"The Three Little Pigs" at The Piggery

FOR THIS FARMERS-MARKET-STAND-TURNED-DELI, it is a surprise to step into a daffodil yellow, oak- floored establishment packed with customers along Route 13 in Ithaca. A colorfully chalked menu sign with mouth-watering menu options hangs above the counter. To the left, a black wall adorned with names of local farms tells where they sourced their meats, dairy, and produce. The neighboring hand-drawn map of a pig shows me exactly what a “hock” and a “butt” are (it’s not even close to the butt). Little pig ornaments pepper the counter top, from furry stuffed piglets to a piggy-handled whisk.
The bloody flanks I was expecting to find hanging from the ceiling are actually stored in a glass meat case in the back of the room. Amongst your typical charcuterie of sausages, beef patties, and shoulders are T-burg dogs, Boston butts, pâtés, lards, and even whole chickens. The Piggery will only offer what local farms can offer, so the selection of products available changes almost daily. Like the name of the restaurant, the dishes The Piggery have to offer are exactly what they say they are without much embellishment at all, but they defy expectations.
My friend and I quickly nab a table under the orange-tiled ceiling, armed with our coffee, hot cider, breakfast burrito, and “The Three Little Pigs” (a taco, hot dog, and slider). I start with the hot dog and go nuts with the condiments: ketchup with far more texture interest than the creepy smoothness of Heinz, Dijon mustard, sweet relish, and some amazing picked red onions with the perfect amount of vinegar. Yet, I quickly realize that there is absolutely no need to layer all of this stuff on; there is no artificial hot-doggy meatiness to cover up at all. On the contrary, if you can imagine what a real hot dog would taste like made from real quality pork, then this is it.
Next, the pulled pork slider. The pulled pork is moist and flavorful, spiced just enough to let the pork speak for itself. It is topped with cabbage slaw, which adds a beautiful purple color, crunch, and freshness to contrast the sumptuous meat. The mini-bun, with a nice egg shine on top, is simply the perfect carrier for these flavors and textures.
To complete “The Three Little Pigs” trilogy, there is the carnitas taco. Filled with pork, cabbage, carrots, and a delightfully tangy and zingy green sauce, this taco is the third standout in this meal. The simple yet delicious corn tortilla holds up perfectly beneath the mound of ingredients it carries. Think of your imaginary (or real) Mexican grandmother kneading together corn flour straight from the farm and water. Think of the heat from the burner as she toasts them, the authenticity of the whole process. That’s what this tasted like. And the best part? You can smell them on the pan as you wait in line.
Any breakfast burrito sold in the Ithaca area has some tough competition to live up to with famous competitors such Solaz at the Farmer’s Market and Mexeo in Collegetown. The Piggery’s version is packed full to the brim with their signature pulled pork, local black beans, and egg. As someone who likes a lot of stuff in my burrito like veggies, salsa, and even a nice helping of guacamole, this burrito was lacking in the area of salsa, but nevertheless it is quite an enjoyable burrito to wake up to in the morning.
I would like to argue that The Piggery is serving up some of the best cider in the world. Unlike that dark brown whipped cream-covered stuff popular these days, Indian Creek Farm’s cider is a light golden colored drink that tastes exactly like fresh apples. Refreshing, tart, and spiced ever so slightly, this is probably the best cider of my life.
The cooks at The Piggery prove their ability to let the best of ingredients just be themselves, pairing high quality meats cooked to perfection with simple yet creative complements. As a college student too cheap to buy her own meat and too afraid to over or underdo it, The Piggery is the perfect niche for my dose of delicious free-range protein. No frills, no fuss, reasonable prices, and environmentally friendly without being pretentious, The Piggery is an indulgent change of pace.

This is article was written by Iona Machado and will appear in the Crème de Cornell Fall 2011 magazine to be released DECEMBER 2nd, 2011. Look for the magazine at many locations around the Cornell Campus!


Hot Pot Night in Hong Kong

“Sunday, you come to hot pot with me and my friends! Hong Kong style!”

Helen Shih-Chan is family of family of friends of my family (long story) who, along with her husband, is an overly generous Cantonese woman of about 60. I can never never refuse such an offer to eat with locals.  So off I’m am taken to a fluorescently-lit restaurant in what used to be the Walled City of Kowloon. I ignore the stares from the other patrons (as usual, I’m the only westerner there), and I quickly meet our fellow diners, the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Ng.

Upon arriving at the table, the waitresses install two simmering pots into the square table openings; one pot with water and quartered tomatoes, the other with a darker liquid and floating cilantro.

“No English here. I order,” Mr. Chan says to me as he checks off dishes on his paper sheet filled with Cantonese characters.

“Yes. She eat anything,” Helen assures him. (They had fed me duck feet and pig snout two days earlier.)

And soon enough, the dishes of ingredients start arriving: raw sliced beef, frozen meatballs, raw dumplings (similar to wontons in the States but a million times better), and various fish balls. And the cooking begins! Into the broth Mrs. Ng and Helen start dumping ingredients. Next come even more plates of raw dumplings, sliced fish, pigskin, squid, and other unrecognizables. And the chaos really begins! Steam is rising from the pots, arms and chopsticks are flying everywhere, dunking raw meat, passing plates, serving dumplings left and right, dipping cooked bites into the soy and chili sauce. Helen deposits steaming hot meats and fishes into my tiny bowl. “Its hot! Its hot! Don’t eat yet!”

After proper cooling, it is all delicious; especially the seafood dumplings and the meatballs. My bowl is filled over and over again since “no” isn’t a valid answer at this dinner table.

“Cow has four stomach. This is just one,” Mr. Chan tells me as he places a rubbery sting-ray looking item into my dish. “Its good!” he says.

No… It’s not.

Amidst this frenzy I start to wonder what this large untouched plastic bowl of lettuce and cabbage is doing to my right. “That’s for after,” Helen says. And sure enough when the numerous plates of meat are all devoured, into the pot goes all the vegetables along with rice noodles. I sit there skeptical as to how they will turn out: they are cooking them to death! But when the softened watercress and cabbage land in my bowl… Damn. They are the most flavorful greens my mouth has met! The flavor of all those boiled animals has hopped into that lettuce like I have never experienced. This order of operations makes sense after all.

Many Asian countries have communal hot pot dishes: shabu-shabu in Japan, jigae in Korea, suki in Thailand, and a hot pot of mostly lamb in Mongolia. They all have their own respective dipping sauces as well. According to the unbiased opinion of my local Hong Kong hosts, Hong Kong’s hot pot uses the greatest variety of  meats and ingredients and is supposedly all around the best tasting. Three weeks into my Hong Kong semester and this was certainly an exciting meal that I will never forget.

Cantonese lesson from a non-Cantonese speaker:

jan ho-may ”  =  that was delicious

And we’re back! After an extended vacation (I’m terribly sorry) I return from all sorts of food adventures revived and ready for some serious blogging.
Coming soon: new breakfast posts, CGC events, food porn, site updates, foodgawker and tastespotting integration, and more!

A huge pat on the back to the marketing and research teams at Benihana, whoever and wherever they are. It seems they’ve managed to exactly model the American consumer market and create a product, a restaurant concept, perfectly designed to hit all the pleasure centers that we Americans are preprogrammed to desire, even lust after. What’s the secret? Theater in droves, even if it’s terribly corny and borderline offensive to anyone with half a brain. A vaguely Asian ethnicity helps to take the idea even further out of the realm of reality, though I dare you to try to find a Benihana in Japan. And of course scoops and lumps and plops of butter (they painfully refer to it as “Japanese Ice Cream”) center the entire production directly within our fat-loving American tastes.
Salt, fat, and a circus, what’s not to love? This is a legitimate question and one that I struggle to answer despite my gut feeling that I should have a deep and primal urge to hate the place. In all honesty, it tastes good. Really good in fact. Is it really gourmet? Not at all. Is it kind of sort of a little bit awesome? Begrudgingly, yes.
“I can make this food just as well if not better at home.” I should have kept this thought to myself because just a day later I was picking ingredients for what would later be deemed Benihana steak and vegetables. One of my more discerning customers was to be the judge, herself a Benihana veteran and member of the illustrious Chef’s Table birthday club. How did it turn out? Fortunately the fact that the chefs at Benihana cook on your table means it’s stupidly easy to copy their recipes and follow them at home. You’ll only need a few ingredients, and after you practice your knife spinning and sign a form releasing this website and its authors from all legal responsibility you’ll be well on your way to Benihana certification.
Benihana Steak and Vegetables
Takes about 30 minutes, unless you want to marinate. Should serve 2.

About 1-1.5 pounds of nice fatty steak (NY strip or the like, trimmed and marinated in soy sauce and rice vinegar if you have the time.)
3 medium zucchinis or yellow squash, each cut in half once the long way
1/2 yellow onion, cut in wide strips
Lemon juice
Soy Sauce
1. Allow the steak to come to room temperature.
2. Heat a cast iron or other NON non-stick pan as hot as you feel comfortable, at least 1 minute on high heat, with nothing in it. A spritz of water should dance around in little beads on the surface of the pan. While you’re doing this pat the steak dry with a paper towel, the drier the better. Place it in the pan and DON’T TOUCH IT DAMNIT until it releases from the pan with a gentle nudge, about 3 minutes for a 1.5″ thick steak, flip the steak to the other side. After another 3 minutes the steak should be browned on both sides. Remove it from the pan to a cutting board and cut the steak into fairly large cubes, the cubes should be very pink or red in the middle, that’s ok.
3. Return the cubes to the hot pan and add at least 1.5-2 tablespoons of butter, about the same of soy sauce, and the juice of half a lemon. Stir or flip this until the butter is melted and bubbling and the sauce ingredients are combined and slightly thickened on the surfaces of the steak. After a minute or two, depending on your doneness preference, take the pan off the heat, pepper to taste, and serve with rice.
4. The zucchini and onions are almost exactly the same. Brown them in a dry or lightly oiled pan, cut into pieces, return to the pan with the rest of the ingredients and reduce slightly.
Surprisingly good.