Pork on the Fork
When Team “Stand Up and Snout” took home the top prize at the Hogs for the Cause barbecue competition and fundraiser last March, a closer look at the roster explains a few things. Among the participants were Justin Devillier of La Petite Grocery, Aaron Burgau of Patois, Bart Bell of Crescent Pie & Sausage Company and New Orleans Police Captain Billy Ceravolo. One might think it was a team of ringers, and one might be right, but this wasn’t the first time they’d joined forces in the quest for pork glory. They had competed for the past three seasons. But this year’s crew was rounded out with a couple more all-stars – Three Muses’s Dan Esses and Boucherie’s Nathaniel Zimet – and the end result was as delicious as it was accomplished. Stand Up and Snout won Grand Champion along with first place in Ribs and second place in Shoulder categories, beating out approximately 80 other teams in the process.
“We didn’t change our strategy too much. I think just coming into our third year of doing it we started to hit our stride, plus we also made an effort to delegate the different tasks,” recalls Devillier. “I’m sure you can imagine what it might be like having six chefs on the same team.” Some of the duties included maintaining a steady temp for 32 hours straight on the custom vault chamber smoker, capable of tackling two 200-pound hogs at one time, along with more essential duties.
“I pretty much drank beer, too,” Devillier says.
Chef Aaron Burgau agrees. “The idea was ‘Let’s go out and have fun.’ We didn’t think we were going to win but everyone was happy with what they turned in. When we heard our names called and we went up there to get the prize for the butt and the ribs, the guy was like, ‘Don’t go too far.’ That’s when we knew we got top honors.”
But diners who missed this year’s event need not wait until next year to sample these guys’ skills with the most magical and delicious of animals. Devillier, Burgau et al. work wonders year-round with the pig. True, you might not want to wear shrimp boots to La Petite Grocery, but on the plus side you can enjoy a glass of wine and air conditioning along with your braised pork cheeks.
At La Petite Grocery, Devillier recently featured an appetizer casually referred in the kitchen to as the “Pork Trifecta” – a triple-crown beauty of pork belly, pulled pork shoulder simmered in duck fat and smoked pork cheeks that get braised to tender perfection. The porcine goodness gets paired with a purée of sweet potato and a little demi-glace to tie it all together, or put it over the top, depending on your perception.
Devillier overhauls the menu every few months to take advantage of seasonal changes, as well as roll specials that have performed, well into regular rotation. This includes proteins such as pork, as well as other things. In spring, fresh ramps were featured in a Florida little neck clam pasta dish. The clams were steamed in white wine and fish stock and removed from the broth, which then got emulsified with a compound butter made with ramp tops. The clams and fresh pasta went back into the sauce, adjusted with lemon juice and salt, tossed and served. “The dish was simple but really bright and ramp-y,” Devillier says.
Taking bistro fare into new directions is a signature of Devillier’s approach. He lets the ingredients serve the dish in intuitive ways that might look surprising at first, but make sense once you try them. Take for example his hanger steak, the most traditional of bistro fare. Here it gets paired with a rich demi from their in-house sauce program but then gets accompanied by a dollop of bright chimichurri, which adds acidity to the richness and cuts through the fat while bringing out the flavor. “It wasn’t consciously a nod to Argentine cuisine but obviously it comes from there. It is just something that works well with the components,” Devillier explains.
If you haven’t been in a while, La Petite expanded its hours to include Sunday and Monday. Parking is offered in a private lot across the street, and their fries are arguably the best in town. The burger is excellent as well, and is now featured on the dinner menu.
Over at Patois, Burgau features pork from Chappapeela Farms in Husser, La. One recent appetizer tasted as good as it reads: Pecan Candied Pork Belly. Evocative of the uncannily red barbecue spareribs from the Americanized Chinese restaurants of our collective childhood, this food memory is elaborated upon with an accompaniment of high-quality shrimp toast and a garnish of pickled radish to cut through the sweetness.
“One of my cooks, Nathan, came up with it. He had some syrup left over from candied pecans he made and he started messing around with that and the pork belly,” Burgau says about the dish. “We’d done the shrimp toast before and the pork belly before, but hadn’t put them together.” The dish is tied together with his “Red Dragon” sauce, a Korean-style sauce made in-house from soybean and chili pastes.
Patois also offers pork lovers a charcuterie plate, with homemade hogshead cheese, pork rillettes and boudin. For novelty’s sake, consider the Mississippi rabbit, which comes stuffed with boudin and wrapped in fried chicken skin and drizzled with Creole mustard jus. If you’re seeking a lighter side, he offers a skin-on red snapper filet in a local ginger and coriander compound butter accompanied with basmati rice and lentils. For daytime dining, Patois is open for lunch on Friday and Brunch on Sunday.
Other team members doing good things with pork include Nathaniel Zimet, who recently served up a pulled pork poor boy with a Carolina-style slaw on his menu at Boucherie. Bart Bell of Crescent Pie & Sausage Company, left, makes a slew of fresh sausages and smoked meats that can be enjoyed in-house, provided through a catering arm or even shipped. His pizza restaurant, Pizzicare, features his meats as well.
La Petite Grocery
4238 Magazine St.
Lunch Tuesdays-Saturdays; dinner nightly; brunch Sundays
6078 Laurel St.
Dinner Wednesdays-Saturdays; lunch Fridays; brunch Sundays