It’s slightly disconcerting to this particular swinophile to say that the salads at The Muddled Pig Gastropub – an establishment dedicated, in part, to the glories of the hog – are quite excellent. Austin Hamblin and Michelle Allender acknowledge that the Berkshire breed, from Missouri farmers, are the focus of their work. We’ve been saying for decades that some of the best pork in the world can be had here in the Midwest, and that was before the heritage breeds battled their way back from near-oblivion. Things are even better now, thanks to the farmers and their hogs.
So there’s pork and there are salads, but there are other things, too – although the lamb breast I lusted for and hadn’t had for years, wasn’t available on my visits. The beer selection is interesting, and the cocktails a great temptation, plus happy hour specials that can be found online.
Besides pork, they use other local suppliers, too, and one of them must have a peach orchard, because there were three peach dishes on the menu in August. One was a grilled peach salad, using greens, a light buttermilk dressing, onion and bacon. The smokiness of the bacon was a great match to the peach, which had been lightly grilled – it was still quite firm, so it provided a textural contrast, tart-sweet with the bacon and the dressing, a surprising but surprisingly logical conglomeration of ingredients, and one I’d eat again very happily.
The second salad was farro and mushrooms. And it’s not the expected medley of brown and beige. Lots of mixed greens, for one thing, and pickled red onions, plus what James Beard would have called “doots” of goat cheese go along with the mildly chewy farro grains and plenty, yes, plenty of shiitake mushrooms, whose pungent, earthy flavors are remarkable. A vinaigrette was mild, unobtrusive, but harmonized well.
Pig wings? Pigs are, of course, only slightly less gifted aeronautically than chickens, but since they’re larger, their wings are meatier. But for the more literal-minded, these are pork shanks cut across the bone in pieces about an inch and a half long. They’re offered with two sauces, a sweet-and-spicy and a soy-bourbon. The latter, sprinkled with peanuts and green onions, was a delight, not deeply boozy nor overly sweet, but enhancing the porky flavor perfectly. And these wings are beautifully trimmed, no bits of fat or bone anywhere, and cooked done but not falling apart. When pigs fly, indeed….
Alas, they were out of pork belly for their banh mi sandwich, but the Big Pig sandwich is indeed a big guy. It starts with what the menu calls a pork cutlet, but is actually a fried boneless loin pork chop. On top of that goes pulled pork and a couple of strips of thick bacon, finishing off with some slaw. Very hearty, nice and juicy, for a serious appetite.
Fish and chips is, for the U.S., a common pub food. This version, with mild white fish in a beer-batter crust, nice and yeasty, is crisp, comparatively oil-free, and very satisfying, especially since the ratio of crust to fish is quite in balance. Fries are seemingly hand-cut, and malt vinegar, the traditional condiment, is offered when they arrived. Another side dish that might go under the salad discussion is the Swiss chard slaw. The server offered the information that it’s served warm, which is intriguing. It’s more than that. The chard is lightly cooked, the stems still a little al dente, but not much. The dressing of red wine and lots of bacon is a winner, but it’s hard to think of it as a slaw. The closest comparison might be German potato salad if the dressing were a millimeter or so sweeter. I liked it a lot.
Bread pudding is always on hand; the particular type varies. A Butterfinger version was light, with large slices of close-textured bread showing themselves in a chocolaty custard. The peanut flavor was very mild, but showed up much more obviously in a chocolate-peanut butter ice cream alongside, whose dense, creamy texture proved it was peanut butter and not just peanuts that were used.
My only quibble overall is that in this Big Flavor food, details can be overwhelmed. The vinaigrette on the farro, said the menu had lemon and Madeira. The slaw on the sandwich had currants and blue cheese in it. None of these careful touches were apparent except the currants, when the sandwich was opened.
Amiable service, and the ability to let diners make their own pace. This probably isn’t the place for a quiet conversation during regular dinner hours, with the concrete floors, but off-peak, it worked very well for that. And that’s very pub-like, in the old, traditional style.
The Muddled Pig Gastropub
2733 Sutton Blvd., Maplewood
Lunch & dinner Tues.-Sat., Brunch Sun.
Credit cards: Yes
Wheelchair access: Good
Sandwiches and entrees: $9-$34