Pork Belly’s Sandwich Shop is a new place that’s opened up on Venice’s Abbot Kinney boulevard, a stretch of Venice with more than its fair share of restaurants. Pork Belly’s isn’t likely to get lost in the shuffle, however, as there are few serious barbecue places in Venice or anywhere else on Los Angeles’ west side. They had a soft open recently, and they were kind enough to have your humble enthusiast by and offer a couple of sandwiches, gratis.
What you see above is The Chop, a brioche roll hosting a pile of chopped smoked brisket and a fair bit of coleslaw. It’s quite good, though I prefer brisket in falling-apart slices than minced, but that can be forgiven. Before it opened, I feared this was going to be another barbecue place that’s all tomatoes and sugar, with little regard for the more subtle aspects of barbecue. That turned out to be unfounded; while the brisket is sweet it is not overwhelmingly so, and there are a host of peppery, spicy notes. The coleslaw is a nice textural contrast and is lightly dressed, an important quality all too neglected in most coleslaws.
And for the namesake pork belly we have the Belly Up, smoked pork belly on brioche. (Virtually the entire menu is on brioche. I would argue this is an unnecessary affectation, but I understand the need to differentiate and signal the aesthetic to which one aspires.) I’ve discussed my issues with pork belly before, and all of that applies here. But this is incredibly well executed; the pork belly has a thick bark to it and a deep, smoky flavor. If I were a big fan of pork belly, I can’t imagine I wouldn’t be delighted with this. The menu says this comes with fried pickles on it, in the kind of hiccup common to a soft opening, mine came with coleslaw. That wasn’t bad, but I suspect the pickles pair even better. (The pickles were sampled, so this is not empty speculation. They are as good as fried pickles tend to be.)
Ultimately, Pork Belly’s offerings are quite good, with a caveat. The quality of the sandwiches was helped considerably by the dearth of options in Los Angeles, and West LA in particular. In a vacuum one could rate sandwiches with total objectivity, but it’s terribly difficult to eat sandwiches in a vacuum. In the context of its location, this is a fine sandwich shop. I heard one employee remark that there were no good barbecue places in Los Angeles. This is inaccurate, especially if you include South and East LA and the cities just beyond. But it’s a long trek from Venice to Bludso’s BBQ, especially when there’s now such capable execution on Abbot Kinney.