Swine Before Pearls? Pig Wings (Finally) Gain National Attention

click to enlarge Will pork wings take flight? - Screenshot: www.pioneermeats.com
Screenshot: www.pioneermeats.com
Will pork wings take flight?
Gut Check knows the joke well. Gut Check has made the joke. The Manhattan tastemakers fall in love with some seemingly random food object, celebrate it in countless breathless blog posts and articles and then mock those late to the party for their interest in something so last season.

Later -- like, years later -- this seemingly random food object becomes trendy in St. Louis. (See: cupcakes.)

Today, however, Gut Check can't help but wonder if, for once, our beloved culinary backwater was ahead of a trend. Granted, it's not a hip trend, like food trucks or underground restaurants, but it's a trend nonetheless.

Pork wings.

In the latest installment of his "United Tastes" series for the New York Times -- which series you should be reading, and not only because it included an article about Bosnian food in St. Louis -- John T. Edge looks at the growing popularity of pork wings. These aren't wings, of course, but a clever repurposing of an underused piece of a ham shank.
Today, [Pioneer Meats president Bob File], whose business has been increasing more than 10 percent a year for the last four years, sells more than one million of the approximately 2.5 million pounds of the processed shanks sold in the nation each year.

Under various noms de porc, the shanks are being served at restaurants and bars across the country. Farmland Foods, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, has begun selling KC Wild Wings to wholesale restaurant accounts.
Reading this, Gut Check had a profound flash of deja vu. Also, some tummy rumblings. But mostly deja vu. It wasn't our imagination, either. At least one St. Louis restaurant was ahead of the pork-wing curve.

In fact, we encountered pork "wings" for the first time over a year ago at Market Grill (728 Lafayette Avenue; 314-436-7664). They were the most intriguing thing at what was at the time a rather unassuming Soulard establishment.
The "wings" don't look like wings so much as individual ribs, each a plumpish hunk of deep-fried meat surrounding a bone roughly six inches long and no thicker than a finger.
The deep-fried morsels of pig shank are undeniably tasty, if simplistically so. Like chicken wings, they can serve as the ballast for any number of sauces. But can they make the leap from trend to appetizer mainstay?

If the Market Grill is any indication, maybe not. In September, the restaurant brought in a new chef, Jonathan Olson, and revamped its entire menu, focusing on thoughtful preparations of locally sourced food.

Take heed, tastemakers: The pork wings didn't make the cut.

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