When I arrived at The Beast and The Hare at 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, I could already see Chef Tom Pizzica slicing oranges in the kitchen through the windows. Tom was borrowing the space to get a couple hundred of his pork belly burgers ready for an event he was catering that night, and invited me to invade his space with my camera and follow him around for his morning of prep.
I've known Tom (or Big Chef Tom, as some know him) for quite a few years from mutual friends. I've followed his culinary career for quite a while: I've grubbed on his food at his apartment, I was at Mad Dog in the Fog for the season six premiere of the Next Food Network Star when he became a finalist, and I've watched every single episode of Outrageous Foods, the Food Network show he hosted for two seasons. However, I think it's fair to say that Belly Burgers might be his best challenge to date.
"I'm the premiere pork belly burger manufacturer in the world," he jokingly declared that morning. "No one else is making all-pork belly burgers." After doing a quick Google search, it looks like he might be right.
Tom thought of the concept in 2010. "I was on TV, that dried up, and I was at home thinking 'What can I do?' I can't go in a kitchen and work for someone else at this point." Not too long after, Tom was making his pork belly burgers at Clooney's Pub. He eventually started selling them at Off the Grid in Fort Mason, and was even slinging them at the last Outside Lands. Now, he has a pop-up late night service at The Beast and The Hare, selling his burgers for $5 ("Burgers shouldn't be expensive") on Friday nights.
"My theme is to make an all-American burger," Tom explained. "And to be an all-American burger, you're gonna have influences from other cultures." Currently on Tom's menu is the All-American Burger with rosemary mayo, sliced apple, and sharp cheddar cheese; a Latin-inspired burger with smoked tomato aioli, crispy leeks and manchego cheese; and a Vietnamese bahn mi burger with caramel sliced jalapeno, hard boiled egg, and cilantro (my personal favorite). Those oranges I spotted him slicing when I first walked in? Those were on the stove for a marmalade he was making for a Spanish-themed burger he wanted to test out.
"I try to only use three toppings; a crunch, a green (or fruit), and maybe some acidity. Anymore and you can lose the flavor of the pork." I watched Tom add his pork belly patty, orange marmalade, roasted tomato spread, and goat cheese on a toasted bun. He cut the burger in half and took a huge bite after handing me the other half.
"Meh," he shrugged.
"Meh?" I repeated.
"Too much tomato." He tried again, losing the tomato and we both took a bite. It's good.
"Dude, thats the tits, right? This is fucking good. What should I call it?" He decided on The Paddington, named after Paddington Bear.
All American, indeed.
Try The Paddington and all of Tom's other Belly Burgers at The Beast and The Hare on Fridays from 11 p.m.-3 a.m.