Chow Bella

From Pickled Pork Cheeks to PB&J Foie Gras, Phoenix Chefs Are Serving It Up In a Jar

See also: Tracy Dempsey: Tracy Dempsey Originals See also: Bernie Kantak of Citizen Public House See also: Chef Pete DeRuvo To Head Kitchen at New Davanti Enoteca See also: Tastemaker 86: Cullen Campbell

Nothing says "Hey, Y'all" like a big ol' Mason jar of sweet tea, and folksy restaurants (corporate and independent alike) have been playing that "country" card for a coon's age.

But nowadays, Mason jars, Ball jars and jars of all shapes and sizes have become the voguish vessels of choice for restaurants turning out trendy comfort food (which, by the way, is not an oxymoron).

Potted meats, pickled eggs (really, pickled anything) and puddings -- dusted off and sexied up -- are back in a big way, and they're showing up in jars all over town.

Why jars? The better question is "Why not jars?" They're sturdy, inexpensive and easily replaced if broken. And from the customer's point of view, they offer a homey, approachable presentation that's just different enough to be fun.

Independent dessert maker and our very first Tastemaker Tracy Dempsey, of Tracy Dempsey Originals, probably was the first in town to get the Ball jar trend rolling. Although she says she's "always had a soft spot for funky little food containers," (a predilection she suspects she inherited from her Depression-era, jar-saving grandmother), she had an Aha! Moment when she saw appetizers in canning jars in a French magazine a few years ago.

Hooked from that moment on, she started collecting interesting jars and putting anything and everything in them. She's become famous for her jarred desserts.

For chef-owner Cullen Campbell at Crudo, she makes tiramisu (sometimes the old fashioned way, sometimes with chocolate), a layered dessert that looks especially pretty in a clear jar.

For Citizen Public House, Dempsey makes Black and Tan, a layer of dark chocolate pot de crème, caramel pudding, whipped cream, pretzel brittle and brown sugar shortbreads ($10). Dempsey swears by lidded jars, which she says keep her desserts fresh, while keeping other flavors from the cooler out.

Aaron May, chef-owner of Praying Monk, uses a cute lidded jar for his clever "F That" PB&J Foie Gras Torchon, layered with house-made peanut butter mousse and blackberry jam -- not only because he likes "the aesthetic" but also because he finds it easy and practical ($16). By putting the foie gras at the bottom of the jar, topped with the mousse and jam, he creates a seal, which prevents the foie gras from oxidizing.

When mixologist Richie Moe of Citizen Public House started making barrel-aged cocktails, he asked his chef-partner Bernie Kantak to create a handful of old school bar snacks as a complement. Bernie, who stays rooted to the Eastern European traditions of his family, came up with an appealing list of retro nibbles, all of them served in jars ($4-$10): pickled eggs, pickled vegetables, pickled Chinese sausage with bok choy and chiles, and best of all, pickled pork cheek -- so tangy it almost makes your lips pucker. Coriander and juniper add the aromatics to a simple but effective mixture of red wine vinegar, sugar and salt. Don't miss this one, but be sure to call ahead. His selection rotates.

At Baratin, the cozy wine bar across the street from Citizen, chef and co-owner Charleen Badman puts something meaty (and yummy) in a jar every single week, listing it under the "potted" section of her menu. A house favorite is the Jidori chicken liver pâté, served with crostini, pickled vegetables and a pink-edged pickled pink egg, but you won't want to miss her outstanding potted pork either ($8 each).

When it opens this coming Saturday, August 4th, Davanti Enoteca (and Chef Pete DeRuvo) will also offer appetizers (and even a dessert or two) in mini Mason jars (called Vasi, which means "jar" in Italian) and all of them sound fabulous. How about smoked cannellini beans with cipolline onions and balsamic or the one pictured here -- ricotta with local honeycomb ($7 each).

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Nikki Buchanan