Alex Pope, whose last gig as chef of the R Bar garnered him a place on the list of Best Chefs/Midwest from Food & Wine magazine in 2011, is one of the hot young stars on the Kansas City culinary scene. He has since started Vagabond, a pop-up restaurant concept, with Jenny Vergara, and the recently opened The Local Pig, which I visited shortly after it opened. It is a butcher shop that sells only “hormone, steroid and antibiotic free meats”, all of which are locally sourced.
The Local Pig is in the East Bottoms, known most notably for Knuckleheads Saloon, a dive bar that features live music. But Alex found a great old building near the railroad tracks and has transformed it into a very cool little venue for his shop.
The meat cases are full of fresh pork, beef, lamb, chicken, and a wide range of sausages. Be sure to ask what he may have in the back; when I did, he told me that he had just made tamales that he was also selling that day.
I was determined to get pork chops, because heritage pork is a breed apart, and bears no resemblance to the dry, tasteless “other white meat” that one typically finds in a grocery store. But once I started perusing the cases, I was torn. The huge bone-in ribeye looked fabulous, as did the lamb. But I stuck with my original plan for dinner and bought 3 beautiful chops.
I knew my husband would be all over the tamales, so I bought several that had been stuffed with pork. They were uncooked, but Alex gave me steaming times. They were a bit on the small side though, so you may want to keep that in mind when ordering. I’d go with at least 3 per person.
Everything is wrapped in white butcher paper and then the whole order is placed in a box and closed with a string–a nice touch.
That evening I grilled the pork chops with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper, and intended to serve them with a romesco sauce that I had made earlier in the afternoon. But once I took a bite I realized that any embellishment would be a mistake. Cooked medium to medium rare so the meat is pink all the way through, each bite was incredible. (PLEASE don’t ruin the pork by cooking it to medium well or well-done. There is no fear of trichinosis and you will zap the pork of its juices and flavor). Fortunately for us in Kansas City, this same pork is on the menus of many restaurants around the city.
The ramp sausages were also exceptional. Made with pork, I decided they would be perfect in a pasta with tomato sauce, roasted sungold tomatoes (still in my freezer from last summer’s crop) and broccoli rabe. With a healthy dose of pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese, it was an outstanding dish and the sausage added a ton of flavor. (recipe to follow in a future post.)
I can’t wait to go back and try some of Alex’s other treasures. I have a feeling that each visit will result in something special coming out of my kitchen.