Under gorgeous azure skies with just a hint of a breeze blowing off of the water, Pig Island 2013 took place yesterday on the Red Hook waterfront, site of some of the worst flooding last year in New York City from Hurricane Sandy. Featuring 25 local area chefs, 80 hogs that come from the surrounding areas, all the food you can eat, and beer, cider, and wine that you can drink, this is the ideal mix for a festival that celebrates all the bounty of the region. “This is pig heaven,” said a woman who passed by me while visiting the food stands.
As usual, there were some absolutely stand-out items, and ones that I thought could have been constructed a bit better. Before I launch into the pork dishes, several of the sides that were served with the pork also deserve a special mention. Route 66 Smokehouse had one of the most delicious potato salads that I’ve ever had to go along with their Roast Porchetta Sandwich. They’re opening up a place down in the Financial District, so that’s a place I’m going to add to my list to stop by for a meal. The folks at Fort Reno (who are also behind Pig Island veterans Palo Santo) made a crunchy, tangy coleslaw with the exact right balance of seasoning that went perfectly with their roasted pulled pork. I wished I could have taken a container of each of these salads with me to eat today at home.
While there was no formal competition for best dish of the day, a group of judges (including me) were asked to recognize some of the more stellar creations. Peter Kaminsky, food book author and writer, Jonathan Forester, Food and Beverage Writer & Consultant, and Mike Edison, from Heritage Radio Network, judged the day’s results. As you can see from the list below, this wasn’t the most serious of battles, more a chance to acknowledge all the hard work that the chefs and their teams did to make the day a delicious success.
Two chefs + 1 pig + seaweed = The Mer-Pig. This dish of succulent seaweed-wrapped roasted pig plus and housemade kimchi sauce was the creation of chefs St. John Frizell of Fort Defiance & Ben Schneider of The Good Fork. Ben had mentioned at the Pig Pick-up on Wednesday that they were going to dig a hole in the ground and roast the pig in it. From a simple cooking concept to a plate filled with big, bold, smoky-tangy flavor, this was definitely one of my top tastes of the day.
The Best Ménage – Neuman’s Kitchen
This Ménage à Trois was a three-way pork treat for your tastebuds. Roasted pig plus crispy pig’s ear plus bacon vinaigrette brought a meaty, fatty, crispy combo that was made fresher and lighter with the addition of a salad of frisée and apples. This dish was definitely a crowd pleaser, with one guest saying to the staff: “That was awesome. Thank you for that.”
The “Cue”-est – Fort Reno
Several participants decided to go with straight-up barbecued pork and fixin’s. One of these was Fort Reno, whom I mentioned also gets my “best coleslaw” nod for the day. They served up big pieces of braised pork and let guests dress it with several of their housemade sauces: smoked jalapeno and garlic, habanero with mustard and tumeric, and a fermented chili and garlic, along with traditional vinegar and barbecue sauces.
The “Realest Mexican” – Jimmy’s No. 43
There were a few chefs who decided to tap into their Latin American roots for this porkfest. One of these was David who helms the kitchen at Jimmy’s No. 43. His juicy marinated pork (something I wish I had more of again to eat today) was partnered with sautéed onions and cactus as well as with spiced pickled onions. Part of the reason he received this accolade was for his use of avocado leaves, a Mexican ingredient not generally used here. He manged to capture spicy, sweet, meaty, with a touch of heat and a punch of zingy all in one, making it one of my favorite dishes of the day.
Teaming up with Tyson Ho, creator of the Arrogant Swine North Carolina barbecue events, restauranteur and cookbook author Zarela Martinez chose to display the whole entire pig, stuffed with fruit and vegetable picadillo in the style of Oaxaca. This was a terrific combination of meat with a tangy-sweet mixture that balanced out the richness of the pork.
The “Loudest” – Ducks Eatery
Having really enjoyed his dishes at past food events, I have to say that Chef Will Horowitz’s dish of Crispy Pigs Ear with Smoked Pork Pâté, Fermented Chow-Chow, and Black Sesame Seeds all put together in a bib lettuce “wrap” was one of the more interesting dishes that I tried yesterday. Creamy pâté and crunchy pigs ears paired with vinegary chow-chow all nestled in a crisp lettuce holder made this an intriguing combination. After lots of sandwich bread, tortillas, and rolls, I was also very glad to see him serve a bread-less option.
The Most Kosher – Bittergreen
While there weren’t a lot of options for non-pork loving diners, as in past years the organizers had a special featured tent with a vegetarian plate. Chef Tim Cavaretta created a selection of refreshing, hearty salads that many dinners dove into as a break from all of the meat dishes. I really enjoyed the cool Watermelon and Radish Salad with Cilantro for its brightness and sharp, peppery snap.
The Sweetest – The Chocolate Life
Didn’t think we’d be talking about desserts, here, did you? Well, a few chefs decided to tap into their sweet tooths for this event. Butter made Lardo-glazed Cinnamon Rolls with Bacon. Davis Famous whipped up a batch of Bacon Brownies and served them with whipped cream and Candied Bacon. The winner in this category went to Chef Clay Gordon who grilled his peaches in bacon fat, made a peach confit, and served it all up on fluffy, decadent biscuit with chocolate, butterscotch, buttermilk, and more bacon. Sweet, meaty, bacon-y, chocolatey, fruity – what more do you want?
The Most Inventive – Parish Hall
I can’t argue that probably the most inventive dish of the day goes to the folks at Parish Hall, who decided to turn pig skin into noodles to serve it alongside their housemade sausage. With invention sometimes goes risk, and unfortunately, this dish when I tried it was really gummy and unappealing. I was so disappointed, as I’d really looked forward to trying this dish and to see how they’d pull off the concept.
The Best Hunk ‘o Meat – Ovelia
For most stripped-down presentation of the day, the award should also go to Ovelia, who chose to serve their dish simply from skewer to plate. I really, really liked the flavors in the marinade and basting sauce; however, I felt, and at least one of the judge concurred with me on this, that the meat could have been much more tender; it was actually kind of on the tough side. It was such as shame as it tasted fantastic.
The Best “White Guy” – Joe Doe Before turning your nose up at this dish from Joe Doe as just another burrito, you should have been there to give it a try. Hunks, I mean hunks of juicy pork, were cradled in a thin white tortilla and loaded up with salsa and cheese plus an optional dollop of hot sauce. This was a hearty start to my food adventures for the day.
The Best “Asian-ish” – Fletcher’s Brooklyn BBQ
A few chefs took their pork dishes for a spin on the other side of the world, including the guys at Fletcher’s. The ginger-soy pork had a deep full flavor balanced out by the crunchy slaw, which I really enjoyed. I sort of thought that the dense potato bun didn’t do the combination any favors and could have seen it served on something much lighter with to highlight more of the Asian influence.
The Best Rare Breed – Mosefund Mangalitsa
Have you had a chance to try mangalitsa pork meat yet? You should definitely treat yourself to some as soon as you can. It’s tender, flavorful, moist, and just all-around delicious. Chef Michael Clampffer and his team treated guest to a riff on pork-n-beans yesterday that was full of spice, hearty tastes along with a pop of contrast from the pickled onions, greens, and crushed tortilla chips. If you want to pick up some of his meat, drop by New Amsterdam Market the next time they are in town on September 29.
As the food was finished and beverage cups were drained dry, everyone seemed to be having a good time, lounging around on the lawn listening to the live music. Kids were running around doing cartwheels and couples were boogie-ing to the tunes. I saw several chefs finally sitting down after hours of serving the hungry hoards, tossing back their beers and breaking down their stations. It was then time to say good-bye to another very scrumptious Pig Island.
A big “thank you” to Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43 and creator of Food Karma Projects for inviting me to participate in this event. The food opinions stated here are my own and do not, unless otherwise specified, reflect those of the other judges.