LOMBARD – A long line of barbecue and Food Network fans recently waited for the arrival of Chef Jeff Mauro to launch a new location of his Pork & Mindy’s creative barbecue specialty shop inside the Mariano’s in Lombard.
It is one of about two dozen locations coming to the grocery chain this year. Shops already are open at the stores in Westchester, Westmont, Elmhurst, Wheaton and Naperville, with Bloomingdale to come.
Mauro, a Food Network staple as host of the Emmy-nominated “Sandwich King” and co-host of “The Kitchen,” told jokes, danced a bit and posed for selfies with fans, while samples of ribs and slow-smoked meats were served. He won the seventh season of “Food Network Star.”
The charismatic host made his first foray into the food industry when he opened Prime Time Deli & Catering in Westmont with his cousin shortly after graduating college, according to his Food Network bio.
He would cook by day, and at night took the stage to star as Tony in the Chicago production of “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,” an improvisation-based comedy. He moved to Los Angeles to pursue cooking and comedy, and ended up enrolling in the Le Cordon Bleu culinary program.
At the opening, Mauro said he supported his stage ambitions through his work in the food industry, a second passion. At Pork & Mindy’s, the focus is on artisan-smoked, hand-cut meats, he said. A personal favorite is the pastrami showcased in the Reuben “sangwich,” a family word used for his signature specialties.
His take on barbecue is also his own.
“We’re not trying to pay homage to regional barbecue – we create our own style,” he said, noting it’s all about a sandwich’s texture and complexity.
The meats are said to be humanely raised and free of antibiotics and growth hormones.
Between Mauro’s television shows and restaurant operations, he combines both his loves.
“I figured I couldn’t be the best chef or funniest comedian in the world, but I could be the funniest chef in the world,” Mauro said.
At Mariano’s, one can dine on the spot or do carryout. Catering also is offered, with pickup at the store.
“Pork & Mindy’s is one of the first collaborations with a local restaurant group,” said Amanda Puck, director of strategic brand development for Mariano’s. “Pork & Mindy’s [takes a] fun spin on barbecue. [Customers] love the convenience of the grab-and-go sandwiches from the hot bar.”
She said parent company Kroger, which acquired Mariano’s in 2015, lends its large support system to the chain.
“[It] saw the value in the Mariano’s brand and wants to keep it intact, to keep the Mariano’s magic going,” Puck said.
Taking selfies with Mauro at the store opening was Michele Mihelich of Lombard, who called the food “excellent and creative,” adding, “he’s fun.”
Ann Hootman was joined by husband Rick Malik of Oakbrook Terrace, who gave a thumbs up to the rib he sampled. They said Mauro is their favorite on “The Kitchen.”
New grab-and-go items include bacon-wrapped spare ribs and smoked honey mustard meatloaf. The daily menu will feature about a half dozen of Mauro’s sangwiches, tottys, which are tater tots loaded with meats, sauces and garnishes, smokehouse beans and other sides, and build-your-own pit bowls.
Among the sangwiches is the Bao to the Pork, prepared with hickory-smoked, hand-pulled pork shoulder topped with signature Asian plum sauce and pickled daikon and carrot, cucumber and jalapeño relish, served on a steamed bao bun. The Pig Candy B.L.T. serves up the shop’s Sweet Heat Pig Candy bacon, topped with lettuce, tomato, balsamic caramelized onions and dry rub mayo, served on a griddled brioche bun.
People looking for a meat-free alternative will find grilled cheese, as well as the Buffalo cauliflower sangwich, featuring slow-smoked cauliflower topped with in-house Buffalo sauce, Gorgonzola, lettuce, tomato and buttermilk dill ranch, served on a griddled brioche bun.
Pork & Mindy’s is located near the front of each store in a roughly 200-square-foot space. Mauro, a River Forest resident, opened the first Pork & Mindy’s in 2016 in Chicago’s Bucktown with business partner Kevin Corsello.