As a devoteé of bacon and beer, I looked forward to attending the collaborative effort between Flounder Brewing and The Landing (both in Hillsborough, NJ) dubbed Hops and Hogs. Having covered their joint efforts once before, and having come away pleased, I knew Jeremy's (right) beer would be good and the food and service stellar.
What I had no experience with was "happy" pigs.
Enter a rather remarkable and dedicated young lady named Jessica Isbrecht (upper right), who, as owner of the Green Duchess Farm in Hillsborough, was responsible for supplying the meat to Chef Tony Papoutsis, and, believe me, he knew exactly what to do with it. But more about him (below) later.
Jessica's Green Duchess Farm slogan (there's an interesting story on her operation here) is "High quality, humanely-raised pastured pork," which, I confess, gave me pause. Especially after table-mate Nancy Sapanara pulled up a video from Jessica's site showing all these clean, happy-looking pigs and piglets scampering around the Green Duchess grounds in apparent bliss, probably unaware of their eventual fate.
I posed this question to the affable Isbrecht: "How do you feel about eventually having to kill these animals which you have named and with which you have clearly established long-term relationships?"
A plaintive smile briefly passed over her face, and she responded, "I take some comfort in the fact that they have lived happy, healthy lives with me before they meet that fate. The same cannot be said for 99% of the others who wind up on America's tables."
And she has a point. Because despite my early, post-video misgivings, the pork she provided was absolutely the best pork I've ever had, and that includes a lot of BBQ places in the Tarheel State where I once penned an entire series of articles on NC's best BBQ Lexington AND Piedmont style.
Of course, providing the pork is one thing, and preparing and plating it another. And that's where Chef Tony showed what he was about. Five outstandingly prepared dishes along with five accompanying Flounder Beers--some used in the food preparation--made for an excellent time. And that was not just my opinion. All of my tablemates (above, L-R) --Paul, Nancy, Chef Tony, Maria and Paulie Z. offered the same plaudits.
And that was after only the first course (above), called, appropriately "Whole Hog Toast." Paired with Flounder's Flagship Hill Street Honey Blonde, it was an immediate hit and an excellent pairing.
Then came one of the most unique--and typically Jersey--dishes of the night: a Pork Roll Egg and Cheese Empanada in a sriracha Hollandaise sauce (above) that was so good, not a single fight broke out about calling it "Pork Roll" and not "Taylor Ham." People were too busy enjoying it to fight, and its matchup with the outstanding Genevieve's IPA was also a homerun. Jeremy told me that Genevieve's big sister, Queen Genevieve, would soon be making her grand entrance at the brewery. Don't miss that release.
Next up was Smoked Slab Bacon (above) with Winter Apple and Pecan Slaw, sage and Maple Porter syrup. It was matched up with Brewer Doug's Wheelock Smoked Maple Porter. For this palate, it was the night's most perfect pairing. The slaw was heavenly, the succulent slab bacon was loaded with flavor and the Smoked Maple Porter matched up superbly.
But the entreé above was my favorite in the food category. Pork Tenderloin Wellington with Mushroom Duxelle, puffy pastry and mushroom brown demi-glace. Chef Tony said it was the most complex dish on the menu. Whatever. He nailed it. Only one thing could have made it better: a hunk of bread to sop up that incredible demi-glace. It was made--surprise, surprise-- with Brewer Doug's Woodland Forage Mushroom Ale. It was nothing short of phenomenal.
The dessert course (above) was unusual and unusually good--Espresso Bacon Jam Cheesecake paired, appropriately, with Flounder's Espresso Brown Ale. Paulie Z and Nancy dissected the dish for us to determine that the bacon jam was indeed in the topping. Maria, Paul and I didn't care where it was, and consequently, our plates were cleared pretty quickly.
It was a great night all around--a sellout, in fact--and there was even a quality three-piece jazz combo to add to the ambience. Not every ensemble can do proper credit to "One-Note Samba," but these guys surely did.
Manager Maddie (below), Jeremy Lees and Jessica Isbrecht combined their talents and their products to produce a memorable event, and the hope is they will continue.
That pig video notwithstanding, I will always remember that happy hogs make perfect pork.
Maybe hop growers should cultivate new strains of "humorous lupulus?"