrapped pork meatloaf that has little porky nuggets of craklins embedded in the mixture. A thick slice of the loaf sits atop a pool of rich, garlicky cheese grits, and the griddle-browned slice is topped off by a small pile of soul-style collard greens. A silky, rich reduced sauce bathes the loaf; a taste explosion that harkens back to Ray's southern roots with a hipsterish, haute cuisine twist.

Top row, left to right: slider, noodles, meatloaf
Bottom row, left to right: sausage, fried chicken, carnitas, stuffed tenderloin

Number four was a boat filled with crispy slices of venison sausage and caramelized baby Brussels sprouts, riding a pile of steamed jasmine rice. Sounds simple, but a perfect combination of flavors.  Asian fried chicken is the best fried chicken in Austin; hands down. Imagine Korean-style fried chicken with a crispy crust and a tender, moist steaming interior, tossed with a sweet-chile sauce, and then drizzled with a wasabi-aioli. If fried chicken and chile candy ever had a hybrid love child, this would be it. Addictively good and coaxing moans from all who ate it. Pork carnitas ceviche-style is chunks of rich pork simmered in their own luscious fat, and then tossed with the components of a classic ceviche: lime juice, garlic, onion, cilantro, avocado; it makes for a pleasing balance. The last dish was pork tenderloin stuffed with chorizo, pork belly, and Oaxaca cheese and then slow roasted until it gets seductive. Slices go atop a mound of buttery mashed potatoes, and the whole thing gets slathered with a zesty tomatillo sauce. Another winner.

We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore, and almost finished the lot. That’s a lot of food for two healthy eaters. When Ray had a chance through the night he’d come out and bullshit with us over beers. Michael was blown away by the quality and creativity of the food, and was really impressed with the whole setup at East End Wines. There was a cool breeze blowing in from over the State Cemetery, making for a very pleasant early summer night. Great seeing Michael again, great seeing Raymie again, and even better eating the menu at Three Little Pigs. If you haven’t been, it comes VERY HIGHLY recommended.

Mick Vann ©


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