Pig & Pickle is a kind of culinary power to the people.
It's a casual, dinner-only place (brunch is coming this summer) where comfort food meets chef finesse. The servers here do not give lengthy explanations of seasonal fare and locally sourced ingredients as much as simply serve them with confidence. And dishes like wood-oven-roasted bone marrow, croque madame, and pork shoulder tostadas can be had until 1 a.m. — and all for under a 10-spot.
It is as it should be to Pig & Pickle chef-owners Keenan Bosworth and Joshua Riesner. The former chef duo at Atlas Bistro, the top-notch BYOB in south Scottsdale, wanted their joint venture to deliver what Atlas could not: gourmet food without the gourmet price tag. And they're making a good go of it at their three-month-old restaurant in another south Scottsdale strip mall. Not everything hits the mark, but the highs outnumber the lows and the dishes are updated frequently enough to keep the people coming back for more.
The menu is a short but thoughtful listing of mostly rustic-style meat dishes, many with a global twist. And a drink selection of wines, craft beers, and boozy old-school cocktails that make for good company throughout the meal is equally mindful.
There are very good starters — enough to make a light meal of. The best might be three pork shoulder tostadas. Less like the Mexican dish their moniker suggests and more akin to loaded nacho chips run through an Asian kitchen, they arrive heaped with tender shredded meat, kimchi, ginger, and scallions for a porky, spicy, and sweet taste with a satisfying crunch. More delicate in overall flavor, but no less pleasing, are thick pieces of lightly smoked salmon folded atop a crispy disc of fried potatoes and scallions resting on a cushion of soft lemon cream and sprinkled with pickled fennel shavings.
Whether the housemade charcuterie comes with a plate of housemade breads or whether the housemade breads come with a plate of housemade charcuterie is more a question of semantics than of taste. In any case, rotating selections such as pretzel rolls, sausages, pickled carrots and eggs, terrines, crusty French bread, and pâtés make for a gratifying mix-and-match meal (sandwiches anyone?) of bread, cured meat, and pickled delights value-priced at $15. For a less-filling adventure, the pickle plate — a colorful array of house-pickled beets, onions, and grapes kissed with anise — can be enjoyed before the main course or snacked on throughout the meal.
And when it comes to dishes of the garden variety, satisfying salads make for a kind of refreshing vegetable respite before the meatier selections. There is a notable beet creation in which chunks of the root vegetable meet with sweet pecans, endive leaves, sharp frisee, and a dead-on sprinkle of salt atop a heady strip of creamy blue cheese; and the aptly named Dump Truck, a hearty, festive mix of lettuces, baby veggies, seeds, and cucumber in a light shallot vinaigrette.
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There are a few burgers and sandwiches, too. Each comes with a choice of fries, a Dump Truck salad, or Bosworth and Riesner's version of tots: essentially, two golf-ball-size mashed-potato croquettes filled with anything from Buffalo chicken and blue cheese to barbecue pork and cheddar or even homemade hot dogs. There is an exceptional fork-and-knife croque madame with stunningly flavorful ham and two fried eggs atop an airy piece of toasted bread awash in a creamy, cheesy sauce; a vegan burger with the devilish option of adding bacon at no charge; and an unfortunate sliced pot roast sandwich. Besides the flavor of its tender, well-seasoned meat being successfully snuffed by a strong (too strong) slathering of chile aioli and a blanket of Havarti cheese, the sandwich's monstrous size and sloppy appearance feel out of place with Pig & Pickle's more manageable and artfully presented creations.
You should try the braised duck leg entrée. Meltingly tender with a crispy skin, it sits atop a golden bed of springy farro risotto surrounded by a dark, seductive ring of blueberry gastrique, and it's delicately topped with pickled mustard seeds. With its layers of flavors and textures, each bite can feel something akin to the gourmet version of an Everlasting Gobstopper. Other main attractions include mussels and clams set in a lightly seasoned broth of hearty ale with crème fraîche and, if you'd like, slices of chorizo. As a whole, the dish is better than the flat iron pork steak, whose expertly grilled pieces feature a rosy pink center but are served under a potato salad so intensely mustard-flavored, it may bring tears to your eyes.
When it comes to dessert, Bosworth and Riesner prove they're as adept at baking as they are at cooking and — as their gourmet tots and vegan burger with a side of no-charge bacon suggest — they don't mind having a little fun in the process. What proves the point is The Elvis, a decadent gourmet version of the King's favorite sandwich. Featuring creamy peanut butter cheesecake between flaky, cinnamon-sprinkled squares of pastry dough, a brûléed banana resting in a miniature pool of homemade strawberry jam, nuts, and (naturally) a strip of crispy bacon, it's a sweetly unique tribute served up in a size that won't have you reaching for the Tums.
Given the food's personality, you can't help wanting Pig & Pickle's strip-mall space to feel more intimate. Although its wood floor, brick walls, and open kitchen help, its high ceiling, bright spot lamps, and behind-the-bar TVs (seen by almost everyone in the dining area) do not. But if you close your eyes and breathe deep, taking in the air heavy with the aromas of bread and meat, it's easy to imagine you, and your braised duck leg, are somewhere else.