Craft’s Whole Pig & Beer Dinner Was No Foolin’ Around

From right: crispy head and trotters, confit shoulder, roasted rack with rosemary garnish. (photography by Sarah Reiss)

“I think some people were expecting a pig with an apple in its mouth,” Craft’s General Manager Max Rudberg commented as last night’s 23 guests for the Craft Whole Pig & Beer Pairing dinner began to take their seats. “I think everyone’s going to be very pleasantly surprised.”

Indeed, the five-course feast that Chef Jeff Harris and his staff began preparing on Monday was more of a gleeful homage to the animal than a trite gimmick. Upon its arrival, the pig was sectioned of — even the head and feet — so that each part could contribute its particular taste, texture and personality to the dishes.

jump here for the amazing food-porn photos… really!

Arugua and fennel salad with ruby grapefruit garnish and a pork belly surprise underneath.

The first course, preceded by a pomegranate-topped amuse bouche, kicked the meal off with bright clean notes via a ruby grapefruit and arugula salad, topped with shaved fennel and masking the surprise of two silky strips of fried pork belly underneath.

As most courses arrived in pairs, the salad was grounded with a salty, silky Brewhouse Brown Ale braised bratwurst over cannellini beans, collard greens, and roasted tomato.

Brewhouse Brown Ale braised bratwurst (left); braised red cabbage (right)

The second course, absolutely palate thrilling in its inventiveness, stood alone: butternut squash ravioli with cider braised ham, Brussels sprout leaves, and a tart dice of apple. Light and creamy, the dish prepped the palate for the main event: Roasted rack, crispy head and trotters, and confit shoulder served with caramelized Cippolini onions, tart braised red cabbage, and a sweet potato puree that would be the hometown pride of any holiday cook-off.

Craft's signature Cippolini onions.

Let’s take a break from the menu here to talk about the beer-pairing aspect of the evening. Each course was preceded by between one and three accompanying beers, depending on the complexity of the dishes. The first course of salad and brat shared the table with Saint Arnold Fancy Lawnmower and Real Ale Brewhouse Brown ales. The ravioli juxtaposed pleasantly with Kostritzer Schwarzbier (black lager). And what else would you serve with crispy head and trotters but Paulaner Oktoberfest-Marzen with its mild sweetness and hints of fall?

Back to the next course, which, in the light of day, feels like a gyp to just call cheese. In reality, Cashel Blue (a new favorite), St. Rocco triple creme brie, and Grafton Village maple smoked cheddar arrived amid mounds of quartered figs, tart apples, petite grapes, and with accompaniments of a nutty, sweet lavash, salty/sweet roasted nuts, and actual pork rinds dusted mercilessly in cayenne. To complement the jamboree of flavors at hand, glasses of Real Ale Sisyphus barley wine, Chimay Blue Grand reserve, and Samuel Smith imperial stout — three of my all time favorites, especially the barley wine — disappeared as quickly as they arrived at our table.

The evening kicked off with an amuse bouche topped with pomegranate seeds.

Chef Harris wrapped up the pairing with two dessert courses: a stout ice cream float shooter followed by a deluge of hazelnut stout waffles, vanilla bean whipped cream, Scharffenberger chocolate sauce, tripel (as in the drink) poached pears, and raspberry lambic sorbet accompanied by Ayinger Celebrator dopplebock and Lindemans framboise lambic.

For the record, every single item on the table has become a new favorite and a reason to keep an eye out for Craft’s future pairings. For several couples, this was not their first time, nor will it be their last, to go five rounds with Chef Harris. As for me, I thank the pig for the entirety of its contribution; nice shoulders, great rack — but your head and trotters delighted me the most. Let’s not analyze that too closely.

Chef de Cuisine Jeff Harris (left); real-deal pork rinds dusted with cayenne.
Beer pairings wait to be poured (left), neverending cheese course (right).
One might call this dessert porn.
Scharffenberger chocolate...for the waffles, of course (left), stout float shooter (right)