When Porchetta closed its doors last November, the beloved sandwich shop left a legion of New York foodies bewildered, depressed, and hungry. After all, for nearly a decade, Sara Jenkins’s East 7th Street storefront had served up what some called the city’s finest sandwich: slow-roasted Umbrian pork, vibrantly seasoned with wild-fennel pollen, rosemary, and garlic. But this spring, Porchetta returned as a lunchtime pop-up at Porsena, its big sister of a restaurant two blocks to the west.
Porchetta’s original operation may have been just a humble East Village countertop, but the namesake sandwich made it a mecca for meat eaters. “Porchetta should be really rich with seasoning, and there should be a healthy amount of fat, a good piece of skin, and it should be tender,” explains Jenkins of the philosophy behind her culinary concoction. She grew up eating a version of her trademark sandwich as the daughter of globe-trotting journalists with a family home in Tuscany.
Opening Porchetta in 2008, Jenkins soon saw her handiwork gracing best-of lists all over town. But rising rents and raising a kid combined to convince her to pull up stakes and return to her home state of Maine, where she recently opened Nina June, in Rockport. She left Porsena in the capable hands of her co-owner and cousin, Matt Lindemulder.
“No one in New York wants to hear this, but I’m really happy in Maine,” says Jenkins. “It’s so much better for my kid. It’s a very different food scene. I have a farmer who is four minutes away from me, and if I need swiss chard, I can run over to the farm and grab three bunches. I have this gorgeous restaurant, and I look over this beautiful little harbor, and it’s like, ‘OK, how bad is life?’ ”
Jenkins allows that the reaction to Porchetta’s closure took her by surprise. “It seemed like people were sad,” she remembers. So, she says, she decided to see “if we can re-create at least lunch at Porchetta [at Porsena].’ ” The pop-up was originally slated for a six-week run that’s now been extended through the end of May and likely beyond. And the new lunch crowds grant Jenkins a longtime wish of hers: “I always wanted Porsena to be more lively during the day.”
The larger kitchen at Porsena gives Jenkins and Lindemulder the space to riff with dishes like Porchetta Mac & Cheese. “We’d always wanted to do it, but we just never put it together,” says Lindemulder. “We did a [Porchetta] pop-up one winter at this place that had mac ’n’ cheese on their bar menu. So we whipped it all together, put it in, sprinkled breadcrumbs on top, and the first spoonful was like, ‘Why didn’t we do this five years ago?’ It kind of hits you like that — it’s comfort food on so many levels.”
Porchetta’s Cubano has also returned, and Jenkins and Lindemulder have hopes of bringing back other variations, including one topped with kimchee and mozzarella, a personal favorite for Jenkins. “I love porchetta, and I never tire of it,” she says. “But I still think mine is the best.” No argument here. Jenkins may have left New York, but at Porsena she has left behind exactly what she wanted to bring to the city: a little slice of Italy in East Village, Porchetta by day, and Porsena at night.
Porchetta Pop-up at Porsena
Monday through Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
21 East 7th Street