531 Hudson St.
Perfect For: Large groups of pork fiends; massive hangovers that can only be cured with a massive pile of meat
On the Speakers: LCD Soundsytem, "I Can Change"
Wallet Stress: Medium ($3 to $23)
We should be over bacon. The fat of pig bellies has weaseled its way into too many dishes, to that point that no iteration is novel or surprising. Dough, in Bed-Stuy, makes maple-frosted bacon donuts for self-described foodies at Brooklyn's Smorgasburg every weekend. Burger King serves bacon sundaes you can order from your car. We've reached the pork saturation point.
Why then, did the mention of a restaurant named Swine make my heart beat faster? Maybe it was the killer hangover, or maybe it was because, in my heart, I'm not over bacon. Like a bad ex-boyfriend that brings you flowers after he’s fucked up (again), Swine’s cuisine is an easy out—and I knew it—but still I ran into its arms.
Swine aspires to be an upscale dive. The bi-level restaurant has a worn-in aesthetic that isn’t far from the spirit of your local bar. The first floor's centerpiece is a handsome, dark wood bar, surrounded by tiny copper tables. The exposed brick walls are plastered with punk-rock concert posters, and a vintage FunHouse pinball machine tucked in the corner competes with the bar for patrons' attention.
Downstairs, the modest open kitchen sits behind a ping-pong table larger parties crowd around. The divide between upscale eatery and low-key dive bar is successfully traversed here, in large part because the menu makes you overlook everything else. Chef Phil Conlon (formerly of go-to West Village brunch spot Café Cluny) keeps the cliches away with—believe it or not—fresh takes on bacon. There are also ample vegetarian, seafood, and even gluten-free options. Of course, I avoided those.
The Boards: The mix-and-match charcuterie, salumi, and cheese boards form the centerpiece of Swine’s menu; they all come with homemade or locally-sourced condiments. I opted for the three-choice board, and chose the items below at the server's recommendation:
- Duck Rillettes: This creamy spread, created with duck shaved from the bone and pureed with its own fat, was savory enough to stand alone, no carbs required.
- Tongue Pastrami: This thin-cut slice of peppercorn-laced beef sings when it meets the zesty, house-made mustard. Don't share it.
- Twin Maple “Hudson Red”: A flat cheese that wouldn't excite by its lonesome, but makes a cool contrast to the tart brandied cherries, and climbs even higher when smeared with the duck rillette.
Potato Chip Nachos: Even before I tasted you, I knew I'd love you: handmade, near-burnt potato chips served in a cast-iron skillet, topped with a silky five–cheese fondue and amplified by jalapeños and—of course—pork belly.
Bacon Braised Rabbit Leg: Meat was so tender, it's not fair. But its chipped texture (reminiscent of canned tuna fish) let the two sides overshadow it. The polenta was rich and velvety, and the Brussels sprouts had a perfect char.
Bone Marrow & Brisket Burger: Eat this before you die. Or die while eating it. The burger owes its greatness to a ludicrous mix of brisket, bone marrow, and beef. It glistens with fat, a heavy gob of Gruyère cheese, and caramelized onions, but its brioche bun manages to maintain its structure. Over-sized potato spears push this into the land of excess.
Apple and Caramel Crisp: No, I didn't order the bacon ice cream dripping with fudge. Come on, I wanted to maintain a little self-respect. This simple crisp had clean flavors, fruit's advantage over lard.
The Buck Up: The wine menu was solid, with plenty of half bottles (including a Sancerre) and even wine on tap, but as previously mentioned, I was hungover as hell, so I opted for a hair-of-the-dog blend of peppercorn rum, grapefruit, and ginger. Cowardly drinks infuse peppercorns for flavor—the Buck Up comes with whole peppercorns in the glass. Downside: It tasted like flat ginger ale. I didn't finish half.
Pig in the City: Part of the reason I skipped the bacon ice cream but opted for this, was out of deep respect for a cocktail named after a film featuring the baddest pig on earth, Babe. The bacon-infused Old Overholt rye and Cocchi vermouth di Torino blend made for a subtle, smoky Manhattan that eschewed gimmicks, despite the clever name.
THE FINAL WORD
At first glance, Swine appears to baiting us with its name and image. But really, it's not trying that hard. This is a laid-back restaurant serving satisfying food that's fun to eat and share. The staff is committed to the menu, and the space is charismatic. In short, it's another entry on my list of reasons to live in the West Village. It'd be the "every weekend" joint. Plus, it cured my hangover. Swine, how could I ever fault you?