Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and surrounding states
Philadelphia, you can keep your Cheez Whiz-laden shaved steak sandwiches – but you’ll take my scrapple when you pry it from my cold, dead trotters. Scrapple for me is a nostalgia food – it’s one of those dishes that was hard for me to comprehend as a child, but it was a special treat for my eastern Pennsylvanian mom. It is essentially a thrifty breakfast food, made from pork scraps and trimmings so that nothing goes to waste. German-influenced and American-born, it bears some similarity to the U.K.’s white pudding (which is neither) and German panhas. Whatever is too small for the butcher’s case or a pig part that defies identification gets ground up and cooked; a variety of grain (frequently buckwheat or cornmeal) is added to the broth and then poured into a loaf pan to solidify. The resulting gray meat brick is then sliced into thick slabs and fried, usually accompanied by fried eggs. Move over, SPAM, your grandpappy’s breakfast meat is back with a vengeance.
Scrapple isn’t difficult to find from Pennsylvania to Maine; you can get Jones Dairy Farm, Rapa, and several other brands in the frozen food aisle of most grocery chains, but many East Coast butcher shops carry the real deal. Whether you’re trying to rekindle the experience of that “everything but the oink” flavor or are just curious, the butcher is your friend here. I envy those of you with that choice; as a transplanted Yankee expatriate I am faced with the dilemma of where to get my scrapple fix on the Left Coast. Fortunately there is a ray of porcine hope in the Bay Area and in L.A. In 1982, Bette Kroening and some chef friends opened a 50’s-style diner in Berkeley and dubbed it Bette’s Oceanview Diner. Lest you be disappointed, I’ll tip you off in advance – you can’t see the ocean from anywhere in or around the diner (although it is a few short blocks away). Bette’s is famous for their pancakes with legendary wait times of several hours, but I must have arrived during a coastal evacuation because we were seated after a short wait and served pretty quickly. I’m sure their flapjacks are as light and fluffy white as St. Alphonzo’s, but I wasn’t there for the griddlecakes, mister, no siree. I wasn’t leaving the Bay Area until I had partaken of their hidden secret. Although scrapple is a regular menu item at Bette’s, it appears to be overlooked; it is served up with poached eggs, perfect for mixing the runny hen fruit with the scrapple Massachusetts-style. Their monolithic meat was grilled to a golden brown crust with the perfect meat to grain ratio, making it firm but not too bready. In addition to their scrapple, Bette’s is a great trippy food destination for what appears to be the world’s largest slice of cherry pie dangling precariously above the register like the Sword of Damocles.
Scrapple is pretty scarce in the L.A. area, but a recent conversation with “snout-to-tail” devotee Ben Ford prompted him to whip up a batch using the pork scraps at his Ford’s Filling Station gastropub. Ford blended his with polenta, with his version being heavier on the pork by-product than the grain. The scrapple was seared on the grill resulting in a somewhat crunchy exterior and a warm, moist center. Accompanied by a pair of over-easies, I fought the temptation to do a mash-up and sampled a forkful au natural. I’m not sure if Ben spent any time in Philly, but he got it right on his freshman try. The slab of gray goodness was so tasty I ate half of it before realizing I was missing a Kodak moment. I think the photo of the half-eaten scrapple was a testament to how good it was.
Lindy and Grundy is an old fashioned butcher shop in Los Angeles that offers cuts of meat that are difficult to come by elsewhere; their scrapple is made onsite from fresh pasture-raised, organic pork. The loaf has the characteristic gray color with a touch of yellow as a result of the cornmeal which is Lindy and Grundy’s grain mixture of choice. I fried their scrapple to a dark brown and topped it with a fried egg, letting the yolk cascade over the crispy sides; the cornmeal added the perfect amount of grit and the meat was ground to where it still maintained some muscle fiber. Each mouthful was hot, flavorful bliss – the contrast in the texture of the grain and the moist pork permeated with the rich egg yolk made for a memorable breakfast.
If you do happen to be in the Mid-Atlantic States and haven’t tried this pork mélange, you needn’t look far – any diner worth their salt should have it on their menu. Scrapple is the perfect marriage between SPAM and sausage, with only its grayish color and foreboding sounding name standing between it and mass popularity. You don’t have to be from Philly to enjoy scrapple, but I tell you what – yo, don’t be grittin’, youse guys need to taste this jawn.