The Ravenous Pig’s Terrapin Beer Dinner
Had a chance last night to visit The Ravenous Pig for one of their periodic craft beer pairing Sunday Suppers, this one featuring what is probably my favorite brewery, Terrapin, out of Athens, GA. (See my review of their Cigar City Brewery Dinner here and other Ravenous Pig food porn here and here. In case you can’t tell I kinda like this place.) What made this supper extra intriguing was that it was billed as a “head to tail” beast dinner, so I was excited to see how this theme would play out across the menu and how the selected beer pairings would hold up. The “beast” for the night was a pig (huzzah for pork!), and we were told that the entire animal was being served tonight, except for the loins, since just about everybody and their brother has had enough pork chops to last a lifetime. To paraphrase the great man, Chef Batali, your food is always better when it has to do some work for a living. You can keep your filets and your loins, bring on the rest and watch what happens when talented chefs transform it. Excitement level increased by about 50% with this news.
We arrived for the reception and were greeted by a classic Terrapin Rye Pale Ale and a selection of starters, including some house-made pork rinds and a pickled ham hock BLT that were passed around while we waiting to be seated in the dining room.
While we enjoyed this first course at the bar, one of the Terrapin reps came by to introduce himself and casually asked if one of us wanted to read one of the between course toasts that they had written. I volunteered to read one, and picked one that seemed to be relevant to the Rapture Weekend festivities. Here’s the verse:
When we drink, we get drunk.
When we get drunk, we fall asleep.
When we fall asleep, we commit no sin.
When we commit no sin, we go to heaven.
So, let’s all get drunk, and go to heaven!
Nice, huh? Well, here was the flaw in my selection. I realized later there was a #4 written on top of the slip of paper I was to read from, which I realized meant that I was going to be reading the last toast at the end of 4 courses of food and drink. Normally I’ve an excellent public speaker but I suddenly got very worried about having sufficient grasp of my faculties to be able to read this long of a toast coherently. Would I be able to fight through and perform this time? Each of these toasts gained extra meaning when our Terrapin hosts for the evening informed the group that to properly “Cheers” someone, you needed to maintain eye contact the entire time. Not to do so would result in seven years of bad sex. Let me just say from that point forward you’ve never seen more people stare down their toasting partners at one place in your life.
6:00 came and we were sitting in the dining room and given our menus for the evening, as well as our first beer course. One of the great things about these events is that the space is limited to roughly 75 or so people, and the seating arrangements are very communal, so you get to know and share the experience with several others at your table. We were lucky enough to be seated with two of the chefs who work at Ravenous Pig, but had the night off foe this dinner. It was great to get their perspectives on the different dishes and pairings as they came out, which added a lot to the night for me. So a tip of the cap to Jason and Brandon for that.
According to our menu, the first course was “Trotters and Ears.” Trotters, as the name implies, are the feet of the pig, while pig ears are, you guessed it, ears. This dish was paired with an Indiana Krunkles Wheat IPA.
The two crispy ears on top of the dish were magnificent, each bursting with intense, smoky flavor, like a concentrated piece of bacon extract. The fried trotter was excellent as well, and, as our chef companions pointed out, came across like a high end Big Mac when you paired it with the cucumbers and aioli. This realization did nothing to detract from the taste, in fact, having that comparison only added to the enjoyment. The beer pairing here was especially good, as the Krunkles really complimented the powerful flavors of this dish very well, acting as a palate cleanser that let you experience each bite in full. So far, so very good.
The second course was rather ominously titled, from my wife’s perspective, Head. It was a Testa Tortellini served in a pozole broth with New Symrna clams and Zellwood corn. This was paired with one of my favorite Terrapin’s, a big, bold Monk’s Revenge Belgian Style Double IPA. Testa is basically a type of head cheese, which of course isn’t a cheese at all but rather a mixture of several parts of the head, hence the name of the course.
Despite my wife’s trepidations, this ended up being her favorite dish of the night. It was a great contrast to have the tortellini, so often lost in a cream or tomato sauce, served in this crisp, slightly spicy pozole broth. This stood up well to the heavy malts and high alcohol of the Double IPA, making this a really fantastic pairing.
The third course of the night was rather cleverly dubbed “The Rest.” This course was a healthy sampling of country ham with pickled peppers, fennel sausage with home-made mustard, and, the one thing I had been anticipating most, a crispy pork belly topped with rhubarb. This plate of pork goodness was accompanied with a really interesting Tom Foolery Black Saison.
Let’s cut to the chase here. The ham and sausage were wonderful, and if you ever find these served to you on a plate consider yourself lucky. For me though, it was all about the pork belly. Fried to a crispy perfection, then every bite melting in your mouth like a tiny, pork fat flavored piece of heaven, this is the kind of dish that results in people banging the table with ecstatic, borderline obscene looks on their faces, and nobody around them notices, because they are too busy doing the same damn thing. Our chef table mates took the experience up a level by suggesting that we try some of the pickled peppers with it, the result being that pork belly, pickled peppers, and rhubarb is now officially my death row meal until further notice.
As they brought out our last course, it was finally my turn to present my toast, and, I am proud and relieved to say, I pulled it off without a stumble. I can assure you that there were more than a few people in attendance who would not have been able to say the same. Moderation, people! The last course was simply titled “Bacon” and came paired with a Rye Squared IPA, a cousin of our appetizer selection. The Bacon course featured a Bing cherry tart served with a side of candied bacon ice cream. You need to know something about this tart – the crust was infused with pork fat. In fact, the tart had more pure pork flavor than just about any of the other items, except perhaps the pork belly and pig ears.
The bacon ice cream was really, really good, but quite frankly it paled against the sheer awesome sweet and sour pork flavors of the tart. This thing was criminally good and were it a sex act it would be banned in most of the Southern states and large portions of the Midwest. Once again, the Ravenous Pig pushes my descriptive powers to the brink.
All in all, another exceptional evening from a restaurant that has never yet failed to deliver in my eyes. One thing I should mention but always fail to is the fantastic atmosphere. Great music heightens any experience, and we were treated to an exceptional mix of Springsteen, Radiohead, the Clash, classic Stones and others. Couldn’t have done it better myself, and between you and me that is saying something (though it was a bit ironic that we were wallowing in this pork fat bacchanalia on the birthday of the Mozfather himself. Happy birthday to you, S. P. Morrissey.) A hearty thank you to everybody at the restaurant and with Terrapin brewery for a fantastic meal and an exceptional experience all around.