Local Eats: The Pig - Chapel Hill, NC

I used to think that my spirit animal was butter. I'm starting to think I'm a pig. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of talking with Victoria Bouloubasis(click here to read that article), a writer for The Independent. We spoke for hours at length about tour and food and performing all the while stuffing our faces with amazing food. This is a recap of that meal.

The above (drool) is a pork belly sandwich topped with cole slaw, and served with a side of home-made pickles. The pork is perfectly braised to that fall apart texture and the pickles are sweet and crisp.

So the above is what I consider to be vegetable bliss. It's roasted brussel sprouts with mushrooms, and seriously, it's so good you'll swear there's lard on them. PERFECTION in a bowl.

If you're ever in the mood for some good ole fried zucchini I'd say it's official, The Pig, has the best fried zuchs. in town and darn good fries to boot. The BBQ is chop style and for my palette could be spicier and more sour.

This dish reminds me of being in Germany. ThaSam was so nice to bring us out this awesome cold cut plate with home made sauer kraut and spicy mustard. The Germans really know what's up.

Now THAT is a fried green tomato. Most of the time when you get these at restaurants they are thin and non substantial and really don't have much to offer. The crust on these were super crunchy and these tomatoes were HUGE. They were practically a big thick slice of bread with some warm, firm green tomato on the inside.

Prior to this meal I had no idea what the process was for making real "cracklin's." The process is a lot more than just throwing some fat back in a fryer. In fact very little fat is left on them when they hit the grease. The process is too long to discuss for this post but let's just say the next time you eat a cracklin' you should savor every moment of it. AND, if you get the chance to eat some of Sam's cracklin's you're in for a treat. Perfectly airy and crisp, with a touch of sweetness just the way the should be.

So let's go over what we've eaten so far, pork belly, sprouts, zucchini, fries, bbq, cold cuts, fried green tomatoes, cracklin's, and now how am I supposed to fit puffs of air and dough into my belly? Ok, well the fact that they are mostly air really helps, but these things are perfect for that long meal. You get the sweetness without all the heavy, unless of course you eat the whole bowl like we did.

This is Sam. Does he look familiar, because he sure did to me when I walked in. Turns out Sam and I were on the UNC varsity fencing team together my senior year. Crazy small world I tell you. Thanks so much Sam for all the fantastic food!

If you live in Chapel Hill and have a car, you need to drive on over to The Pig and have some pig.

Recipe: My Thai Style St. Louis Ribs

When St. Louis style ribs go on sale at Whole Foods, you can bet we're gonna buy some and make these Thai inspired ribs. Unlike traditional, fall off the bone ribs, these ribs are cooked in about 30 minutes and take a bit more than a knife and fork to eat.

Prep Time: 15 minutes - Overnight
Cook Time: ~30 minutes


1/4c mirin
1/4c rice wine vinegar
1/4c fish sauce
1/4c mushroom soy sauce
3 stalks green onion minced
2 tbsp sugar (substitute 3 tbsp rice syrup if you have it)
1 tbsp red chili flakes (more if you like the kick)
1 tbsp minced garlic (about 3-4 cloves)
1 tbsp minced ginger

2 lbs St. Louis style ribs

Start by combining all the marinade ingredients into a large enough dish to hold the ribs. I used a Pirex baking dish. If you plan on doing the 15 minute marinade, place the ribs into the baking dish with the marinade and poke some holes into the meat with you knife. Flip the ribs over and poke some more holes into the other side as well. (If you plan to marinade it over night or all day there is no reason to poke holes in the ribs) At this point you can fire up the grill and set it up for indirect heat grilling.

After your meat has been marinating for 15 minutes, go ahead and put it on the grill. (save the marinade left in the dish) You're going to grill it for ~15 minutes on one side with the lid closed, flip it over pour some of the marinade and bits of garlic, ginger, and green onion over top of the meat and finish grilling it for ~15 minutes on the other side with the lid closed again.

I like to grill ribs with indirect heat because of the amount of fat that is on these ribs. Check the interior temperature of the meat at it's thickest point (in between a set of ribs) and make sure it's at least 140-145 degrees. Don't have a thermometer? Just grill it until the juices that run out of the meat are clear.

Make sure you let the meat "rest" for at least 5 minutes before devouring them. This will help some of the juices stay in.

This along side some rice, garlic broccolini, and jjao make a great summer meal. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did. And please email me pictures of your finished product!

--Joe Kwon

Päffgen - Köln, Germany

We arrived in Köln at what seemed like 5am. In fact it was already 10am and there was so much that needed to be done. I needed to find a place to eat that was authentically German. I don't know if there is a certain way that finds you sitting in a Hausbrauerei (brew house) where you're surrounded by old wooden tables and old men serving you beer without you even asking for it, but I've done it.

The story of the Die Hausbrauerei Päffgen (Help me translate please!)

I'm sitting here in a place that seems to only fit in the 1800s with wooden everything and big men with big guts greeting you with nothing but a scowl and a demi-glass of beer. What more could you ask for! Well, maybe a menu in English. I ask our very large, very German, beer serving gentleman if he could please help me order a most German meal fit for none other than, himself. He quickly jots down illegible numbers on the back of a coaster as well as 2 tick marks for the two beers sitting in front of us. After deciphering the numbers and finishing off the rest of my beer, the gentleman returns, scowl in tow, I say "We'll have the 3/4 meter of Bratwurst and the Beer-marinated pork roast with crackling", he cracks a smile as if I've just made his day, and I can't wait!

Hausbrau Päffgen (the house brew)

Here's something that you need to know about this brew house, or maybe this is the case for all brew houses, if you sit down they will give you a beer. If you finish your beer, they will give you another beer. In fact you're gonna have to work pretty darn hard to NOT get a beer.(partial movie quote) This is great if you can drink more than one beer without falling over. For a light weight like me, it's a bit of a stretch, but I'm in the mood to have some good German food, and of course to feel like a German again (thanks Werner and Helmut)!

The long wooden tables of which I speak

The beer was very nice, light, but very full bodied and easy to drink with fine bubbles. I noticed as the man would walk by with beers in hand that there would be plenty falling over his hand onto the ground. A great archaic sense comes over me as if I'm about to gnaw on a leg of turkey or see a whole pig strewn out on our table.

German Mustard. Great with everything!

Biermarinierter Krustenbraten mit Bratkartoffeln und Krautsalat (Beer-marinated pork with crackling, sauté potatoes, and coleslaw)
This dish was a bit different from what I expected. Different but so good! when i thought of what might come out I envisioned a braised leg of pork with the meat falling off the bones but instead it was more like a couple thick slices of ham that just happens to taste of sweet beer.

Krautsalat (Coleslaw)
The krautsalat was just amazing. Nothing like I've ever tasted before. Slightly sweet and very crispy. The potatoes that accompany the dish were fried in butter and pork fat it seemed and were so rich there was no chance of finishing them.

Frische Bratwurst (3/4 meter) mit Kräutersenf und Röggelchen (Bratwurst with herb mustard)
I can honestly say this was a unique experience. The brat is actually one long 3/4 meter of bratwurst that was very soft and much thinner than what we see in the states, it is served with a herb mustard that is much more sweet than it was spicy. I don't know if it would be possible to stomach all of this behemoth by yourself and especially not if you've just eaten a pound of pork shoulder.

The beer handlers. Ingenious!
I've eaten many many German dishes in my day and none of them can shine a light to this meal. I'm so thrilled that this turn of events got me to Päffgen. I hope to come back to Köln soon so I can experience another great meal!

--Joe Kwon

For more information click here.

Local Eats: Vietnam Grille - Charlotte, NC

Now I'm new to the Charlotte restaurant scene, so I definitely needed some guidance in the area and who better than Helen Schwab (Twitter: @helenschwab), restaurant reviewer for the Charlotte Observer. I think she was a bit nervous about recommending a place for me not knowing my tastes but she hit this nail right on the head.

The Chef at Vietnam Grille is a displaced Northerner who owned a restaurant in Philly's China Town. After a short stint owning a nail salon, he came down to NC last year to open an amazing restaurant. I'm so glad he did, because this place had great food and the service was excellent.

So I hope you'll have a chance to check this place out if you are in/near the Queen City. I know I'll be back soon. Hope you enjoy this post and get some ordering ideas!

--Joe Kwon

Dau Hu Chien (Crispy Tofu). I like to start every meal off with a nice appetizer or 4. Their Crispy Tofu hits the spot if you're looking for something that is light, crispy, and somewhat good for you. And if you're sharing with 16 people you really don't have to worry about getting too full on it. If you don't like tofu, all I can say is, you should learn to. It's such a versatile protein and it's vegetarian friendly!

Goi Tom (Shrimp Salad). I'm a big fan of Vietnamese salads. Mostly because they don't taste like any other salads out there. So sweet and salty in the right ways. And they usually involve cabbage and I just think that's an underestimated vegetable to start with. Show me someone who doesn't love cabbage and I'll show you someone who's never had a Vietnamese salad.

Bo Nuong La (Stuffed Grape Leaves). Helen insisted I try this dish. At first I thought to myself, "Grape leaves? In a Viet. restaurant?" Oh but Helen, you were SO right. You don't really know what to expect when you first grab a hold of these bite sized rolls. What on earth could they taste like.? I've had many a Mediterranean stuff grape leaves in my day. But these were oh so special. Hot and juicy from the meat fat in the middle. Salty and meaty just what you wanted at that moment. That's the kind of experience it was for me. It was so good we ordered another.

Goi Cuon Chay (Tofu Rolls). My appetizer list wouldn't be complete without spring rolls. I really prefer these in the summer when the veggies that go inside are fresh, but sometimes you just gotta have'm.

Bok Choy Xao Toi (Stir Fried Bok Choy w/ Garlic). This begins our dinner ordering. In true Asian fashion we must have at least 2-3 million plates on the table, so we just order more and more sides. Bok choy is a very light mustardy green that is found in a lot of CHinese cuisine. This simple dish is just bok choy sauteed with garlic. So simple and so delicious.

Muc Nuong Xa (Grilled Squid). I'm always skeptical of ordering squid at a restaurant. More often than not it comes out over cooked with the texture of those fat rubber bands you used to get around your produce. This was definitely an exception to that rule. They prepare the squid perfectly and fry it with some nice chili and fish sauce and the texture is like that of firm tofu. Just amazing. If you like squid you gotta try this dish.

Tom Nuong Xa (Grilled Shrimp). It's a gamble to order shrimp on a Sunday, but we're still short of meeting our 2 million plate quota on our table. So we went ahead and tried these. They won't blow your socks off, but they are well prepared and have just the right amount of kick to them.

Bo Tai Chanh (Raw Flank Steak). The chef took the liberty of ordering a couple plates for us and just brought them out. This was the first of such dishes. This dish really stands out in my head as one of those original flavors that I think will stick with me for the rest of my life. Just like the first time I had carpaccio, this dish excited me to the point where I thought I should stop eating instantly because nothing can beat this flavor. There was a definite lime taste with caramelized onions and a sweetness I couldn't place my finger on. Also, don't be alarmed this is a totally raw beef dish. If you get squeamish at the idea of eating raw meat then steer away from this one. But for you adventurous viewers out there . . . you MUST get this dish.

Grilled Pork Chop. This was the second dish that the chef just brought out. He must like how we can finish off a dish before the plate even hits the table. Anyways, the dish itself wasn't my favorite because I feel like it moved away from the Vietnamese style of dish to a more Chinese style. It was heavier than most, even still the pork was prepared very well.

Bun Muc Nuong (Rice Vermicelli w/ Grilled Squid). This is almost the exact same as the Grilled squid app. but this one is served with the vermicelli noodles and a fish sauce based sauce.

These are the fix'ns that go with every Pho dish. They usually include fresh bean sprouts, thai basil, jalapenos, and wedges of lime.

Pho Dac Biet (Deluxe Rice Vermicelli Noodle Soup). Kinda like the piece de resistance, Pho noodle soup is the way I judge a Vietnamese restaurant. Without a good broth Pho noodles are nothing. Without the perfect texture of pho noodles this dish is nothing. Without a relatively LOW PRICE this dish is nothing. So . . . how does this Pho stack up? Well, the broth was rich and full of well balanced spice flavor. A lot more anise than most pho broth I've had and a little saltier. The noodles were nice and al dente, and the cost was just in the right place. I think most pho should be between 6-8 dollars and it should be a hefty portion. If you're paying more than that, you're over paying. This was the Dac Biet variety of Pho which pretty much means there are all sorts of animal parts in it. All of which are a great addition to the dish if you can handle eating them.

If you'd like more information about Vietnam Grill please click here.