Jeff Mauro is the local guy who has hosted many seasons of Emmy-nominated "The Sandwich King" and won season seven of Food Network Star. In 2016, he opened a restaurant in Bucktown– Pork & Mindy's – that we were finally able to visit.
Before I tell you about Pork & Mindy's, let me tell you a little about Mauro. He's a trained chef and a trained performer. When you watch him on one of his shows, you see a guy who is completely comfortable being on camera, who knows how to keep things moving and who knows how to make himself understood in front of an audience. He's also a very nice guy; I've run into him a few times over the years, at FFC on Lake Street, at parties, and he's always completely the same guy as he is on television: easy-going, well-mannered, funny and friendly. When I ran into him last September at Hamburger Hop, he told me he and his family had moved to River Forest – glad he's staying in the neighborhood.
Pork & Mindy's is a relatively modest storefront in a hip part of town, and there are big plans to expand to multiple locations in the years to come.
Billed as offering "creative BBQ," Pork & Mindy's is not serving up the traditional rack of ribs, tips, and so on, but rather sandwiches (surprise!), or in Chicagoese, "sangwiches," like Bao to the Pork (pulled pork with plum sauce and daikon on a steamed bao bun) and Pastramindy Reuben (hand-cut pastrami – yeah, it makes a difference that they don't use a machine – with smoky cheese and kraut on marble rye).
Mauro is also hanging his hat on the tater tot, a guilty pleasure of mine (and, I suspect, many others). There are no chips and no fries at Pork & Mindy's, but there are the tots done several ways, like Buffalo Tot (with Buffalo sauce, blue cheese and ranch dressing) and you can get tots, instead of bread, with pork and beef. I've had "chef" versions of tots at higher end restaurants, but none have ever been so good as the traditional versions like those sold at Pork & Mindy's.
We tried some of the fried giardiniera, which is usually offered as an accoutrement to some sangwiches like 3 Big Piggies (a monster-sized serving of pork done three ways). Fried giardiniera is a genius idea: just the Italian pickled vegetables (peppers, celery and others), lightly battered and fried. The acidity of the pickles slice through the fried coating, the kind of thing you could eat a lot of if you have no self-control. We ate a lot.
Our big favorite of the evening was the Pig Candy, bacon brushed with brown sugar and then slow smoked in the back of the restaurant until it's brittle and crackly. For some reason, the fattiness of pork works very well with sugar (see honey-baked ham, sugar-cured pork, etc.) and these little strips of crisp sugary pig meat are a must-try for anyone who goes to Pork & Mindy's.
There's now a Pork & Mindy's at Chicago's recently opened Forum 55, with new locations starting up in the Wells Street Market and on Irving Park Road. In Minneapolis, Pork & Mindy's is at Elevate Food Hall.
Maybe Mauro should open a franchise in Oak Park.
Pork & Mindy's
1623 N. Milwaukee Ave
Chicago, IL 60647
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