Chowhound, I've been meaning to get to The Ravenous Pig in Winter Park, just outside of Orlando, Florida. It sounded like my kind of place: it's got "Pig" in the name, it styles itself as an "American Gastropub," its menu shows a strong focus on locally sourced product and in-house charcuterie - what's not to like? It took a while for the stars to align, but they finally did a couple weeks ago as we took a two-day jaunt up to Orlando before New Years'. All the raves proved completely justified: this is a place that does what it sets out to do exceptionally well.
The Ravenous Pig doesn't really look all that much like a pub, rather more like a tony suburban restaurant: lots of burnished wood, brick walls, and taupe fabrics. There is indeed a lively bar as you walk in, though, with overflow perching itself around a long bar-height table. A second dining room is more civilized and peaceful, with an assortment of booths and tables. Winter Park is apparently far enough away from the amusement park tourist magnets that the crowd seemed to be made up much more of locals than out-of-towners. And the menu holds pretty true to the "gastropub" concept. It's an assembly of mostly hearty, straightforward dishes, using carefully selected ingredients and prepared with panache. Much of the produce comes from local farms, many meat products are cured in-house.
We were torn on whether to start with the house-made soft pretzels or the gruyere biscuits, and so opted for both. The pretzels were good - toasty, with a litle bit of crispy bite to the outside while still pleasingly chewy within, and served with a grainy mustard and a tallegio-porter fondue for dipping. But they were outshined by the biscuits, warm and perfectly flaky, with a nice whiff of salty, nutty gruyere, almost like cheese gougeres. The smoked sea salt butter that came with them was a superfluous but welcome addition. Salads include a "Farmer" or a "Gatherer" - the former turned out to be a frisée aux lardons in drag, with some sprightly bitter greens tossed with house-smoked bacon and a Caesar vinaigrette, crowned with a perfectly poached egg and a dusting of grated parmesan cheese. It was, according to Mrs. F, the best frisée aux lardons she's ever had, and that is not a short list.
There was a charcuterie plate, all house-made, and really quite impressive. It featured several different thinly sliced cured meats - a soppressata, a coppa, a salami redolent with spiced orange - as well as a nice rich country pork terrine, topped with some stout-macerated cherries. The plate was rounded out by a couple different cheeses (one a rich triple-cream, the other not quite as memorable), some nice mustard, pungent house-made pickles, and grilled bread draped with melted lardo. It was all very well done, nearly on the same level as the boucherie plate I'd had at Cochon in New Orleans.
Mussels and fries is listed among the appetizers, but is a hearty enough portion to serve as a main, which is what Mrs. F did. They use nice Penn Cove mussels, steamed in witte beer that's spiked with orange, chiles and fennel pollen, with a ramekin of aioli alongside for dipping either the mollusks or the accompanying fries. The fries were skinnier, and floppier, than the typical Belgian-style double-cooked fries. In what would seem like an uncharacteristic instance of presentation trumping taste, the fries were served stuffed into a pint glass, resulting in the ones buried deeper within the glass steaming from their heat and getting soggy.
Where most restaurant menus have their most alluring items (to me, anyway) in the appetizers, there was plenty of temptation among the entrées at The Ravenous Pig. I bypassed a smoked sturgeon with an oxtail marmalade and brown butter spaetzle, a cocoa nib crusted venison, and a berkshire pork porterhouse with pickled mustard seed butter, instead opting for pastrami spiced veal cheeks. I was not disappointed. The veal cheeks had been rubbed with pepper, coriander and other spices, then cooked for a long period sous vide, and the technique was perfectly executed: the meat was tender and silky, all of the collagen completely broken down, yet still a pink medium temperature within, and not just breaking down into brown, ropy strands. The spice rub cut through some of the richness of the meat, with further contrasting notes coming from a radicchio and red onion agrodolce and a sweet-sour pear mostardo. A creamy, chewy farro risotto rounded things out.
Frod Jr.'s steak frites disappeared before I could try it, though the flat-iron looked perfectly cooked and came with a nice house-made steak sauce. Little Miss F's guinea hen, with the breast stuffed with mushrooms and served over a rich roasted garlic polenta, and crowned with a shaving of Oregon black truffles, was the only dish that didn't really excite. Those truffles sadly lost their aroma somewhere along the way across the country and imparted little to the dish, which had no other real bold flavors to make up for the shortfall.
There is, as there should be for a place calling itself a gastropub, a good selection of beers: not encyclopedic, but rather a curated list of about 8 beers on tap plus a few more in bottles. Those on tap can be had by the pint ($6) or half pint ($3). The Ommegang Belgian style ale was just about a perfect match for those spicy, rich veal cheeks. The wine list follows a similar pattern, with a short list of about 4-5 choices in each major genre with prices orbiting around $50, as well as a very nicely assembled selection of higher-end stuff that is still, relatively speaking, very reasonably priced. If the kids hadn't done the "Dessert Tour of Epcot" earlier in the day (the lefse rolled with butter and sugar at the Norway pavillion really are not bad at all; the funnel cake outside the American Adventure pavillion was followed 15 minutes later by regret, as funnel cake invariably is), we would have tried desserts.
The food at The Ravenous Pig is honest and unfussified, but still demonstrates a use of top-notch ingredients and rock-solid technique. If I were in Orlando or the Ravenous Pig were in Miami, this is a place where I would surely be a regular. Indeed, it's the kind of place I'd love to have in Miami.
The Ravenous Pig
1234 N. Orange Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789