Sidebern's Executive Chef Chad Johnson strode into the dining room with a full Berkshire pig (from the nearby Summerfield's Pasture Prime) draped over his shoulder. Everyone at last week's Knob Creek Big Flavor Dinner dropped their Manhattans and gathered around a demonstration table. And with three knives, and seemingly little effort, Johnson showed the room "how to butcher a pig."
He showed us what parts of the pig most Americans will eat, and then showed us how much of the pig is leftover, which is a lot. Johnson is a chef unafraid of American's texture-frigid palates and he uses almost every part of the pig to his culinary pleasure.
The entire menu was suited to follow the grand entrance, every course laden with little piggie goodness.
We began with lard poached prawns with crispy trotters (fried pig's feet in lieu of croutons), fava beans, and egg vinaigrette.
A bright-eyed bourbon rep told us of the glories of Knob Creek Straight Bourbon. All I remember from his lengthy introductions to each beverage was, "rye is dry and wheat is sweet." The rest is a blur of good booze and ham-related entrees.
Next, ham hock cannelloni with black truffle, sage, and liver (aka as sabayon). This dish was served with Knob Creek Rye Whiskey. After quickly cleaning my plate and taking a slow swig of the "rye is dry" whiskey, something happened. I was listening intently, or so I thought, to a dining companion's story. I was so engrossed that I failed to noticed how methodically I was scraping remaining black truffle sauce and pork fat from my plate, onto my knife, and then licking it clean. And then I licked the plate.
I'm not ashamed to do this in one of Tampa's finest dining establishments; in some cultures this is considered a compliment. The Tampa Tribune's Jeff Houck joined the knife-licking merriment and photographic evidence of the incident circulated back to Johnson and his kitchen crew soon after. Being the pork devotees like us, they appreciated the gesture.
The third course came with huckleberry braised cheek (a good name for a banjo trio if you ask me), brain scrapple (polenta-like pork dish), and cardamom maple gastrique. We sipped Knob Creek Single Barrel bourbon.
Finally, dessert. Basil Hayden's, one of the specialty spirits with a 200-plus year lineage, rounded out the bourbon. Dessert would be no simple sweet excursion. Not in Chad Johnson's kitchen. No, we were having blood custard with still-warm candied pork belly (the greatest edible on earth), chocolate chicharones (puffed chocolate), and mole garnish.
It was later learned that the pork extravaganza was attended by four kosher folks and several vegans (who were accommodated, of course, by the kitchen). I can only imagine what went through their minds when presented with a menu that included significant pork and meat products in every single dish. Not to mention an in-depth beheading of gentile meat by the chef himself. But, their sacrifice was in not in vain as the surplus candied pork belly was enjoyed by the kitchen staff (Houck and myself) post-meal.