Roli Roti – San Francisco, CA
It seems implausible that the best Italian porchetta sandwich I’ve ever had in my life, a deliriously sinful symphony of swine, comes out of a food truck in San Francisco.
But once you see the unusually long queue and catch that first unforgettable whiff of pork wafting through the air, you will reconsider. It tickles your arteries with anticipation.
The Roli Roti truck is a mobile rotisserie. On one side of the vehicle, collosal columns of pork and chicken rotate slowly on spits while their drippings bathe a pile of roasted potatoes below. Roli Roti truck virgins are so mesmerized they start snapping cellphone pictures and forget to fall in line.
Standing behind those columns of meat stands Thomas Odermatt. He looks a bit like Thomas Keller to me, but maybe that’s just me. Son of a Swiss master butcher and owner of the Roli Roti truck, he’s taken great effort to ensure his porchetta is not merely roasted pork stuffed with herbs.
Growing up in his family’s butcher shop in the Swiss Alps, Thomas learned the importance of using the best cuts of meat from trusted family farms. It took two years for Thomas to find a pork supplier that met his standards. Only after a discussion with famed Chez Panise chef Alice Waters did he discovered Heritage Foods USA, a small farm in the midwest. He’s been using their Berkshire pigs ever since.
Thomas takes the loin of the pig, rolls it into the belly, shoves in fistfuls of seasonings (fresh garlic, marjoram, fennel seeds, pepper, etc), ties it up, then slowly roasts it for hours until the skin turns mahogany brown.
He then slices the marbled meat thickly and takes care to top every sandwich with bits of crackled skin (the best part!). The pork is then piled high on a small white loaf, topped with some chervil, and smeared with onion marmalade. A sprinkle of coarse sea salt finishes.
What Odermatt hands you may very well be the platonic ideal of porchetta sandwiches. Let’s break it down shall we?
First there’s the meat. A fragrant steaming pile of sliced pork -tender, juicy, and marbled with rich buttery pockets of fat and redolent of fennel, garlic, and marjoram- is pure porcine pleasure.
And in between bites you’ll get bits of golden crisp skin. These bits -crunchy, slightly sticky, and salty- are phenomena onto themselves. They’re good enough to make a grown man cry.
Then there’s a tangle of greens that provides a peppery edge to the obscenely fatty meat and sweet onion jam. The greens are critical– without them, this sandwich could very well trigger on-the-spot cardinal arrest.
Finally there’s the bread. I find bread is often overlooked by most sandwich makers, but of course, Odermatt does not. He uses ciabatta made by Acme Bread that sports a thin crackly crust and soft spongy insides (great for mopping up the porky juices!). As all good sandwich bread should be, it is sturdy enough to hold up against the avalanche of meat, yet soft enough to chew easily.
Once you finish inhaling your sandwich, if you’re anything like me, juices will no doubt be dripping down your hands and forearms, quickly approaching your elbows. You will have grease smeared all over your face and a mischievous look in your eyes as you glance over that magical truck from the corner of your eye.
I feel sorry for the orthodox jews, the muslims, the vegetarians, and my dear old grandma whose refusal to consume pork prevents them from indulging in one of the all-time greatest things I’ve ever eaten.
For the rest of you, the Roli Roti truck can be found at the Ferry Building Farmers Market in San Francisco every Saturday morning. Get in line and if you’re extra-nice, Thomas might give you a chip of burnished pork skin, as he did to the young boy in front of me. A hint of the glory to follow.