Operation: Take-Out • Braised Pork Belly Carnitas Super Nachos and Poblano-Stuffed Tamales from Travail

Braised Pork Belly Super Nachos from Travail Kitchen and Amusements // Photo by Tj Turner

Braised Pork Belly Super Nachos from Travail Kitchen and Amusements // Photo by Tj Turner

Each week, Operation: Take-Out brings you specially crafted meals for two with ideal beverage pairings from your favorite local restaurants. We’d like to thank Hop & Barrel Brewing for their underwriting support in the month of June.

THE RESTAURANT: This week’s carnitas nachos meal comes from Travail in Robbinsdale.

The team at Travail has built a national reputation by way of experimental techniques, boundary-pushing set menus, and engaging, immersive service. Before the pandemic, they were unstoppable as they renovated, expanded, and diversified their concepts to serve a large and loyal following.

Chef and co-owner Mike Brown says that the forced shutdown this March was the saddest day of his life. But the Travail partners have fought to not only survive but to adapt, reworking their menu into a series of to-go family meals. “We built teams around it and while we were doing it, we were trying to figure out a way to open up a marketplace,” he says.

The Travail Marketplace, now online, features the likes of Red Table Meat Co., cheese from Shepherd’s Way Farms, and assorted greens from local producers. For Brown and Travail, the marketplace is just one part of a multi-pronged approach to support their community and former employees; 100 percent of the sales from the restaurant’s bloody mary mix benefit  the “Breakfast for Families” fund, which covers large grocery drop-offs at the Minneapolis-based food shelf PRISM to make breakfast staples such as eggs, bread, and pancake mix available to 400 families a week.

THE MEAL: Travail’s smoked and braised pork belly carnitas meal is a straight-up flavor bomb. The meat itself, says Brown, “is basically a braised bacon, but it’s got all these Mexico City flavors that are rubbed all over it, and we cook it overnight.”

“Getting that flavor of smoke on it is critical,” adds Brown, “because when we were in Mexico City everything was cooked over a fire.”

The meal also comes with tamales stuffed with poblanos and Oaxacan cheese. The tamales are made with corn brought in from Mexico by Travail collaborator Gustavo Romero (of the soon-to-open Nixta Tortilleria in Northeast Minneapolis). “It’s the richest corn flavor you’ve ever had,” notes Brown.

“Everybody loves meat in their tamales, but this is my favorite tamale in the world,” he adds. His team uses a pepper roaster, a device that resembles a rolling bingo cage that’s torched by intense flames, to give the poblanos their distinctive depth. “We roast about a case of poblanos at a time,” Brown says. “A lot of the amazing flavor is coming from that.”

Refried beans (Brown’s mother’s recipe, “in my opinion the best beans in the world”), rice, house-made chips, and a two-person margarita kit (bring your own tequila) round out this ridiculously intense and delicious meal.

And if you’re looking for the perfect beer to pair, consider purchasing a Crowler or two of Pig Ate My Pizza’s Compassionfruit Kolsch. (Beer not included with the meal package, but available for sale separately at Pig Ate My Pizza.)

Meals are pre-order only and available for pick-up on June 11. No substitutions, ticket sales will close on June 10 at 12pm CST. No refunds after 12pm CST on June 10.

Hop & Barrel Brewing Co., located in downtown Hudson, Wisconsin, takes a modern approach to classic beers. Hop & Barrel is best known for its clean and classic Minnesconsin Helles, its wide variety of IPAs, and the innovative brewing behind its true-to-flavor Lemon Breaker Shandy and Paul & Babe’s Breakfast Ale. Regardless of your taste, Hop & Barrel brews a little something for everyone!