(Editor's note: Meet two new members of the Model D editorial family, J. Anton Blatz and René Wymer, pseudonyms for intrepid day trippers and night crawlers who will be serializing loosely-connected tales of city life in the form of an illustrated, non-fiction novel. Look for their
Adventures close to home the middle of each month.
)Chapter 1: The Curly Haired Butchers
We file into the only lit storefront on the block. It's a Sunday, and all the restaurants in this corner of the Market are closed. In the front of the shop, a well-lit spread of all things swine: seared kidneys, slow-cooked spare-ribs, pork-broth soup, and pepita-salted popcorn. Friends have brought drinks. Beaujolais Nouveau, jugs of Farm Ale and some loose beers. Rich wood doors line the lower half of the perimeter, with cooking-utensil sculptures set against a deep-red backdrop above.
A mix of business owners, friends, and some folks from the local press make up the scene. A gentleman starting up his own indie wine-delivery service, a young gal working on designing holiday gift bundles of local handmade goods, other business owners, a photographer, a young couple who come to the city for food events, the founder of the Detroit City Futbol League
, a carpenter. A dog day care owner, two dudes from Ohio who went in on the pig 50/50. In the back, the curly-haired men sear the frozen carcass with knives.
Two pig events are happening in Detroit this autumn night. The folks from Michael Symon's upscale Roast will turn one over a fire in a Brush Park backyard, and the curly-haired duo called Porktown Sausage will butcher it's first beast at Supino
The spine curves slowly like a stretched-out letter S. I pictured each of the animal's ribs producing one baby-back rib like the one you eat. I've never seen a pig butchered before and it seemed like simple math. But each rib turns out to be a part of a bone-in chop. I know from listening to the spiels of waiters at fancy steak restaurants in Chicago that the tastiest cut of beef is the Kansas City cut, a bone-in rib eye. You get the flavor of the fatty meat, plus good proximity to the bone. Porktown packages a similar cut tonight for folks to take with them.
The two men got their start packing sausage in a wood-frame house in Corktown. I went over there a few times to hang out and grind. We got drunk and our arms got sore and we drank a little more. We made sausage quite a few times and each time, the party grew a little bigger, the operations a bit more streamlined.
First, there was Sausage Portraits
, a gig for an art show in Portland. You could write in answers to some personal questions: your favorite season, a house-paint color multiple choice, and the magic sausage computer spit you out a personalized recipe. After that show the project needed a name, something to do with Corktown or the Michigan Central Station that loomed over the back yard of the wood-frame house. Slowly, Porktown won out as the clear choice. Then came a logo, a slick new vacuum packer, folded butcher paper, a rubber stamp, a red inkpad.
A few months went by, some catering requests and invitations to cook at food events came in, and it was time for a commercial kitchen to work from. They called on their friend the pizza maker, who also happens to love cured meat, to ask about using his. A bargain was reached -- access to the kitchen after hours and on closed days in exchange for pumping out a house line of sausage. Now you can buy packs of four at the pizzeria when they're available. You can also pick up a Porktown pizza
, covered with thin slices of fresh Italian sausage.
They can pull off some of the catering jobs now. If you made it out to MOCAD
's Home Slice party, chances are you tried some there, or if you watched Total Recall
or The Burbs
on the Burton Theatre
's outdoor screen last summer, you probably carried a couple Porktown brats back to your chair. They almost always sold out.
Half of the duo moved home to Detroit about a year ago after living in Portland. The other half splits his time between here and Cleveland. Both have day jobs -- one works in advertising, the other for a non-profit arm of a bank that funds Detroit small businesses. They met at parties on the block above Slows. Both are passionate about Corktown. About four nights a week each half comes together to crank out links on the nineteenth century grinder.
Porktown experiments with a good mix of sausages -- seasonal recipes, new takes on traditional varieties, smoked ones and cured ones. Their two autumn selections were an unexpected treat: one with turkey, pork, dried cranberries & orange zest; the other with pork, squash, toasted pumpkin seeds and warm fall spices.
In the walk-in freezer sits the pig's head in a clear bag. A photographer pulls it out to shoot it. Back in front, the crowd starts getting loose. I load up a second helping of ribs, and slice off a cut of the beat-colored kidney. Two guys speculate about starting up a mobile cocktail truck. Both agree it needs to be done.
We finish what's left of the wine, and people start putting on their coats, bracing for the cold. A group of us from Lafayette Park walk each other home, crossing the six empty lanes of Gratiot with steaks in arms.J. Anton Blatz says he will see you around town.
Illustration above --
Porktown carves a hog in Eastern Market's Supino Pizzeria -- by René Wymer