Autumn’s in the air, and so are the pigskins.
While pigs don’t actually donate leather for footballs, they do produce juicy, irresistible pork chops, which is the play of the day for this Four Stars column. (Editor’s note: This column originally ran last October.)
“The other white meat” is especially at home on menus in fall and winter. At Prescotts Grill in Rochester, co-owner and chef Chris Rohe was telling me the other day that they’re now featuring their winter menu, with heavier comfort-food entrees and special dishes such as pork cassoulet, an osso bucco-type stew of braised pork and white beans.
(Hint: If I could find enough restaurants that serve pork cassoulet, I could give a Four Stars award to Prescotts for this dish, also.)
Prescotts has one of the most imaginative chops in town, a big bone-in cut that’s stuffed with finely chopped spinach and fontina cheese, then pan-fried with French bread crumbs and topped with a veal demi-glaze. The dish has been a signature item since Prescotts opened its doors about nine years ago.
“One of the keys to our success here is we don’t overcook things,” Chris said. With the chop, they make sure it’s “still moist and juicy, slightly pink in the middle,” when it hits the table. With crispy bread crumbs and the elegant cheese filling, it’s a masterpiece of texture and taste.
Prescotts was an easy winner for this month’s Four Stars, along with the Smokin’ Oak in Red Wing, where they offer a “prime rib” chop as well as slices of rotisserie-grilled pork loin, the Old Mill in Austin and the Lord Essex in Rochester’s Kahler Grand Hotel — currently closed, but reopening next month.
This month’s winners all have a distinctive character. At the Smokin’ Oak, they slow-cook a Hormel rib roast over a wood fire for a few hours before cutting and grilling it. The Lord Essex has a double cut — two ribs, for twice the flavor and fun. And I had to bend the rules a bit to get the Old Mill’s cracked-pepper pork loin into the winner’s circle, but for all the world, it tastes like the thickest and juiciest of chops.
What makes a great pork chop?
Thick-cut, top-quality pork: Not every restaurant has a band saw in the kitchen, but hand-crafted touches such as cutting chops in-house make a difference. Regardless, thick-cut, top-quality pork, typically from Hormel, is essential.
Err on the pink side: Pork doesn’t have to be dry and white as snow inside. Pink is OK nowadays, and it’s the juicy tenderness that makes a pork chop a worthy competitor to a beefsteak.
Try a gadget play: Some people — not me — find pork bland or boring, as if the only way you can enjoy it is by bathing it in barbecue sauce. But talented chefs such as Chris Rohe at Prescotts and Pasquale Presa at Lord Essex are doing creative things with chops. Hopefully, others will take the cue and add it to their menus.
These winners received Four Stars certificates, suitable for framing.
Like Lord Essex, Four Stars will be taking the rest of October off. Look for it to reappear on Nov. 6, when the menu calls for bruschetta, the Italian appetizer that’s on menus all over the place now. If you have suggestions, send me a note at one of the contacts below.