Forget silk purse, make a sandwich!

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 14, 2000

Born in Mississippi but raised Yankee, I stared at a piece ofSouthern tradition while trying to bolster my courage to take abite.

I had never heard of pig ear sandwiches, but the sign at theHamilton Street business was irresistible. Surely, I thought, thisis a joke.

Now, peering at the sandwich warily, I could deny it no longer.Pig ear sandwiches are real and, according to Valerie Rawls, ownerof Buffalos, it is a Southern tradition.

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The pig ears, cooked to tender morsels, are laid delicately ontosmall buns and covered with Buffalos’ own barbecue sauce.Hesitantly, I took a small bite.

Pig ear sandwiches date back to the days of slavery, Rawls said,and have a similar origin to hogshead cheese, pig’s feet andchitlins. It started as an African-American tradition that hassince transcended race.

“We were basically given the scraps off the pig and had to makethem edible,” Rawls said. “They’ve come a long way since then.”

While restaurants selling pig ear sandwiches may be a novelty inBrookhaven, Rawls said, it is not uncommon to find the food atrestaurants throughout the South. She said there are severallocations in Jackson where they are sold.

“I didn’t come up with anything special,” she said. “I justbrought a creative idea here.”

Rawls opened Buffalos on March 31 and had to decide how shewould keep up her stock, whether to use a distributor or buylocally. She chose to buy from local grocery stores to help supportthe local economy.

“It was a business decision,” she said. “We decided not to gowith a distributor and try to make it a hometown favorite.”

Getting pig ears is not a problem, she said.

“We do use our local grocery stores for our pig ears. People maynot mention them in social company, but a lot of people eat them,”she joked.

The pig ear sandwiches and small Buffalo burgers are availablewith Buffalos’ own hot or mild barbecue sauce or with a tangymustard sauce.

“It’s the combination of that pig ear and tangy mustard saucethat keeps them coming back,” Rawls said.

The pig ear sandwich business was slow until two months ago, shesaid. Not many people knew she sold them so, to bolster her sales,she placed signs advertising her menu around the store. Businesstook off immediately.

“The pig ear sandwich is just now taking off,” Rawls said. “Idon’t think people knew we had it. The past two months have beengreat.”

For those less stout of heart, Buffalos has a growing menu ofother items. Challenged by the recent upsurge in pig ear sandwichesfor the top seller position are the namesake of the business,Buffalo wings.

Rawls said the wings she sells come with Buffalos’ own sauce, orcustomers can choose from a variety of six other sauces toaccompany their meal.

The business also sells butterfly shrimp, Buffalos’ shrimp(shrimp with the their sauce), Buffalo burgers, and several choicesof side items.

More items will be added to the menu as the business grows andmatures, Rawls said. Already she has expanded her weekend menu toinclude rotisserie chicken and is working to merge the product intoher daily menu as well.

And the pig ear sandwich? Well, you’ll just have to try ityourself.