Like many all-American classics, a good BLT is more than meets the eye.
The seemingly simple combination of bacon, lettuce and tomato can range from the sublime to the deeply disappointing. For Duskie Estes and John Stewart, the partners behind Zazu Kitchen + Farm, the perfect flavors aren’t the issue; it’s the logistics that make the road to the ideal BLT somewhat rocky.
As longtime BLT fans, the chefs took three summers to perfect their summer BLT pop-up. “We’re known for our bacon,” says Estes, “and the best expression of it is in a BLT.”
Year one found them in a shed in Healdsburg on the property of Davis Family Vineyards, which also happens to be one of Zazu’s three farm sites. The pop-up, then named Zazu on the River, sold BLTs and poured wines, and was generally deemed a success. Year two, the pop-up relocated to the bocce court on the property and into a food truck, which broke down and had to be replaced. This year, equipped with a freshly built, fully functioning truck, the pop-up’s third reincarnation, Black Piglet, is back at Davis Family Vineyards.
“This time, it’s perfect,” gushes Estes. “The vineyard has a shaded deck, you’re the middle of the garden, you can have amazing wine and look at an amazing sculpture of a wine goddess.”
The 15-item menu matches up. There’s the flagship BLT with the option to pick the tomato on your own, a pulled-pork sandwich, a vegetarian grilled-cheese rapini sandwich, a bacon hot dog, pies by Zazu pastry chef Jenny Malicki, and on the weekends, bacon-glazed doughnuts, pork belly poutine and a fresh farm salad. Sorbet from the vineyard’s wines is also available.
The bacon, prepared in-house, is undoubtedly the star. The BLT often tempts creative young chefs to mess with its basic simplicity; Zazu’s is nothing but bread from Nightingale Breads in Forestville, Tabasco aioli, sliced tomato, either grown on the property or from Soda Rock Farms in Healdsburg, crunchy lettuce and bacon.
Explaining Zazu’s staunch lack of variation (there isn’t even a wedge of avocado in sight), Estes says, “We think it’s the best version. It’s less about what we did to it but more about taking the best ingredients and letting them do the talking.”
The bacon, according to Estes, is a whole different breed. “Our pigs are raised on pasture,” she says, “and the bacon is dry-cured, made with real applewood smoke, while most bacon is wet-cured and prepared on liquid smoke.” When it comes to the bacon’s crucial role in the BLT, “because it comes from a happy pig, you can really taste the balance of sweet and salty, and the awesome taste of pork. In a sandwich, it gives a very luscious mouthfeel, with a fat top layer.”
True to Zazu’s strict seasonality, the BLT pop-up is only operational in the summer, when tomatoes are in season, although the season could potentially start early if fried green tomatoes are being used. Despite its short lifespan, the future for Black Piglet seems rosy. In addition to the food truck’s summer location on the vineyard, Estes and Stewart are planning to use it for catering private and public events, from weddings to corporate gatherings. The Spanish clothing brand Zara treated all its regional staff to Black Piglet’s riches as part of an employee event at the Barlow, and a ticketed event is planned on Aug. 10 at Paradise Ridge Winery.
“We had to navigate a bunch of different health department regulations and to build the ideal truck, which took almost two years instead of half a year,” Estes says. “We’re trying to do a countback of how many BLTs we need to sell in order to cover the truck’s cost, and so far we have 3,485 more to go.”
Sounds like a pretty realistic goal.
Black Piglet at Davis Family Vineyards, 52 Front St,. Healdsburg. Open Friday–Sunday, 11:30am–3:30pm until Oct. 2.