With Pork Belly Sandwiches, Bunk Links Brooklyn with the Other Brooklyn

Bunk's pork belly Cubano sandwichEXPAND
Bunk's pork belly Cubano sandwich
Jannie Huang

It begins with the bread — an often-overlooked aspect of sandwich design, it brings condiments and meats together. For Giorgio Angelini, managing partner of  Bunk Sandwiches (740 Driggs Avenue; 347-763-0434), bread is not only an introduction to a sandwich, but serves as an example of how a cherished Portland, Oregon juggernaut plans to break into its new Brooklyn location without sacrificing any ideals.

“We work with local partners instead of having a recipe that we bake ourselves. We were very conscious of coming into somebody else’s neighborhood and bringing something foreign,” says Angelini. “It was like 'Hey, we did something really cool in this city, and now we’re going to bring it to this city and make it even cooler by working with local people.' ”

The sandwich shop’s kaiser and ciabatta rolls hail from the Boerum Hill-based bakery Bien Cuit, and the hoagies are from Red Hook's Mazzola bakery. They’ve tapped Jake Adams, former chef de cuisine at Momofuku Milk Bar, to manage the kitchen. For Angelini this is another way to keep things local to New York, while remaining consistent with Bunk’s five other Portland establishments.

“Why Bunk works in this way – it’s run by different kitchen managers in each location – is because there’s a very definable ideology about the sandwich,” Angelini explains. “It has to have a certain amount of ingredients, which is not that many, and each component has to be delivering a very integral part of the flavor profile.They seem so obvious, but like most anything else, whether it’s rock ‘n’ roll or architecture, simple is always better in many ways.”

Situated on the outskirts of the hip sector of Williamsburg near the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, Bunk's new spot is the first satellite restaurant outside of Portland.

Chefs Tommy Habetz and Nick Wood founded Bunk Sandwiches in 2008 (the name is a nod to the beloved character William “Bunk” Moreland from The Wire). Both Angelini and bartender/musician Matt Brown were brought on as partners during Bunk’s initial expansion around Portland in 2010, which now includes five locations. Angelini says they weren't planning to break into Brooklyn for at least another six months, but once they heard of the availability of the high-ceilinged, corner space – which used to be home to an offshoot of the Italian restaurant Max – they couldn't pass it up. 

“For Bunk it worked out perfectly because it's a very counter-driven experience,” he says. “The counter sits at the helm of everything and everything rotates around it.” The interior is spacious yet cozy with tables that run alongside the windows. Hanging above the counter is a marvelous mural created by Casey Burns, an artist who has completed wall designs for two other Bunks. “This is actually inspired from a scene from The French Connection which was filmed around the corner,” Angelini says of the artwork.

For the past ten years, Angelini has lived in New York City, but he says he was sensitive about plopping a piece of Portland into Brooklyn. The goal was to create a communal feeling while embracing the relationship between the two communities. “I think there’s a healthy rivalry,” he says. “But I mean, there’s so much love between [the two]. So many people go back and forth – cooking in kitchens and playing in bands – and the thing that’s exciting for me living in Brooklyn is that there’s more available to you in terms of cultural cues.”

Portland's Bunk sandwiches - now open in BrooklynEXPAND
Portland's Bunk sandwiches - now open in Brooklyn
Silas Valentino, the Village Voice

There are eleven sandwich options on the menu (with specials offered regularly), ranging from the signature Pork Belly Cubano ($11) with ham, pork belly with shoulder roast, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles, to a grilled peanut butter and jelly ($5). The Mole Tater Tots ($6) are a delectable side dish topped with cotija cheese, avocado, and cilantro. Inspired by one of the original Bunk’s earliest patrons, each sandwich comes with a handful of kettle chips. And five draft beers grace the taps including the Bushwick-based Braven ($5 -$7) and a Portland favorite, Captain Lawrence Kolsch ($5).

The Cubano sits at the top of the sandwich menu for good reason. Not only is it popular, it’s delicious. The bread is toasted to perfection — the crust is crunchy without crumbling in your hands. In a recent review of the restaurant, Gothamist criticized the sandwich for its sparse amount of pork belly, which Bunk combines with pork shoulder meat using an enzyme called transglutaminase, more commonly known as "meat glue." Angelini says their sandwich is an adaptation of the classic Cubano, where the pork shoulder is roasted with pork belly, creating something similar to porchetta.

“We roast it all together, separately cured, then they get rubbed in molasses for hours until they combine into a beautiful terrine meat-sandwich. Then we slice it off so each bite you get is sort of the meatiness of the shoulder, then the scrumptious fattiness of the pork belly – without overwhelming you with the pork belly because I think a lot of people don’t like having a mouthful of fat,” Angelini laughs. 

Angelini acknowledges the unappealing sound of the phrase “meat glue” and is quick to defend its usefulness. “That’s the industry slang for it,” he says. “Wylie Dufresne used it at wd~50 and it’s an incredible product. Essentially it lets you create a beautiful roulette so when you slice [the meat], it’s even. We're basically creating a unique piece of meat for the sandwich and that’s why people love it.”

By pure coincidence, while we were sitting with Angelini as he explained meat glue, Wylie Dufresne’s father Dewey overheard and walked over to introduce himself. The fellow sandwich restaurateur (who's in the stages of opening his own LES shop) complimented Angelini and praised his meal.

Even though Bunk Sandwiches has expanded to the East Coast, Angelini says the team is focused on growing at a reasonable pace. He uses the phrase “anti chain” when considering Bunk’s future developments.

“I think anyone can surmise that we’re trying to expand, but we want to do it smart and we want to do it where we don’t sacrifice the quality of the food,” he says. “And we want to do it with local partners, not just throw out franchises to whoever comes calling. This is something that was borne out of two very talented chef’s ideas about food and we want to keep it very chef-and-food focused. It’s going to grow at that pace – whatever opportunities we see to work with talented local people, we’d love to do it.”


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