If there was ever a philosopher of bacon it would be Rusty Bowers, a classically trained chef who in 2008 started Pine Street Market, a whole animal butcher shop in the Atlanta area. His enterprise has developed an enviable culinary reputation on a growing number of foodies’ dining tables across the country. Imbued with the idea of making use of all parts of whole animals that come through his shop, Bowers has conjured up some mind-blowing recipes for what many in the trade of specialty meat processing and curing often discard in their bacon production.
One example is his Bacon Jam, a mixture of applewood smoked bacon trimmings, onions, garlic, spices, cider vinegar and molasses. He can barely keep it in stock and the demand for it in area restaurants, bars and luxury hotels is propelling an expansion of his business from a 2,500-sq.-ft. building to a production and retail space spanning 15,000 sq. ft.
At a volume of about 1,000 lbs. of bacon per week, Pine Street Market also sells its meats through another venue called Chop Shop, which Bowers co-owns with the farmers who own Riverview Farms, just north of Atlanta.
Rusty uses Heritage hogs from nearby Riverview Farms for all of the bacon sold at Chop Shop, but procures pork bellies from other sources of humanely raised Heritage hogs as well. He produces a salt and pepper (sugar-free) seasoned pork belly that is a great bacon alternative for people abiding by the Whole30 or other low-carb, no sugar diets. He’ll often use bacon pieces in some of his hand-crafted artisan sausages to round out the finished flavor and also is known for his locally famous bacon and brisket rillette. Then there are the bacon ends that have become quite the sensation among the store’s customers. In the retail store, they coat the bacon ends in their Signature Sweet Cheeks Barbeque Rub and smoke them for snacking – and they never last long. Many local eateries purchase his bacon ends to dice and add to their poutine recipes, salads and side dishes.
He features bacon-wrapped pork loins, and in early June, began making an all-beef bacon burger using the navel section of the beef carcass, cured in the style of bacon, and ground with fresh cuts of the chuck and brisket. Did we mention his bacon rillettes?
“We (his culinary team of chefs and butchers) brainstorm about new ideas and uses for our non-frontline meats every day,” Bowers says. “Sure, we could come up with something like an avocado and ranch flavored bacon, but that's not us. We want the items we offer to be Old World style where the flavor of the meat is the reason they buy it. Customers can take our finished meats home and doctor them up any way they want. But we want to be about the meat.”
He comments that his approach to using the whole animal means relying on machinery to do some of the work, “…but the majority of what we do is hand crafted – our butchers hand cut and trim the fresh cuts, personally mix the flavors and spices, and hand make our sausages – it makes the difference.”
“We need to use equipment for the heavy lifting work in processing meats, because we don’t want to hurt our employees,” he adds. “We need their specialized skills and talents to make that artisan difference in the final product.”
The notoriety of Bowers’ bacon works earned Pine Street Market the Flavor of Georgia Award in 2018 for its Heritage Bacon and again in 2019 for its Bacon Jam. He has received requests from opportunistic entrepreneurs who want him to private label his items for them.
“We backed away from that idea,” he concludes. “While being asked to make something for someone else under their name is a compliment to us, we think some things are just too good to share,” he says.