Porchetta is a signpost that leads to great things.
In Rome, you’ll see them in the salumeria windows, some halved like a gemstone. The cross section reveals ores of fennel, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper stuffed loin, wrapped and cinched in pork belly. It’s rolled up in the shape of a sleeping bag in storage (yeah, you’ll want one handy for the inevitable post-lunch nap) and it spins for a long time in front of flames until the skin bubbles and crackles.
One of the great sounds in the galaxy is rapping on the porchetta skin with a knuckle like a neighbor who’s arrived early to the party. It should make a good knocking sound, spider-cracking the harder you knock.
You can hear this precise sound at Brown Bag Provisions. Their “Cuban-ish” sandwich is one of Dallas’ new gems. Its thick rounds of porchetta, imbued with herbs and salt, sit on a blanket of Muenster cheese, tangy pickles and whole mustard grains adding electricity in between an Esmeralda's Bakery roll. All of that is compressed until the bread forms a buttery shell. They slice it into shards and triangles. It cracks and breaks loudly when you take a bite.
The sign at the door mentions that if you’re maskless, you’re not entering. A patron juts his head in the cracked-open door at Brown Bag — he states his name from a distance and that he’s mistakenly left his mask at home. He apologizes, keeping himself contained behind the cracked-open door as Stephanie Gilewicz, Brown Bag’s co-owner along with her husband, Brent, grabs the bag and hands it over at long arm’s length.
“The fact that you’re apologizing shows you care,” she says. He’s gone in a flash. There are a few spaced-out seats for dine-in, and takeout is fast and done over the counter.
Another sound you’ll hear is the explosive break of the Dutch crunch roll. It’s called “Tiger Bread” in the Netherlands and it’s found all over the San Francisco Bay Area — a slathering of rice flour and sugar over the loaf fires up until it has a pattern of crunchy armor.
It’s sensational on Brown Bag’s shaved rib-eye sandwich — onions cooked down into a buttery marmalade entangled with incredibly tender steak and havarti cheese. The horseradish aioli could use more horseradish; no matter, the bread’s thin layer of shatter gives way to a soft interior and becomes steak and cheese. Who could ignore the joy there?
It comes with a cup of gravy — rich, dark brown and full of meat drippings and good salt — that is good enough to end wars.
The spirit is friendly and energetic. There’s from-scratch yogurt and squares of unbelievable butter, fresh eggs wrapped in plastic wrap, a few snacks and a version of a Cubano — Brown Bag is truly a neighborhood sandwich shop.
Brown Bag Provisions, 150 Turtle Creek Blvd., Suite 202 (Design District). Open for takeout and limited dine-in 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.