Restaurant Review by Frank Sabatini Jr.
There’s a whole lotta pig cooking inside the tiny Carnitas’ Snack Shack, which flaunts a replica of the animal on its roof to lure you to the eatery’s walk-up window. Since its recent debut, owners Hanis Cavin and Sara Stroud have been greeted with daily lines by customers who understand the culinary virtues of pork. They cook the meat a few different ways and serve it on their cedar-paneled rear patio along with a short list of other gourmet dishes that change daily.
The carnitas are nothing short of dynamite. Cavin, who worked as executive chef at Kensington Grill, braises the meat in orange juice and Mexican Coke. (The soda differs from the U.S. version in that it’s sweetened with cane sugar rather than corn syrup.) Seven hours later, the roasts are broken into juicy, substantial chunks that land in tacos and tortas.
Pork belly also graces the menu, a welcome surprise considering the unctuous cut is more commonly found in high-end restaurants and at significantly greater prices. Cavin serves the belly in rectangular slabs, replete with the prized fatty layer, the ultra-tender flesh and a thin, crispy sheath on top. In our visit, it was treated delicately with a sweet chili-soy glaze.
“This is like cutting into foie gras,” my companion effused before we encroached on a chubby BLT stacked with grilled Black Forest ham and thick, smoky bacon. The veggie garnishments originate from local farms while all of the hormone-free Duroc pork products come from family farmers in Iowa.
Adding an additional shot of saturated fat into our bloodstreams was the mac-n-cheese constructed with smoked cheddar and – you guessed it – bacon.
However, not every dish is meat-based. Things like crispy brussels sprouts with Serrano chilies, sprightly salads and eggplant dressed in blue cheese and white balsamic rotate often through the menu, which gets posted daily on the web site, carnitassnackshack.com.
Desserts change frequently as well, which in our case involved a rather unforgettable chocolate mousse with sea salt from local pastry chef Ben Rollins, an employee of Cucina Urbana and owner of “What’s Ben Baking?”
What you won’t find at “the shack” are alcoholic beverages, a drive-through window or the owners’ pet pig that they’ve named Carnitas. The latter is kept at home and won’t be subjected to the butcher block, they assure.
Beverages extend to glass-bottle sodas from Boylan, a New Jersey company famous for its ginger ale, root beer and black cherry flavors — perfect for sandblasting away any extra accumulations of fat from your palate, should you really want to let go of them.
The eatery is closed on Tuesdays and operates from noon to midnight on all other days. And should you mistake it for a taco stand or come knocking for a burger, you’re still in luck.
Carnitas’ Snack Shack
2632 University Ave. (North Park)
Prices: $4 to $9 for all menu items