"Put a pig on it" could be the motto at Pork & Mindy's, the Bucktown sandwich shop from the Food Network's Jeff Mauro, aka the "Sandwich King." In addition to smoked pork (available in sandwiches, atop tater tots, and as an add-on to the salads), the quick-service spot makes its own candied bacon (aka "Pig Candy"), which is heavily deployed in the previously mentioned sections of the menu, in two of the three milk shakes, and served straight up.
Mauro reportedly intends to start an empire; a second Pork & Mindy's location in Irving Park is already in the works, and there are plans to build more locations around the country—and maybe the world—in the near future. (The soon-to-open Museum Campus food court will include one of them.) Maybe that's why the focus seems to be less on the food than on surface details like an industrial-chic aesthetic highlighting local art, cutesy names (Porknado shake, anyone?), and a wide array of Pork & Mindy's barbecue sauces (also available at retail!). A soda fountain is dedicated entirely to Jones Soda; spend enough time experimenting with various flavor combinations and maybe you won't notice that most of the food is mediocre at best.
In the restaurant's defense, however, it serves one of the few renditions of poutine that I've actually enjoyed: the "tot'tine" solves the Canadian import's perpetual sogginess problem by swapping out fries for more substantial tater tots. The mozzarella cheese curds weren't as melty as I would've liked, but the gravy is more than respectable—especially considering that it's vegetarian—and pickled red onions provide some welcome acidity.
"Tot'tine" at Pork & Mindy's
The "French toast" bun for a smoked chicken sandwich didn't taste anything like the vanilla, maple, and bourbon listed on the menu—but at least it wasn't too sweet, and the chicken made an excellent vehicle for the barbecue sauces. And while the Pig Candy crumbled on top tasted oddly gamy, pickled onions and a tart, mildly spicy green-apple relish helped balance it out. The smoked lamb, though, had the texture of a wet towel and only slightly more flavor; it's served on pita bread with an equally tasteless tzatziki sauce. As for the milk shake . . . just because you can put bacon on something doesn't mean that you should. The Turtle Porknado combines nearly imperceptible amounts of caramel and chocolate sauces with vanilla ice cream, topping the whole thing with house-made candied pecans—which helped to salvage the otherwise uninteresting shake—and Pig Candy, which made it taste unpleasantly porky.
Still, I suspect that Mauro and his team know what they're doing: if there's one thing people love, it's bacon (though it's a toss-up whether they prefer to actually eat it or just talk about how awesome it is). Pork & Mindy's is more concept than restaurant, easily recognizable and reproducible. The food, it seems, is mostly an afterthought.
Pork & Mindy's, 1623 N. Milwaukee, 773-799-8759, porkandmindys.com