The best sandwiches are the messiest ones.
That very true statement is one of chef John O’Brien’s life philosophies, and it’s what inspired him to create “The Belly of the Beast.”
Now on the menu at Smokin’ John’s Barbecue on Main Street in Manayunk, which O’Brien opened in late 2014 with Winnie Clowry next door to her bruncherie-and-bakery Le Bus, the Beast is a behemoth of a sandwich. The 10 ingredients are layered carefully atop one another to create a mountain of meat and cheese and more, all between two layers of a soft brioche bun:
- Pulled pork (pork butts that are dry rubbed, smoked for 10 hours and slow-roasted for another six)
- Baked beans (made with brown sugar and smoked vidalia onions — actually vegetarian, though that’s not of importance in this particular dish)
- Roast chicken (pulled into threads)
- Mac n cheese (elbow macaroni with a white cheddar and jack cheese sauce and herbed breadcrumbs
- Beef brisket (sides of angus beef that are dry rubbed, smoked for 13 hours and slow-roasted for another two)
- Cheese sauce (housemade from cheddar and jack)
- Caramelized onions (sweet Vidalias)
- Matchstick fries (fried to order)
- Burnt ends (the crispy, fatty, tasty ends of the beef brisket)
- Sweet BBQ sauce (made in house from a secret recipe)
About that BBQ sauce — it’s phenomenal. O’Brien developed it for a dish when he was chef at Le Bus, and its popularity is what led to the idea of opening an entire restaurant dedicated to barbecue. As Northeast Philly native (i.e. not from the South), O’Brien isn’t dogmatic about what type of ‘cue he cooks, he just wants it to be great. With the sauce, it is, and there’s also a spicy version that’s just as good. He also does a killer cornbread, which you won’t need if you order this sandwich.
The Belly of the Beast normally costs $18, but Smokin’ John’s is running a promotion where if you post a pic of your endeavor to consume it on social with the hashtag #BellyoftheBeastMNYK, you’ll get $3 off.
Speaking from experience, it’s easier to polish off than it looks. Check it out below.