The pork theme continues with cracklins, deviled ham cubes, pork-chili cheese fries, bacon burgers, a Philly-style roast pork and bacon sandwich, pork belly tacos, pork shank osso buco and even the fool’s gold loaf – an Elvis-inspired bacon, peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich on sourdough.
But oysters are front and center in a shucking station at the bar, with four mignonettes and toppings of pickled watermelon and apples and, naturally, bacon bits. Suppliers include James River Oysters, Potomac River Oyster Co., Rappahannock River Oysters, and Kumamotos from the Washington coast.
This is a sports bar with manners: a five-figure air purification system keeps the cigar area, called Burn, less smoky. Kids aren’t considered a nuisance in the dining room. Desserts are so exclusive that maker Shyndigz won’t sell them at its own store. There are TVs for the games – 11 in all – but they’re only one aspect of the new green-accented décor. Bathrooms are an upgrade from the old days. Kitchen equipment is new, and the spirits list needs several pages to define all the bourbons, ciders and brews – there are 140 beers alone. A cigar menu ($7-22) is curated with tasting notes, and servers took a training class to properly cut, hold and light cigars for customers. Fine-tuning is evident throughout, but the vibe is approachable and friendly.
It’s the work of a new restaurant power couple, Season and Mathew Appelget, whose business experience from television casting to recycling and real estate gives them a detail-oriented perspective. They own the building – it’s where the Republic folded earlier this year and a series of restaurants from Cabo’s and Fifth Avenue to Benjamin’s thrived and flailed – and decided that running the business themselves in the high-visibility spot was a more promising strategy. Nothing was left to chance, they say, including some $6000 worth of oysters sampled, to be sure they serve the best available. They sourced free-range pigs from Lockhart Farms, smokes from Richmond Cigar Factory, and produce from local growers.
They redid the floors, wrapped the bar in stainless steel, laser-etched logos on the clipboards that hold the menus. They hired 30 staffers and pulled in executive chef Will Gravely from a stint at Eurasia. He got the Pig gig after a two-day tasting trial with the owners, running through 33 dishes in a borrowed kitchen. He replaces Rich Gunter, who had been tapped for the project months ago but who will remain in Washington DC.
Now Gravely introduces the restaurant’s first menu with plans for more items – house-cured meats, sausage, pork cheeks, trotters – and a changing list of comfort dishes, salads and snacks. “I don’t want people to be hunting for flavors in my food,” he says. “I like flavors to be bold, to stand out, and to use the best ingredients I can get my hands on. We want to be known for high quality food.”
“We hope this will be a place everybody wants to come to, that’s comfortable and has what they want,” Season Appelget says, whether it’s a business meeting over cigars and whisky, a family meal or game day. The Pig & Pearl opened over the weekend and offers lunch, dinner and bar hours daily from 11 a.m. The kitchen serves its late menu until 1:30 a.m., targeted at industry folks and night owls. 2053 W. Broad St. 447-2016. Thepigandpearl.com