5/04/2012 12:20:00 PM

Spotlight on Dining Whole Hog at Franklin Cafe Southie

Chef de cuisine Ryan Byrne and executive chef Brian Reyelt
present the whole suckling pig at Franklin Cafe Southie.
At the head of the table is our pig, a 38-pound roasted suckling. It's held up by Brian Reyelt, executive chef of the Franklin Restaurant Group, and Ryan Byrne, chef de cuisine of Franklin Cafe Southie. The vegetarian in us wilts; the carnivore awakens. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a whole animal we're about to devour before doing so.

We say a silent thank you to the animal gods and dig into the succulent meat - the belly with crispy skin, a tender rib, the salty cracklings. We even take a few risks: an eyeball and a tiny piece of the brain (it’s hard for us to even write that), the latter best when slathered on thin toast, sprinkled with kosher salt and a few squirts of fresh lemon. It cuts the gamey, or what Reyelt would describe as "barnyard," richness.

The family-style pig roast, hosted by Bostonchefs.com last night and held at the Franklin Café Southie, is a treat. It’s a way for us food writers to see how the restaurant executes what’s become a popular pastime for the tavern-style American in South Boston. Its origins stem from its sister restaurant, Citizen Public, whose pig roasts became so popular that Franklin Southie now offers them as a way to meet that demand.

The pigs come from Hilltown Pork, a family owned and operated farm with locations in Granville, Mass. and New York state. Each dinner starts with a seasonal salad, and then we were lucky to receive a porter-glazed pork belly atop jalapeño cheddar grits, in celebration of Bacon & Beer Week. Then comes the unveiling of the whole pig, which the chefs then carve and present on platters. The seasonal sides of sautéed pea tendrils, silky butternut squash and sweet potato purée, and creamy coleslaw are perfect accompaniments and foils to what can be overwhelming pork flavor. After all, this is the real thing.

The pig becomes more than food. It’s a conversation piece, a vegetarian’s bogeyman, and a way for us to commune. The flowing beer, wine and dot avenue iced tea - a powerful elixir of black tea, lemon juice, Rittenhouse rye (100 percent proof) and brandy, newly created by bar and beverage manager Joy Richard - loosen the chops.

Pig Roast dinners need to be booked in advance and require a minimum of 10 people, and seat up to 22. At $38 per person, some would think they’re getting away with the farm - even when you add beverages, tax and gratuities (which are not included).

Franklin Cafe Southie, 152 Dorchester Ave., S. Boston, 617-269-1003.


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