I enjoyed the look of curiosity - or, laughter - when I told people I was going to Pig Island last weekend. What's Pig Island, you ask? For the second year in a row, there's been a festival on Governors Island dedicated to...pigs. Pork, rather. "80 pigs, 20 chefs". What better way to make our grand entrance into the food blogging world than to write about Pig Island?
When we got off the ferry at Governor's Island, the Pig Island logo - a swashbuckling pig on a pirate's flag - greeted us and pointed us towards the lawn area. I was shocked by the expanse of tented booths. I was afraid it was going to be too busy and overwhelming for slightly-claustrophobic me...but we had to dive in, in the name of Pork. The first thing we grabbed was some sort of stewed pork with potatoes and cabbage from San Rocco. I think we were so excited to eat that we neglected to take photos. Just as well, it tasted somewhat unremarkable. To me, the pork portion was similar to the fatty pork belly that I find very often in my home cooked Chinese dinners.
We realized our no-photo mistake and hurried to the next booth to snap up photos and food. It was Rhong-Tiam, serving two kinds of pulled pork: one with sriracha aioli and crushed barbecue chips atop, and the other with a cilantro-chili-"five spice" topping. Both these little paper boats of pork had fiery kicks, but were really delicious. The aioli imparted a mellow heat, and i just love potato chips of any form, so bring it on. I thought I wasn't going to like the cilantro on this pulled pork (love it or hate it. I usually hate it, unless it comes in the form of lime-cilantro rice from Chipotle) but it turned out really tasty too. Both these versions of pulled pork I could see eating at the actual restaurant. Yay!
Next was Ducks Eatery, with a slow-roasted tom yum soup. To me, not so "yum". The soup didn't look so appetizing - chili sauce clung to the oily layer on top - and sort of tasted like a plain old hot and sour soup from any Asian take-out place. It also had this stab-you-in-the-throat-spicy that lasted longer than was pleasant...
...Which sent us running for ice cold refreshment in the form of free and unlimited beer from SixPoint craft ales. Hooray for being over 21, although they didn't really ask us to prove it either....
The next booth belonged to the Clerkenwell. They had: candied bacon; pork cracklings; Chinese-style braised pig's trotters; slow-cooked shoulder with cilantro aioli, shredded lettuce/cabbage and raddish (carnitas/Tosdada style); pork belly porchetta sliders; and southern-style ribs. We were lucky enough to try most of these things. The carnitas/pulled pork taco was refreshing (albeit, tiny); the slider had some pretty fatty meat on it (depending on your taste for pork, a good or bad thing); the pig's trotter...tasted like pork (nothing unusual or pig's-feet-y about it!); and I really enjoyed the cracklings! Okay, so Chinese people have got crispy pork skin down to a science. These cracklin'z were chopped up into little pieces, and weren't as crunchy as I'm used to having. Rather, they were a little on the chewy side. Still, there's something about chomping on (kind-of) crunchy pig skin that is really satisfying. Clerkenwell, you've made a fan out of me.
Next, we saw Dinosaur BBQ. These two guys were nonchalantly shoveling pulled pork and slaw into little sliders. I figured, how good can this taste? In fact, the prep stations even looked nonchalant: big aluminum pans full of buns, grey-colored meat, and psychedelic-colored slaw looked like they'd been sitting out for days. I was pleasantly surprised, though, at this really delicious slider! The pork was simple and tasty, and the slaw was actually very good: tart, crisp, and not OD-mayonnaise. The barbecue sauce they ladled in the middle was typical, but tied the whole thing together to become a familiar, reminds-you-of-home sandwich. Yummy!
The next booth was inundated with a super long line. Turns out we were waiting for these little Greek meatballs from Ovelia. The guy was frying batches in this little frying pan, which explained the long wait. Our portion came out to: one little meatball and pulled pork apple slaw on top of pita. The meatball was a bit spicy but otherwise not super memorable, but I do remember the apple slaw being very refreshing and tasty. I was kind of hankering for seconds at that point. But, alas, we had to move on to get...
MAPLE BACON STICKY BUNS from Print. I was assured that these things were going to blow my mind. Mind you, I'm not a huge fan of bacon. I know, I know, blasphemy. Something about the greasy mouth-feel you get makes me feel as guilty as though I were swallowing lard. These sticky buns were like little pinwheels of dough, topped with a sprinkling of chopped bacon. Cute-looking, but I was still unsure how they'd be received by my judgmental mouth. After the approximately two bites it took to finish the whole bun, I decided...eh, it was good. I don't think it blew my mind, though. See, the whole thing just tasted like a cinnamon bun. The maple was good, but very sweet, and I'm not a fan of cloyingly sweet things. Even just sweet, I have a low tolerance for. I'd prefer a salty bag of chips over candy, most days. The bacon was almost nonexistent! I saw it, I knew I was eating it, but it didn't really register a taste. Isn't that weird? All around me, people were saying, "Ohh...this is fantastic" and making orgasm faces and strangers were telling each other, "You gotta try this!", but I felt kind of left out.
Then, we waited on another line for the Darby, which advertised celebrity endorsement by Alex Guarnaschelli and Food Network and whatnot. Their dish was a quartered sausage with plum sauce and a chile slaw. They were going on and on about spicy and "It's not the size of your sausage, but how spicy your chile is" but it wasn't that spicy. A tasty combination, no doubt, of pork sausage and slaw, but nothing really remarkable.
We had a bit more sausage - at which point, "sausage fest" jokes were being made - and this next one was actually remarkable and memorable and delicious! Who knew garlic, fennel, and marjoram (not marzipan...) would turn out a really good sausage? There was a nice crunch to the skin and the meat had a rich sausage-y taste. The one thing about such a sausage is that you probably couldn't eat too much at once, because the taste was pretty strong and super flavorful.
For a break from carnivore fare, we had some cornbread sprinkled with flakes of sea salt, more slaw, and pickles. I thought it was really weird to have vegetarian sides at a pork festival. Besides that, the event planners even offered vegetarian tickets to the whole thing. You can, as a vegetarian, get all the veggie sides you want, plus beer and other drinkables. Oh, you can also see loads of pig heads skewered on stakes or resting on barbecue grates and meat cleavers hacking away at carcasses. For $40. Slaw on top of a pulled pork sandwich? Bits of pork nestled in cornbread? Okay. But not on their own. Go meat or go home.
Oh, the pickles were pretty good too.
Next, we got a slice of good old fashioned English pie from Delicatessen. Pie! I never actually had a pie when I was in the UK, but they always looked so...homey and hearty and delicious. A flaky bowl of dough containing stew-y meat and vegetables...mmm. This pie had pork with melted leeks (it was a pretty hot slice...but I didn't know leeks melted...) and a Roquefort-fig compote. Easily the fanciest-sounding thing we had all day. Compote. Ha. Anyway, it was a little hard to eat without scalding my mouth, but delicious. The filling was...kind of a strange texture of mushy meat and melted leeks. So, if you no likey mushy foods, this it not really for you. I liked it, but on the other hand, I think if I were to eat a full serving of it, it would start tasting odd after a few more bites.
The next booth was JoeDoe, which had a line that stretched for forever and a day (they were giving out little pig snouts you could snap onto your face, so who wouldn't want to line up for that?! Us.) so we came and went and skipped over to Jimmy's No. 43 next door for... what?!... another vegetarian side. I have to admit, though, this was way better: grilled corn with a cayenne garlic mayo aioli sprinkled with some smelly cheese and a lime wedge on the side. Something about summer corn is really refreshing and undoubtedly delicious. The aioli, cheese, and lime made for interesting accents, but honestly, you don't need any of that stuff. Maybe a swab of butter, pop the cob on the grill, and that's all.
What came next was...a little shocking. My little boat had some normal-looking pulled pork with a dollop of some gray mush next to it. The pulled pork? Fine. The gray mush? It was like...some liver...concoction...blehh. No good. Garbage can, quick!
Then, we came upon Mary Queen of Scots and their pork schnitzel sandwiches and pork bone broth. The sandwich was alright, save for the fact that mine looked a little on the undercooked side with a dab of shiny translucentish meat in the schnitzel. The pork bone broth...was like a plain and salty soup. To me, it wasn't worth wasting the cups on serving hot salty water. At this stall, we ran into Michael Colameco, of Colameco's Food Show, which I watch, because anything related to food is on my television repertoire. He was chatting up the Mary Queen of Scots people to film a segment. I took a photo with him in which he blinked. Meh.
The end is in sight! Next, we had these black corn tortillas with lean pieces of pork and fill-your-own-tortilla-with-cherry-tomatoes thing. The tomatoes were so good I could have popped fifty of them in my mouth alone. I'd never had a black corn tortilla before, so that was kind of interesting: it just tasted very...corny...and was more exercise for my jaw to chew. I think the coolness factors of the tortilla and tomatoes pushed the memory of the pork out of my mind.
Next, at Ici, we had a pulled pork salad with chicharron (cracklings). I thought this was a very good combination: make you eat your vegetables but still get the dose of pork and crunch. Mom should have made me pork salad when I was little to get me to eat my greens.
Finally, the end! At the last booth, there were these Scandinavian-style bruschetta. From what I could see, there were some pates, pickled things, and porky things. I say, "from what I could see," because at this point, I gave up. I could not jam three more bruschetta into my tummy. It's too bad these guys were last on our itinerary, but just as well, I smuggled there bruschetta out of the field to give to my mother, who remarked that they tasted pretty bad. Sorry.
Wow. That was a long review of Pig Island. For next year, I figure most of the restaurants could do with a little revamping of their concepts. We saw pork and slaw a few too many times. Also, I can only have pulled pork in so many preparations before I forget what I'm eating. ALSO, they should give out a full set of pig wear at the entrance: ears, snout, and tail. That way, we can all walk around looking like cannibals. (j/k)