If you've been to Swine since it's opening in March 2013, you know the Coral Gables eatery is fond of hog. But a year and a half in, the restaurant has decided to adjust to the demanding palates of the surrounding community, deviating from pork-centric and heavy dishes and coming up with lighter creations using locally sourced ingredients to appeal to health-conscious gourmands and locavores.
The process started several months ago when 50 Eggs culinary director Clayton Miller began thinking about Swine's impending two-year anniversary. "The name of the restaurant is Swine, and we understand that, but ultimately we want to focus on the fact that at its roots, Swine is a Southern restaurant."
Don't worry, the Swine biscuits haven't gone away. What that means, however, is looking back to colonial times and finding inspiration in the way in which food was being served. Such is the case with the grilled North Carolina sunburst trout served with creamy Carolina gold rice, lemon chopped herbs and brussel sprouts slaw ($31). "We found this great trout right upstairs in North Carolina and also this rice that dates way back to when rice was really king of the South," says Miller. "It's a rice that actually tastes like rice."
When you think Southern, octopus doesn't exactly spring to mind, but something Miller wants to do is show the different depths of their cuisine. "We brainstormed on how we could make octopus Southern and came up a Georgia peanut hummus on local field shoots and with pickled chilies." The result is a wood-fired and grilled octopus tentacle with deep and warm flavors ($16).
"On kind of the opposite side of exploring beyond swine, something we've always wanted to feature is the whole pig of course." Miller and his team found hog just 25 minutes away from Mary's Ranch in Hialeah and are using every single part of the animal every single night. "What we're doing is breaking it into different cuts and different parts to offer three different cuts at all times," he explains. "So you could have leg, brisket and rack and I could have shoulder, neck and belly. There's lots of appeal to that."
The heritage breed pig ($42) also has a bit of Latin influence as it's served with escabeche vegetables. "Escabeche works very well with Southern cuisine since it's essentially just pickled vegetables." The veggies changes depending on what's organic and available locally.
Miller explains that he wants to use as much local product as possible but that doesn't mean they are going to stay in 50 square feet or an exact mile radius. "Our number one objective is to use the best product. If it's local great but if we have to go a bit further, then so be it as long as it encompasses Southern cuisine."
Given that the seasons in Florida are different from the rest of the country, and while we're gearing up for our produce season, everyone else is going into harvest slump, Swine is going to use its backyard to its maximum potential.
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Another change Miller is working on is coming up with happy hour food items that make customers happy indeed. "We don't want it to be just this great deal, but rather come up with some really great dishes." One of the new snacks, the spice rubbed and wood grilled chicken wings, would make us very happy during happy hour if they were say 50 percent off. Served with pickled okra and Alabama white barbecue sauce, this is one menu addition you don't want to pass up ($14).
Closing in on two years and with all the changes we're seeing 50 Eggs make at their other restaurants (Khong River appointing Top Chef Masters Patricia Yeo and bringing in Michelin-starred Danny Grant for a mystery concept) we can only wonder if Swine is going to also make the move towards being chef-driven. So what does Miller have to say in regards to the matter? "We're not settled with where we're at and definitely want to keep pushing Swine forward. Not that we're ever going get away from the smoker or anything like that, but we know there's more to Southern cuisine than smoked brisket, although that's our number one seller.
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha