Posted On: 03/01/2018
Somewhere between small plates and entrees sits Pig & Pickle, the 6-month-old DeBaliviere Place restaurant in the space once occupied by Atlas Restaurant. When chef-owner Ryan Lewis moved here after closing Driftwood Eatery & Cocktail in Springfield, Illinois, he brought along many of the same concepts: a dedication to locally sourced ingredients, a casual rusticity, a menu that encourages sharing and grazing, and a well-stocked bar serving cocktails that make you sit up and take notice.
Like Driftwood, the menu is laid out by genre – bread, chicken, vegetables, etc. With its small print, detailed descriptions and lack of capitalization to break up all that text, it can be a confusing read.
While you’re thinking through myriad options, trying to imagine what each dish looks like, order a couple finger-food items. During my visits, those included pretzel-crusted cheese curds (a signature dish carried over from Driftwood), deviled eggs and chicken “rinds.” Wait, chicken? Why not pork rinds? It is called Pig & Pickle, after all, and they do butcher their own pork. But pork or fowl mattered not; the deep-fried, Cajun-spiced crunchy nibblies were gone in a flash, after being swiped through a sweet and sour sauce and topped with sliced jalapenos.
Little things on the menu change quickly; two weeks later the skins came with a Nashville hot aioli and red pepper agrodolce. On one visit, deviled eggs – spicy with horseradish and mustard – came crowned with thin slices of pickled shrimp and microgreens for a fun riff on the classic picnic food. On another visit, the dish contained pickled egg whites, tomato jam and crispy onions. I’m still figuring out the appeal of the cheese curds, which were mostly bland, bite-sized vehicles for the accompanying sweet barbecue-mustard sauce and buttermilk dressing.
While the grazing part of the Pig & Pickle experience was easy enough to navigate and divvy up – notably, finger foods – sharing dishes like gumbo, crab soup, the burger or any of the larger plates seemed too cumbersome. Other dishes were either too desirable or not desirable enough to share. The black pepper biscuit, for instance, of the Fried Chicken n’ Biscuit, was buttery and dense, but the hunk of herbal fried chicken was too drenched in a flavorful hot sauce-buttermilk blanket – too unwieldy and messy to attempt dividing. Excessive fat canceled whatever tender meat could be found on the short rib. Who could share that in good conscience? Chicken gumbo – in between a cup and a bowl – suffered from a strong douse of vinegar and a dominant flavor of green chili. At a $15 average, these dishes triggered the alarm of my internal price-to-quantity calculator. Add a couple cocktails, another dish or two, wine with the meal, and the tab soars quickly, making one question the financial viability of dessert.
Price and size aside, Pig & Pickle’s biggest challenge is balancing the bold flavors behind many of its creative concepts. There were chicken wings, big and juicy enough, tossed in a soy-based sauce and drizzled with chili honey for a blunt force of umami and heat that overpowered any hint of sweetness. Pungent Worcestershire butter weighed down the NOLA Charred Cauliflower, out-muscling the flavors of herbs and chili honey. Ropey, thick strands of that salty soy-based umami sauce trounced any subtlety that the lemon and basil had to contribute to an intriguing shrimp- and cabbage-stuffed squid.
Not every item was as monochromatically flavored on the large menu. Everything came together with the rainbow carrots: Roasted to a burnished sweetness, sprinkled with smoky pepitas and served with whipped goat cheese topped with bits of honeycomb. A bit of each on the fork made for harmonious bites. Another night, it was twin green peppers stuffed with braised rabbit, rice and stewed tomatoes in a spicy harissa sauce that didn’t miss a beat. Dense chocolate cake topped with malted milk ice cream and pecan brittle received rave reviews, as did the cranberry panna cotta – its house-made cranberry jam just tart enough against the custard’s sweetness.
Lewis brought on seasoned bar manager Jeffery Moll (formerly at Randolfi’s) for a cocktail menu that has strong players in the whiskey and gin categories and some fun mezcal options, including the potent mezcal Last Word (mixed with green Chartreuse, lime and maraschino liqueur). Non-imbibers aren’t limited to mere club soda and lime, as boozeless cocktails receive just as much attention as the high-octane ones.
The updated space is cozy and comfortable, with burnt orange walls, dim lighting and a fireplace. Along the dining room wall, illuminated rows of jarred pickles convey both rustic and urbane notes.
I have a love-hate attitude toward crowded menus that emphasize expensive, single-ingredient dishes and promote sharing. Unlike tapas – specifically designed to construct small, affordable meals – the American version seems larger than a small plate and smaller than an entree with the benefits of neither. That’s certainly the case at Pig & Pickle. With such an inviting space and some well-executed dishes, Lewis has the chops to make his new venture a contender in the competitive St. Louis market. All he has to do is slow down, hone in on a more focused menu and rein in those walloping flavors.
AT A GLANCE
Pig & Pickle
5513 Pershing Ave., St. Louis, 314.349.1697, pigandpickleeatery.com
The menu changes frequently, but look for deviled eggs, chicken rinds and any roasted vegetable.
Cozy, dimly lit space with a welcoming vibe
$14 to $18
Tue. to Fri. – 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Sat. – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.; Sun. – 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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