Ken Leighton 7:59 a.m., May 22
Cavin snacking, shacking up at El Take It Easy
Last week, in reporting chef Lhasa Landry’s departure from The Lion’s Share, I mentioned that restaurant was my favorite new eatery to open in 2011. This led many to ask me what other local places made that list. There were several ranging from haute spots to gastropubs to centers for ethnic cuisine. Of them all, there was one that stood head-and-shoulders above the other also-rans; a place that nearly edged out The Lion’s Share as king of the jungle—Carnitas’ Snack Shack (2632 University Avenue).
A shrine to the almighty, all-meaty swine, few places offer as much juicy, salty, fatty, tender, crispy, crackly, altogether decadent flavor under one roof as this brainchild of chef Hanis Cavin. Prior to shacking up, this well traveled chef dished up the goods at Kensington Grill. That’s a good gig and he put out delicious food there, but nothing like the sumptuous, straightforward pork-based offerings he’s won a wide-ranging legion of foodie followers for at his new, low-frills venture.
It’s fun to roll by, order up, and enjoy a quick yet filling bite at Carnitas’, but seating and comfort can be a bit of an issue. By no means is a four-walled restaurant environment necessary to enjoy good food, but sitting at the Shack, I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to enjoy Cavin’s lovingly prepared carnitas, schnitzel, braised belly, and the like in more traditional eating environs. Turns out, the opportunity to do just that will present itself on September 3 when Cavin ventures into the kitchen at North Park’s El Take It Easy (3926 30th Street) for a five-course, pop-up affair featuring dishes such as chili-molasses seared pork belly with apple-frisee salad, ravioli filled with caramelized pork jowl hash, and a carnitas crepinette over white cheddar polenta.
Over the past several months, El Take It Easy owner Jay Porter has regularly invited in guest chefs including ambassador of modern Baja cuisine Javier Plascencia, and mobile gastronomite Brian LaBonte from the MIHO Gastrotruck. Such events have regularly sold out while producing seriously tasty results for attendees. The Plascencia dinner rates as one of my best of 2011 (there I go again with the rankings). Given Cavin's status and talent, this one is expected to be quite good as well. To secure a spot—and five plates of pig (yep…even dessert, created by soon-to-be North Park neighbor Swoon Dessert Bar, features bacon)—visit the restaurant’s website. The cost per person is $35.