The pearls of chef Donald Link’s New Orleans restaurant empire, Cochon restaurant and Cochon Butcher, the meat shop in back, serve unapologetic Southern comfort food like shaved hog head, boudin, and smoked ham hock. Link and his James Beard Award-winning executive chef, Stephen Stryjewski, are members of the FatBackCollective BBQ team, which won praise at last year’s Memphis in May competition for their Mangalitsa whole hog. They are working with small Louisiana pig farms to develop a heritage breed specifically for use in their restaurants.
Chef Chris Cosentino is the undisputed flagbearer of British chef Fergus Henderson’s nose-to-tail philosophy, serving rustic Italian interpretations of all the nasty bits that can be cut off a carcass. But at his restaurant Incanto in San Francisco, Cosentino one-ups the master in breed stock and commitment to the craft. His mother’s family founded Newport’s Easton Sausage Company (which shuttered in 1942) and with his wife, Tatiana Graf, Cosentino runs Boccalone, a national purveyor of “tasty salted pig parts” with a spot in the San Francisco Ferry Building.
Chefs Paul Kahan and Brian Huston opened their Chicago establishment, The Publican, with two specific goals in mind: celebrate certified organic, local pork, and do so with lots of craft beer. The restaurant’s menu features an excellent house charcuterie plate alongside dishes like sweetbreads and blood sausage. Kahan’s commitment to local farms was recently highlighted in Perennial Plate, Daniel Klein’s web video series on sustainability.
Chef Duskie Estes, of Iron Chef fame, and her master charcutier husband John Stewart were crowned the King and Queen of Pork for winning Grand Cochon in Aspen in 2011. The duo adheres strictly to Slow Food principles at their Santa Rosa restaurant, Zazu, which serves expertly crafted cured meats alongside delicacies like balsamic pork shoulder.
They also own a Sonoma sandwich shop called Bovolo and the Black Pig Meat Co., which sells bacon from heritage pigs nationally through specialty food stores like Cowgirl Creamery. In partnership with a local food co-op, Estes and Stewart raise Red Wattle pigs in their Sonoma Valley backyard.
Not a great deal of meaty explanation is needed for a restaurant that serves a dish called “Porkopolis,” which features tenderloin, short rib, and baby back ribs, cooked for 18 hours in fat from the Ossabaw Cross pigs that brung them. But there’s more to what chef Steve Geddes, a relatively recent Las Vegas transplant to Cincinnati, is offering at his restaurant Local 127.
He may be only one of a few working chefs in America who are also certified Master Sommeliers, and his restaurant is a loud proponent of Woodlands Pork Mountain Ham, perhaps the singular true articulation of aged ham from forest-fattened pigs in the country.
Chef Sean Brock is fast becoming a superstar, not least because of his 2010 James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast and Husk being awarded best new restaurant for 2011 by both Bon Appétit and Southern Living. His maniacal focus on local and traditional ingredients is the stuff of legend, and a recent New Yorker profile led with the following sentence: “No man loves pigs more than Homer Sean Brock.”
His menu at Husk celebrates the whole package, with dishes like crispy Buffyaki pig ear and Bev Eggleston’s heritage pork chop with broccoli raab, along with antique Southern grains that haven’t been seen in centuries.
The one exception to the “no barbecue” rule for this list, Brooklyn’s Fette Sau is one of the few smokehouses in America to use exclusively heritage animals from local farms. The full list of meats served by the restaurant is like a reference book of heritage breeds: Piedmontese beef; a mysterious delicacy called Akaushi Beef Zubaton; and all manner of pork cuts from Duroc, Berkshire, and Red Wattle hogs.
Spike Gjerde’s Baltimore restaurant, Woodberry Kitchen, may be one of the best articulations of farm-to-table cuisine in the country. All day and night, farmers, gardeners, and other hawkers carry goods in and out of his kitchen, where co-chef de cuisine George Marsh runs a thriving butchery and charcuterie program that turns out cured pork neck, liverwurst, sizzling hog's head, and whipped lard for the “Nose to Tail” section of the restaurant’s menu. Gjerde and Marsh hosted French Master Butcher Dominique Chapolard for a staff workshop earlier this year.
With a top-notch sustainable butcher shop in the back, chef Dave Kreifels’ Laurelhurst Market is the meat mecca in Portland, Ore., perhaps America’s most underappreciated food city. Any restaurant that serves an à la carte steak menu, a charcuterie plate that changes daily, and an over-the-top Choucroute Garni packed with venison sausage, duck confit, and smoked pork ribs is at home on the meatiest list.
Chef Craig Deihl’s establishment makes Charleston, S.C., the only city with two places on the list of America's meatiest restaurants. Peculiar, yes, but it’s hard to overlook Deihl’s passion for charcuterie — he blogs about it at The Real Deihl Chef — and his larded collection of dishes, like the Trio of Tamworth Pork with beer sausage, belly, and schnitzel. He also runs a CSA-like artisan meat share program from the restaurant and, according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, is the only chef in the nation currently cooking with the rare American guinea hog.