In a city so focused on aesthetics and competitive capitalism, where do you turn to find a dining out option with integrity that lacks pretension? Enter New York City’s numerous pop-up restaurants, where chefs are free to control all parts of their operation, sacrificing stability for the sake of their product, no holds barred. In this particular case: quite possibly the best pig roast in New York City. A perfect pig roast requires skill and experience; so leave it to the experts: José (of veg-forward pop-up Chez José) and John Ratliff (the Greenpoint-based charcutier behind Ends Meat) have teamed up to present Pig Roast Sundays, a weekly gathering in the backyard of Crown Victoria Bar in Williamsburg.
Inspired by the outdoor whole animal roasts he grew up around in Puerto Rico, José recently travelled to Vietnam in order learn about various pig roasting methodologies after deciding to leave the line cook life and start a well-received pop-up restaurant. John spent his entire professional career in kitchens from New Mexico to Portland and Chicago before starting his own dry cured meats company. Every Sunday just after sunrise, the duo start prepping and roasting for service that starts at 4:00 and ends when they sell out. When we made the journey to Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago, a huge line almost deterred us, but at that point the build up was too much to resist. While you wait a bartender circles around picnic tables so you can order a beer in queue. Forty-five minutes of sweating in the summer sun later, we were glad we stayed. John and José met all of our expectations and fantasies, serving pink, juicy cuts of pork in a friendly setting.
Requests were met, as Ratliff sliced tongue, heart, jowls, neck, ribs, and loin, building customized “Pig Boats” ($13) for each customer. Their goal is to educate and develop trust with their guests. Itching with anticipation, diners watch plate after plate get sent out to those ahead of them in line. Ratliff and José agree this creates a sense of competition among the folks in queue; so when Ratliff calls out, “Who wants brains?” it’s not only the meat-exoticists who raise their hands with enthusiasm, but also offal virgins who don’t want to be left out of the fun—oozing puddling-like brains served on cracklins. Upon tasting the wide selection in our boat, we found the offal and neck to be seared to perfection, bleeding pink at their core. The ribs were generously salted and tender. The way John and José roast their hogs makes each piece taste as if it were given special attention on its own.
In addition, the crew offers four vegetable sides that change week by week (i.e. roasted chilled beets with chevre and sunflower seeds, or kale salad with roasted almonds), usually including their signature blackened roasted potato salad ($5 each). One Sunday they also served mussels escabeche—poached in mire poix with white wine and chilled—a simple preparation that was humble yet on point like everything else. Other days they have chilled gazpacho and ice cream to keep customers happy in the heat. We’d argue that no matter how hot, it’s worth the trek—with their relaxed attitude and myriad of offerings, John and José are a welcome breath of fresh air in a city of high standards that in other instances verges on snobbery.