June 14, 2012 at 9:11 am EST | by Jonathan Howard
Big on the Pig

EatWellDC owners (from left) Andrew Howells, Billy McCormick and Josh Hahn at the Pig, their new venture. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Logan Tavern, Commissary, The Heights and Grillfish are all well-known neighborhood restaurants in Washington operated by restaurant management company EatWellDC, a conglomerate run by three gay business partners, David Winer, Winer’s nephew Josh Hahn and Antonio Oquendo. Last month they opened their fifth restaurant in the District, The Pig (1320 14th Street NW).

On opening weekend I visited this pork-centric restaurant, which focuses on snout-to-tail dishes from locally sourced ingredients and ethically raised animals. I met Hahn at the restaurant a few weeks after my first visit and discussed the new eatery, the first few weeks of business and the concept behind The Pig.

The idea of whole animal cooking was a trend emerging in the United States a few years ago, Hahn says, and he and his partners agreed if they were going to open another restaurant in the Logan area it would need to be different. The Pig is still a neighborhood restaurant that is socially conscious but it’s not an American Tavern, “meat-and-potatoes”-type venue. Instead the restaurant specializes in small plates.

“The coursing and rhythm of the meal is different and it is a more service-oriented type of establishment,” Hahn says. The 72-seat space is purposefully smaller then EatWellDC’s other restaurant in order to facilitate the different pace and make sure meals aren’t rushed out of the kitchen.

You notice the more intimate space as soon as you walk in. Visitors are greeted by a venue that’s decorated with rustic reclaimed products. Old barn wood lines the walls along with the iconic EatWellDC chalkboards. An expansive butcher block-topped bar resides in the back of the restaurant. It feels like a comfortable country cabin. The only time you may feel uncomfortable is if you excuse yourself to the washrooms to discover the decoupage-covered walls with pig miscellany, including a pig upside down in a meat grinder.

At The Pig, they’re trying to use as many cuts of the animal as the menu will allow and if the full cut is not featured as a center of the plate item, then Chef Garret Fleming tries to incorporate it in some way.

“Some of the items may read a bit strange, but they aren’t really scary,” Hahn says. Although, quite a few at my table found the chocolate ice-cream with pig blood frightening, and we all steered clear of the porchetta which mentions brains in the description. Other than these two items, all other dishes are approachable. There are even some vegetarian and vegan options available as well.

Hahn’s favorite items are the braised cheek with Spanish sofrito and stone grits and the boar spoon bread with truffles and mushrooms. One of my favorite items was also the braised cheek, which was moist and tender as well as the Little Pig platter, a savory selection of cured meats, house pickles and grilled breads. Slightly disappointing however, were the bland meatballs of pork, lamb and stewed tomato sauce, the mushroom beurre blanc where the mushrooms were undercooked on two occasions, and the burger which was not finished by all five of us who were sitting at the table.

To be fair these were the non-pork centric dishes we ordered. I hope to soon return for the wild boar ragu that sounds deliciously promising, but has been unavailable each time I’ve visited. We were even daring enough to try the Sundae Bloody Sundae which features pasteurized pig blood-infused chocolate ice cream, and were pleasantly surprised by the richness of the chocolate and overall appeal of the dessert.

The Pig is a conceptual restaurant that willingly pushes patrons out of their comfort zone but still delivers a good dining experience. The pork-centric menu has some plates that shine and others that leave the diner wanting more. It’s an experience that is worth having at least once, and when the restaurant hits its stride it has the potential to be excellent. The Pig is open for dinner at 5 p.m. and will soon be opening for brunch as well.

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