In his 1952 Children's novel, "Charlotte's Web", American author E. B. White delicately tells the story of the relationship between a barn spider, Charlotte A. Cavatica, and a pig called Wilbur.
Since 2013, Chef Manny Augello has been writing his own story of a love affair with all things pork in his off the charts restaurant Bread & Circus Provisions. It's no secret that Eat This Lafayette is a fan of the unassuming spot tucked away on Bendel, and with good reason. The creativity and imagination at Bread & Circus has served as a catalyst for other local eateries and the playful popups and events hosted have united food lovers and industry insiders from diverse backgrounds. Just like a good book, Bread & Circus feeds your soul and leaves you wanting for more. The newest chapter of the Bread & Circus story? Pig Head Suppers.
Offered every Friday evening, by reservation only,the Pig Head Supper series is an unapologetic highlighting of a lesser used cut of meat. "It's a throw away piece of the pig that is equally as delicious." These family style dinners are described as a Dim Sum meets Boucherie experience.
Manny and his team pull no punches in this in-your-face, 6 course dinner that will leave you as satisfied as Templeton the rat from E. B.'s verses. The anticipation of the dishes felt slightly unnerving. My wife and I felt anxious as we imagined ourselves on an episode of Bizarre Foods. We turned and saw our waitress leaning over the service counter and noticed Chef Manny giving her detailed descriptions of each aspect of our first course. We locked eyes, took a deep breath and prepared for the unexpected.
Course I: Ruston peaches with guanciale finished with cold pressed Guidry Organic pecan oil. Charcuterie scrap dashi, sweet potato gnocchi and pickled Sicilian cayenne pepper.
The first course featured a new favorite, guanciale. This Italian cured meat is prepared from the jowl (cheek) of the pig and is traditionally rubbed with salt, sugar and other spices before it is cured for 3 weeks or until it loses 30% of it's original weight, whichever comes first. The salty thinly shaved jowl bacon was paired with Ruston peaches and drizzled with pecan oil. The nutty, salty, sweet combination was well-rounded.
Dashi is a class of soup stock made popular in Japanese cuisine. The most common forms of dashi are simple stocks made from fish and an edible kelp called kombu. Using charcuterie scraps, Chef Manny is able to concentrate the flavor of the dashi with the salty, smoky. rich flavor of pork that we all love. The dashi is dark and smooth and is home to sweet potato gnocchi and a pickled Sicilian cayenne pepper. The pepper is mild enough for even the most timid diner but does leave a lingering burn after a few minutes. The delicate gnocchi helps balance out the heat and salt. Go ahead and kick back the bowl to get the last of the dashi. No one will judge you.
Course II: Fried pig ears served with rice vinegar pickled myoga + Southern White BBQ sauce, miso aioli, blue cheese sauce and buffalo butter.
Even the most squeamish of diners will find themselves pigging out on these crispy, chewy auditory treats. The thin strips of cartilage are deep fried, and look (and are served) like a box of french fries. Each of the dipping sauces offer an individual flavor. All of them, smokey Southern BBq, the mild aioli, the homemade blue cheese and spicy buffalo butter, are spectacular and you'll want to buy them by the bucket. The myoga is mild while slightly spicy, like the pickled ginger served at your favorite sushi spot. You may find yourself torn. It's addictive flavor will tempt you to eat every petal of this perennial native to Japan, China and Korea.
Course III: Beet, onion and tongue on toast with clotted cream. Roasted Japanese eggplant with burrata cheese.
Course three brings a more rustic approach to dining. This style, cucina povera (translated "cooking for the poor" or "peasant cooking"), be it an antiquated style, serves as a reflection of Chef Manny's Sicilian roots. The simple, hearty dish transports you to simpler times that offer intense flavors that are simply plated and stick to your soul and to your ribs. The tender tongue and root vegetables are earthy and nostalgic. If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine someone's Nonna slaving over a stove all day preparing the dish just for you. The Japanese eggplant is a nice accompaniment to the salty, buttery, cream laden spin-off of mozzarella.
Course IV: Hog's head cheese scrapple coated in corn grits and served over house sauerkraut.
Scrapple, a traditional mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and spices and a favorite of the Pennsylvania Dutch, may be a new experience for residents of Lafayette. The tender hog's head cheese is coated in corn grits and cooked slightly on a flat top. The roasted corn crust almost tastes like popcorn, and is an excellent contrast for the terrine (meat jelly) inside. The fatty, gelatinous head cheese leaves a delicious film on your tongue that the acidic house fermented sauerkraut melts away.
Course V: Brined & braised jowl, carnita style. Savory couche couche + pickled chili pepper + cilantro and cucumbers with pickled mustard seeds. Blistered poblanos with pork cheek pastrami and mozzarella. Peanut sauce. Yellow tomato chow chow. White corn Tortillas.
The collective exclamations of the wait staff we heard from the kitchen served as an amplifier of the anticipation we felt before the main course. And there, before us, it sat. Perhaps the highlight of the entire evening; an entire jowl just for us. Traditionally, carnitas style pork is made by braising pork in lard for 3-4 hours. Reminiscent of confit, the lard is then combined with a myriad of seasonings until appropriate tenderness is achieved. Then, by turning the heat up, the chef is able to crisp the outside of the skin. This process, originating from the Mexican state of Michoacán, gives the pork a fork tender interior and a crunchy exterior that best resembles chicharrones; the Mexican equivalent to cracklins. Usually served with coriander leaves (cilantro) and diced onions, salsa, guacamole, tortillas and refried beans, Bread & Circus is able to take a meal indigenous to another county and make it fit with the people and culture of Acadiana by incorporating flavors familiar to our region. The result is a flavor intense journey to another region right here in our backyard.
Course VI: Neck flap, peach, cheddar, praline donut finished with candied jowl, Poirier's Pure Cane Syrup and powdered sugar.
No dinner is complete without dessert and the Pig Head Supper is no exception. Forget what you know about salty/sweet/savory mashups and have your world wrecked with these 6 words:
Neck flap, peach, cheddar praline donut.
As strange as it sounds, the creativity of Chef Manny Augello has brought dessert to another level with this porky pastry. The peaches and sharp cheddar are reminiscent of apple pie with cheddar infused crust; if you've been lucky enough to have tried the common preparation made popular in US diners in the 1950s. The hot, fresh, delicate donut rests on top of tender slivers of neck skin. They are soft, salty and melt in your mouth. Topped with Poirier's local cane syrup, candied crunchy pieces of jowl and powdered sugar, this dessert will leave you scratching your head and asking yourself,
"How in the world did he come up with that!?"
Charlotte proved to be Wilbur's saving grace in the beloved children's book. By scribing the phrase "Some Pig" in her web, Wilbur's fate as dinner for Farmer Homer Zuckerman and family was forever changed. Luckily for you and me, Charlotte's residency is limited to Somerset County, Maine and not the parishes of Acadiana. But, like Charlotte, you will agree that the fellas and gals at Bread & Circus Provisions are on to something special that needs to be celebrated. You'll walk out, satisfied, patting your stomach and telling all those around you about your evening and how that was "Some Pig"!
Pig Head Suppers are for party sizes of 2-8. Reservations are required 1 week in advance. Call today! (337)408-3930.