Snout-to-trotter cuisine with flourish
In Back Bay, The Salty Pig’s future is on solid footing
Some people claim they can see the future in a crystal ball, a deck of cards, someone’s palm. Me? Every once in a while, I can taste it.
At The Salty Pig, one bite of malfatti pasta in a tomato and pig trotter sauce is enough to reveal what is going to happen. Backward, “Memento’’-style. A few years from now, talented executive chef Joshua Smith will have his own restaurant. A few months from now, The Salty Pig will be as mobbed as it deserves to be. A few days from now, I’ll be back at the bar eating this dish again, unable to stop thinking about the sauce, silky with gelatin, rich with ricotta, spiked with chili flakes, peas, and occasional fatty bits from the trotters.
The Salty Pig took over the space formerly occupied by Six Burner and before it Firefly American Bistro, across from Back Bay Station. It opened in July, a sister restaurant to the nearby Coda and Jamaica Plain’s Canary Square, owned by Michael Moxley and Jim Cochener. Chef Smith is new to Boston, coming from Roanoke, Va., where he showcased products from area farms at the restaurant Local Roots. His food at The Salty Pig is satisfying, elemental, unfussy, and delicious.
The restaurant itself is small, casual, and loud, all in a very comfortable way. At the center is an open kitchen that makes other open kitchens look private. The counters are about waist high. There are the chefs. Hi, chefs! The walls are painted black with chalkboard doodles; the music hits a rock ’n’ roll sweet spot (except for one recent night when every other song is by Tom Petty). The restrooms are papered in “Far Side’’ cartoons.
Half of the menu is centered on cheese and charcuterie, much of it various forms of salty pig. There are about a dozen of each: fried pig tails with citrus, ginger, and aioli, chicken liver mousse, a tremendous Italian porchetta that melts on the tongue like shavings of pork butter; stinky, creamy Hooligan from Connecticut’s
The rest of the menu is pleasantly succinct: a few salads, a quartet of appetizers, a handful of entrees, and pizza from the wood oven that is, more often than not, topped with more salty pig.
Arugula, beets, and watermelon are tossed with goat cheese and pistachio dressing, a pile of sharp, earthy, and clean flavors with just enough creaminess. Burrata is paired with heirloom tomatoes and watermelon, drizzled with licorice-y fennel-basil oil, and topped with puffed rice for whimsical textural contrast. One dud is a boring salad of greens, vegetables, buttermilk ranch dressing, and chicken cooked in the wood oven. It’s light on the promised avocado and bacon.
Rich, spicy pork meatballs with garlic and guanciale arrive in a bath of tomato sauce. Pork belly goes into the wood oven and comes out changed - crisp on top, fatty and tender within, and accompanied by a bread and heirloom tomato salad with pickled peach jus. Bites of grilled boneless short rib fall onto your fork with a touch of the tines; the meat is served with creamed corn, kohlrabi, and radish.
The namesake Salty Pig pizza is topped with a rotating selection of charcuterie, Parmesan oil, and pale ale vinaigrette. The Pig Tails pie is light on the actual tails but heavy on slices of unusually hot jalapeno; brie and a runny fried egg round out the toppings.
Despite the restaurant’s name, there is sustenance here for those who don’t eat pork. One of the best pies is vegetarian. The dough is spread with red wine-fig jam, then topped with goat cheese, slices of green apple, and a drizzle of truffle oil, unnecessary but not as overwhelming as the ubiquitous ingredient often is. The flavors are clean and bright.
For dessert, The Salty Pig offers two options: creme brulee, that old standby, and something more unusual. A schmear of Nutella and a giant dollop of whipped ricotta with orange zest are paired with seasonal fruit and sprinkled with fennel pollen, a bit of olive oil, vincotto, and sea salt. There really ought to be cookies for dunking, but the combination of tastes is appealing.
General manager Jillian Rocco, formerly of Eastern Standard, has put together a drinks list that echoes the menu: It offers enough options, without excess. There are liqueur-based cocktails - Pimm’s cup, an Old Fashioned made with bitters, sangria by the pitcher. All wines are available by the glass or the bottle: two sparklers, two roses, nine whites, and seven reds. It appears Rocco simply offers what she likes without worrying much about convention. This keeps the roster out of the predictable rut too many local wine lists fall into, particularly when they focus on value. Here, there is a pinot noir, but it’s from Germany. There are blends combining multiple multisyllabic Greek varietals. There are no cutesy descriptions or categories. And the most expensive bottle is $40. Beer is available in cans, but it’s the draft program that shines, with rotating selections such as Dogfish Head Burton Baton, Southern Tier Pumking, Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye, and Stone 15th Anniversary Escondidian Imperial Black IPA. Servers are as quirky as they are knowledgeable.
The Salty Pig is just the restaurant you want in this convenient location. You can pop in for a quick snack or hang out for hours, come with a big group of friends or by yourself. Prices are reasonable. And the food plainly predicts bright futures for Smith and The Salty Pig.