Monday, November 24, 2014     Volume: 15, Issue: 37
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Hog high: Bacon & Brine is Solvang's slab of pork paradise

BY HAYLEY THOMAS

Travel past the rusty windmill and towering 8-foot-tall sunflowers in Solvang’s Atterdag Square and you will be rewarded with pork—glorious, gleaming, local pork. Hunks of house-smoked bacon, mounds of freshly sliced ham, and spiced shoulders cooked slow and low. This is the kind of pig that makes field-hardened farmers weep and Southern folks beam with pride.

“When people who were raised on real barbecue tell me that this is the best they’ve ever had, I’m thrilled,” said Bacon & Brine co-owner Chef Pink DeLongpré, a big advocate of old-school oak barrel smoking. Intermingled with the locals and tourists, you’re liable to find the restaurant’s family of purveyors seated out front, ripping into their own twine-and-butcher-paper morsels.


BACON MEETS BRINE
Chef Pink DeLongpré (right) is the goddess of all things smoky and salty while her wife, Courtney Rae DeLongpré, is the goddess of all things health-forward and fermented. Together, the couple is committed to serving local, organic, grass fed, pasture-raised pork topped with delicious, probiotic fixings and farm-fresh produce.
PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS

Pork, it seems, is the great equalizer after all.

“These guys come in and they wax poetic over pork,” said wife and co-owner Courtney Rae DeLongpré. “Our wood guy knows that the pork tastes so good because of his oak; and farmers from our local piggeries come in and they know the pork they are eating by name. We’re really about making a deep connection.”

On a chilly November morning, I found Chef Pink scrawling specials across the chalkboard-painted walls of the shoe-box-sized deli. The cartoonish eyes of dozens of decorative pigs watched as she raised a tattooed arm across her daily canvas.

Today: “Belly Kraut” with crispy pork belly, house sauerkraut, heirloom French apples, and fresh herbs; a “Sweet a Tête” sandwich bursting with Parisian-style fromage tête (head cheese), persimmons, parsley, pickles, mustard seeds, and garden greens; and a “Cheeky Bahn Mi” sandwich piled high with 36-hour pork cheeks, spicy pickled carrots, pho spices, and fistfuls of both mint and cilantro on freshly-baked artisan ciabatta (which I totally scarfed).

The chef—who recently won Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen and boasts 15 years working at fine dining haunts and Michelin-rated restaurants across Santa Barbara and LA—is known to “respectfully decline menu alterations.” This is her polite way of saying, “Trust me. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

“I could easily have ended up at an upscale place making tweezer food—and part of me still loves that,” Chef Pink said. “But it wasn’t fair that the people who grew the food weren’t aren’t able to eat it. Here, we elevate those producers to where they should be.”

At 11:10 a.m.—mere minutes after opening its doors—Bacon & Brine welcomed its first customers of the day, a couple hankering for sumptuous and salty fixings. As always, Courtney Rae greeted the visitors with a red lipstick smile and homegrown hospitality. When she’s not hopping on a bike to deliver sandos around town, you can bet the valley native will be busy behind the register, on the phone with an order, or messing with a flat of mason jars.


GUT FEELING
Courtney Rae DeLongpré is the brine to Chef Pink DeLongpré’s bacon, crafting probiotic sandwich toppers like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and kombucha.
PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS

See, Courtney Rae is the brine to Chef Pink’s bacon, crafting probiotic toppers like sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, and kombucha. The well-stocked case located just inside the deli door is the testament to her craft.

The dynamic duo opened their little restaurant in June, just six months into their first year of marriage. It was quite the feat, considering they also have a kindergarten-aged daughter. Courtney Rae, who learned how to slaughter a chicken at age 7, is at home among cuts of pork. All of Bacon & Brine’s pork is sourced from local piggeries, with four located in the Santa Ynez Valley and another in Ojai.

“These pigs are not in pens; they’re out on hillsides and orchards,” Courtney Rae said. “Our pigs are encouraged to root around and simply be pigs.”

The pork is processed by J&R Meats in Paso Robles, and any skin-on cuts are then “scalded”—a process that removes any hair—in Fresno. Chef Pink breaks down the whole and halved pigs, with heads and organs still intact.

“We use everything but the spinal cord,” the chef said. “About four years ago, I stopped working in restaurants and started working on farms. I wanted to know how the animals were butchered and cared for.”

Although I felt a little dumb asking the obvious question, “Why pork?” I was surprised to learn a bit more about both ladies’ pasts as—gasp—non-meat eaters.

“When I was a vegan and vegetarian, the only thing I ever really craved was pork. I wanted a pulled pork sandwich or bacon,” Chef Pink said. “The reason we are a boutique operation is because we care so much about animal welfare. I love that we get to stand with integrity and be 120 percent behind everything we do.”

Pork is also a good fit for lean times, both in terms of the economy and agriculture. Unlike beef or poultry, hogs are incredibly drought-tolerant animals that thrive on food scraps, acorns, nuts, and natural vegetation. In many ways, the couple is passing down their nuanced understanding of where food comes from to their daughter.


PIG OUT
Bacon & Brine’s “Cheeky Bahn Mi” sandwich is piled high with 36-hour pork (raised locally) cheeks, spicy pickled carrots, and garden-fresh mint and cilantro on freshly baked artisanal ciabatta.
PHOTO BY HAYLEY THOMAS

“Every time we pass Valley Piggery, we have to slow the car down so we can see the pigs,” Courtney Rae said. “When the animals come to us, we are very conscious to try to have a moment with them. It sounds touchy-feely, but we believe in paying our respects to the animal.”

The couple also believes in paying respect to their farmer friends, and they break bread together whenever possible.

“We cook for the people who grow the food; the people who live in this area—not just for white-tablecloth dining,” Chef Pink said. “From dirt to the plate, everyone we are involved with has the utmost respect for what they do and their surroundings, and that’s what matters to us. We’re not just that it’s a ‘hip, cool bacon restaurant.’ Every single person who is involved in this really, really loves what they do. And you can taste it.”

This little piggy ate lunch

Bacon & Brine is serving up salacious sandwiches to oink over at 453 Atterdag Road in Solvang from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. The eatery may be on the smaller side, but there is plenty of patio and outdoor seating in scenic Atterdag Square. You can reach Chef Pink and Courtney Rae DeLongpré, and view a menu, by calling 688-8809 or clicking over to baconandbrine.com. For the most updated menu, like them on Facebook.

 

Hayley Thomas is pigging out at hthomas@newtimesslo.com.