The Spotted Pig: Burger Vs. Cubano, Plus Some Banoffee Pie
This is the chargrilled burger from The Spotted Pig. The general reaction to this burger upon first impression is, "Holy jebus," or a drool-filled utterance of similar meaning.
Although far from homely, I wouldn't call it super fancy either. It's just...very pretty. The brioche bun is so perfectly plump as to appear inflated, and the evenly spaced and darkened grill marks look as though they had been skillfully painted on. In between the bun halves is a thick puck of meat that, while glistening in beef juices, doesn't sloppily extrude any excess liquid. Next to this perfectly coiffed burger (a burger can be coiffed, right?) is a messy pile of golden shoestring fries possessing a crack-like addictive quality by the addition of fresh rosemary, fried garlic slices, and that magical seasoning called "salt."
This is the main reason I brought my friend Rebecca, who was visiting from Seattle, to the Spotted Pig for lunch. Not just any lunch, but her first lunch in New York City.
...Also, I wanted the burger. That may have been 50% of the reason.
PORK PORK PORK
But while looking at the menu, my longing for the Cubano surpassed that for the burger. And after eating them side by side in my 50/50 sandwich split with Rebecca, I realized that I actually prefer the Cubano. It wasn't a close race either; as soon as I took my first bite of the burger after finishing my half of the Cubano, my taste buds made weepy sad faces (like so: ;_;) in their longing for the pork-filled pressed sandwich.
A typical Cubano that shouldn't run you more than $5 (unless you're reading this in the way future and the dollar devalued by a buttload) is already a mouthwatering thing of sandwich beauty. It's a harmonious combination of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard (and mayonnaise/butter?) layered in a Cuban bread roll (or something similar), pressed and toasted. In his Cuban sandwich recipe, Nick noted that the glory of the meaty sandwich lies in the textures: "the luscious roast pork is cut by the acidic pickles," and crunchy bread contrasting against smooshy filling is one of the major pluses of eating toasted sandwiches (besides that toasting makes the innards warm and potentially gooey).
With the help of Ed's review, I'll describe this sandwich to you. It contains the basic Cubano ingredients, just hit with a fancy stick borne forth from the belly of a well-fed angel (which is kind of a gross image, now that I've had a second to reflect on that). Taking the place of roast pork is slow-roasted brined heritage pork shoulder cooked in duck and pork fat (mm, two kinds of fat); instead of nondescript ham there's Prosciutto de Parma or speck; pickled jalapeño peppers provide the acidic (and slightly hot) touch; and then all this fatty awesomeness is smothered in melted aged Gruyère and compressed between two halves of a toasted, crackly-crusted roll from French bakery/restaurant Balthazar.
So it's like a regular Cubano...dipped in gold and sprinkled with diamonds. And the gold and diamonds are made of premium fat.
Now you can see why it costs $15. Maybe. Everything at the Spotted Pig runs a bit on the pricey side—I may not be dying to pay $16 for an apple, walnut and cheddar salad, but I think the Cubano is worth it (and it's the second cheapest lunch entrée they offer). I'm sure as hell not going to roast a chunk of heritage pork shoulder and cook it in duck and pork fat in my home kitchen.
The burger is a whole other kind of sandwich beast. It's got the delightfully gratuitous meat and cheese combination down (it delights me, at least), but not much in the ways of varying textures or flavors. The soft bun and char-less medium-rare beef patty (at least, it didn't taste very char-y to me, despite that the name describes it as a "chargrilled burger") kind of just melded together in this uniform mush of...meat and meat receptacle. Of course, it didn't taste bad—it was just a stark change after eating the Cubano. And while I had previously loved the strongly strong, tangy Roquefort cheese, this time it seemed to overpower the meat. What happened to my taste buds? What. HAPPENED?
Rebecca, during the brief non-eating moment prior to downing our lunch and immediately gaining five pounds.
Rebecca also preferred the Cubano. I felt like I had steered her wrong with the hamburger, a sub-par first impression I'd have to redeem myself for later on. On the upside, we both agreed that the burger's accompanying rosemary-garlic-salt shoestring fries were "stab someone else's hand with a fork dare they try to steal any of my 'tatoes"-good. If you're violent, at least. If you're not violent, they're addictively good, sans stabbing.
Since you can get the fries as a side, I'd recommend that two people share a Cubano and a plate of fries as a meal. Although you could finish a whole sandwich and maybe an order of fries, eating half means you'll experience the joys of both without clutching your distended belly and moaning, "Unnnggghhh," afterwards. Moderation is the key, people. Not that cheesy double-pork sandwich and super skinny deep-fried potato sticks go with the word "moderation."
Also, by not stuffing yourself silly, you can indulge in a dessert. I've never had the chance to try a Spotted Pig dessert before due to the condition of, "I ATE TOO GODDAMN MUCH," but this time I willed my belly into making wiggle room for something sweet.
OH MY GOD, PIE
Admittedly, even if you were stuffed by the time you finished your main dish, you'd still be able to snarf down a slender slice of banoffee pie because, holy jebus, it's some freakin' awesome pie. Pie that lingers on your mind for days after you eat it (or more than a week in my case), the memory of which may possibly be the only thing keeping me alive right now, just until I can get another mouthful of tender, buttery crust, creamy dulce de leche, thinly sliced banana, and baby plops of whipped cream.
...Okay, maybe the dessert isn't that amazing (although I will say that my friend Sophie first spoke to me about the wonders of banoffee pie in September of 2006, thus planting the seed of banoffee pie-desire), but it was my first time eating this British dessert and I'm now mildly infuriated that seemingly no one else in New York City makes it. (On that note, if you know where else I can feed my banoffee pie craving, please tell me.) I may be far, far, far from anything resembling a baking master, but even I could cobble one of these babies together. Even if it didn't look as nice or taste as good as the version from the Spotted Pig (and I'm about 135% sure that it wouldn't), I think it's safe to say that it would still be a satisfying dessert. Just make a pie crust (the Spotted Pig's crust is more sweet tart-like, I think), layer it with banana slices, suffocate the fruity base with thick dulce de leche (the "toffee" part of banoffee), and splodge on sweetened whipped cream. As long as you're not opposed to any of those ingredients (I know some people who don't like bananas and/or whipped cream...sigh), you should embrace the banoffee (yup, simply "the banoffee") as easily as Rebecca and I did.
That didn't take long.
We cleaned the plate as well as we could without bringing it to our faces and licking off every wayward speck of shaved chocolate or smear of residual dulce de leche. Plate licking is a boundary I will only cross in the safety of my own home, or a friend's home if the friend is close enough that I don't think they'll judge me too harshly for my uncouth ways.
Cubano, burger, and pie—it's a good lunch, eh? Perhaps allowed once every few months; I'll call it my "reward for not yet giving into the desire to step in front of a moving truck."