Pig Island 2013
Last month, Veritasty went to one of our favorite food fêtes (which is also the benchmark for our birthday; HAPPY 2ND BIRTHDAY VERITASTY!), Pig Island. This year's Pig Island was a little more like Pig Pier since the venue changed from Governor's Island to Red Hook, Brooklyn. Red Hook is a northern neighborhood of my beloved borough, which is now most famous for IKEA and Steve's Key Lime Pie and Brooklyn Crab. The waterfront where Pig Island was spread out was gorgeous: you could simultaneously see little patches of greenery and park benches right next to the very industrial oil rigs rising out of the Hudson River. Pig Pier made us very happy campers.
One of the first stalls we came across hawked Southern Belle barbecue sauce. While these fruity sauces (for example, blueberry and mango flavors) would be a good accompaniment to any barbecued meat, these brilliant southern belles served up the sauces in delicate floral teacups, with slices of sausage and chunks of rib meat on the saucers.
Another stellar presentation and product was from Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse. Jonathan White, the owner of the farm, cooked up whole pigs in his caja china - large wooden boxes the size of picnic coolers, filled with charcoal, with little piggies roasting away happily inside. The caja china (NOT REALLY CHINESE, mind you) is used mostly in Cuba and other Latin and Caribbean countries, but can be found as far away as on the pilot episode of Orange Is The New Black when Piper's friends throw her a going-to-prison goodbye party. The end result of a caja-china-ed pig is a flattened, extraordinarily crispy piece of meat. The skin is (almost) as crunchy as the roasted crispy pig you see hanging in Chinese restaurant windows, waiting to be spliced apart by cleavers on aged hunks of wood masquerading as cutting boards. Bobolink's caja china pork had me pretty won over. Incidentally, Bobolink was featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations: New Jersey episode, which is how I recognized chef/owner Jonathan White and became a little star struck. Incidentally (part 2), one of my good friends has also visited the dairy farm and fell in love with their breads and cheese. In high school, we used to hunt down their rosemary bread when they were in town at the Union Square Greenmarket (hi Tiff!).
We tried a few bites by Pig Island regulars Hecho en Dumbo (ribs, onion relish, and black beans in a delectably greasy and spicy homemade taco) and Ovelia (pork roasted on spits).
Something totally irregular, however, was the little square of rich Nutella-chocolate brownie topped with whipped cream and a sprinkling of salty bacon. I am a huge sucker for chewy toothsome brownies, and this postage-stamp-sized offering was an amazing bite. The chocolate was deep, sweet and earthy at the same time, but the sweetness was cut by the tiny pebbles of bacon. I was eyeing this table to try to find out how I could sneak away the whole tray....
The folks at Neuman's Kitchen next door got bonus points for pig-shaped balloons, but even more bonus points for their crispy pig ears. Yes, squirm and squeal all you want, but those little nuggets were hands down my favorite thing all day. The little slivers of crispy pig ear reminded me of the crunchy kind of Cheez Doodle, only they tasted like the leanest, crunchiest pork rind/chicharrones. Alex saw me swoon over these pigs ears and he actually asked the prep cooks for a paper boat full of them for me to munch on later!!
I really enjoyed Darby/Butter's bacon cookies last year, and this time they presented their riff on breakfast foods with a "McMuffin" and cinnamon roll. The McMuffin was a breakfast sausage patty on an English muffin with a little square of fried egg, hot sauce, and plum jam. The cinnamon roll was slathered in a lardo glaze (lardo is Italian [or foodie] for "pig fat") and sprinkled with bacon bits. Although I yearned for the shortbread cookies from last year, these two bites were quite tasty.
The longest line (i.e. most popular) belonged to Fort Reno BBQ, who was slinging pulled pork tacos with do-it-yourself fixins. Fort Reno and its sister restaurant across the street, Palo Santo, are owned by Chef Jacques Gautier who hosted last year's Pig Island Preview Party. I've had this man's pulled pork before and again, and let me tell you: HE DOES AMAZING PULLED PORK. This aluminum tray sagged under the weight of the glistening brown juicy pulled pork. It was not over-seasoned or over-sauced or anything, just pure pig. I barely put any of the coleslaw or barbecue sauce over my taco to make sure the flavor of pork shone through, and it was simply delicious.
Besides walking away with a severely expanded gut, I learned two important things at this year's Pig Island. First, as is one of the chief beliefs of eating diverse things around the city, I felt more encouraged to venture to new neighborhoods to dine. Red Hook was a different environment than the already-familiar Governor's Island from previous years, and though it was less accessible, the area turned out to be the perfect spot for the event (might I say even better than Governor's Island!?). My second lesson was to continue to try new things. I mean, my favorite thing was crispy pig ears. I eat pretty weird stuff but the thought of pigs ears even slightly turned me off. I ended up loving it and even asking for seconds. At the end of the day, we have all been...