Bellyful of Flavor
The Top’s Denver Adkins 2.0 version of surf and turf
By Kimberly StolzPublished May 1, 2012
In this age of rapidly Twittered trends and checklists, there are those constants that remain tried-and-true, consistently feeding our need for the familiar.
The Top Steakhouse is one of those touchstone spots, a lighthouse watching over the choppy waters of the Columbus dining scene since 1955. Riding the current wave of retro chic, The Top is the go-to place for ring-a-ding-ding hipsters and classy carnivores looking to wile a night away in a low-lit, piano-sprinkled scene.
With a menu that reads like Frank Sinatra’s last meal, The Top is the kind of monument where change can rattle the regulars. Chef Denver Adkins, however, has found a way to keep the classics cooking while still allowing for creativity – daily specials.
This pork belly dish, paired with scallops, has proved so popular that patrons call first to see if it graces the nightly menu. When making this dish at home, Adkins stressed the importance of letting the pork cool in the braising liquid before working with it.
If picked up when it’s still hot, the belly will fall apart and leave with you an unsightly pile of pig. Slabs of pork belly can be purchased at better butcher shops such as Thurn’s. Oh, and stick with the red onions for the slaw, as they are “sweeter and prettier” than white onions, whose strong taste would throw off the balance of the flavors.
A new twist on the proverbial “surf and turf,” the salty and sweet flavor profile is contemporary and a smashing way to update a classic.
Pork Belly with Cracked Pepper Maple Glaze and Scallops
Serves 4 for appetizer, 2 for main dish
2 lbs. Pork Belly (slab bacon)
24 oz beef broth
1 lb. scallops, 10-11 size
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1/3 cup brown sugar
½ cup Ohio Maple Syrup
Sweet & Sour Slaw
4-5 Granny Smith apples, julienned
½ cup shredded carrots
½ cup shredded red onion
Sweet & Sour dressing
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place belly and broth in large Dutch oven, or other large pan with top. Cover and braise for four hours. Remove from oven and set aside to let cool.
While cooling, create the sauce. In a pan, mix together the broth, sugar, maple syrup and pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer until reduced by one half.
As the sauce reduces, prepare the slaw by mixing together ingredients and tossing with dressing to taste.
When the belly is cool, remove from braising liquid and score the fat side of the slab. Cut into serving-size slices. When sauce is this close to finishing, cook the scallops. Season both side of the shellfish with salt and pepper. Place a sauté pan on the burner and add one tablespoon vegetable oil and one tablespoon unsalted butter. Allow a moment for this to get very hot. Place scallops flat-side down in the pan and do not overcrowd. Let scallops cook for one-to-two minutes and peek to see if the bottom has browned. When browned, flip and cook for one more minute. The scallops should be medium, with a little translucence left in the middle, and springy to the touch.
In another sauté pan, place the belly fat-side down for two minutes to heat through.
To plate, place a mound of slaw on one side of the dish and arrange the belly slice and scallops in the middle. Drizzle the proteins with the pepper-maple reduction.
About the Chef
“I was a latchkey kid,” explained Chef Denver Adkins. “I did all sorts of goofy things.” Concoctions such as adding herbs to hot dog water and winging potato soup were his first forays into culinary waters. The Pennsylvania native has been working in restaurants in one capacity or another since the cusp of his teenage years. At 13, he found himself manning a salad bar and at 16, he started cooking.
“I enjoy the stress,” he said, from the small rectangle that is The Top's kitchen, maneuvering past racks of fresh-baked bread and pans of stuffed fish. “My wife calls it ‘Martyr Syndrome,’ the ‘nobody works as hard as me’ type of thing.” As he hovers over the stove, checking the maple glaze, a wall of worn and blackened pans looks down over the chef, a testament to the longevity of the kitchen.
“We’re only the third owners since 1955,” said Adkins. “People are spending millions to build steakhouses that look like this, and we have one of the original ones.”
While Adkins mans the kitchen, his wife Jean works the front of the house. From Bexley, his wife’s family spent many a memorable occasion in the intimate dining room. “We were always joking that we should buy it,” he recalled. The opportunity arose in November of 2006 while the family was on vacation and it’s been seared steaks and fat lobster tails ever since.
Having gone to culinary school in Pittsburgh and working in such local kitchens as Pig Iron, the Elevator, and Braddocks, Chef Adkins wanted to create new dishes, but also knew he didn’t want to fix something that wasn’t broken.
“I didn’t want to upset people, so the menu hasn’t changed much,” he explained. “But I do want this to be a more chef-driven place and more creative, so I add options through the nightly specials.”
“I like the look on people’s faces …” he said, now sitting at the restaurant’s revered bar, menus autographed by the likes of Earl Bruce, Jim Tressel and John Cooper hanging overhead. “Well, sometimes that’s the worst, but that’s my wife’s job … but I like making people happy.” A father of four, his oldest works the hostess station and the rest are growing up within the dark walls.
“Everyone knows Zach, he’s like Norm from Cheers,” he said, speaking of his five-year-old. “He karate chops mushrooms and is always trying to chop things … the other night he wanted to put the chicken on the grill.”
As grandparents introduce their grandkids to The Top, Adkins’ family is growing up with the restaurant too, literally.