When you head into most barbecue joints, you have a pretty clear idea of what to expect. The barbecue might be Texas-style brisket, Carolina chopped pork, or Memphis-style ribs, but at least it will be traditional American cuisine.
At Smoke on the Water (77 Young St., Tonawanda), chef-owner Kevin Richert is more interested in tastiness than tradition. That’s why he’s been selling pork belly tacos, whose flavors harken back to Korean and Vietnamese roots, served on a Mexican tortilla no less.
“I wanted to do something different,” said Richert, who opened Torches in Kenmore with brother JJ before launching Smoke on the Water in July 2011. “Pork belly has become a more common item, and I wanted people to be able to taste something they haven’t had before.”
He starts with a whole pork belly, the cut that if cured and smoked becomes bacon. He rubs it with a mixture of dry spices he uses for his smoked Southern-style barbecue, with more brown sugar and salt, and lets the meat absorb flavor for a day.
He throws it on the grill and lightly chars the outside for another layer of flavor. The meat gets braised in a mixture of ginger ale and maraschino cherry juice, with carrots, celery, onion and aromatics like garlic and ginger. After about 3½ hours, it’s tender enough, and he lets it cool.
Then it’s sliced and dripped in the deep fryer to crisp and brown slightly. It’s glazed with sweet chile sauce under the broiler, the seventh transformative step, before being dropped into a pair of flour tortillas.
It’s topped with a dollop of fresh crunchiness, a cucumber radish slaw – thin-sliced cucumbers, radishes and red onion, quick-pickled with sugar and rice wine vinegar. Then the tacos are finished with cilantro and sour cream, and served with thinly sliced pickled ginger and lime wedges.
Reaction to the hybrid cuisine has been “overwhelming,” Richert said. “I’ve had people order six at a time to take to people across the street or down the road, because it’s something they haven’t had before. They say ‘Oh my god, everybody’s got to taste these.’ ”
For information, visit www.sotw77.com or call 692-4227.
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