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Late afternoon on summer Sundays last year, a crowd packed in to the Crown Victoria‘s expansive, sun-drenched Williamsburg backyard. Friends nursed beers at picnic tables and, perhaps, partook in a game of bocce ball. But first they grabbed something to eat, forming a long line in front of a table where pork-scented smoke rose and hung invitingly in the air. There, two guys and a gal carved up a whole pig into succulent, tender cuts, sliding them onto paper plates with sautéed greens and banana cream pudding one week, Vietnamese noodles and ice cream another.
The weekly collaboration between chef Jose Ramirez-Ruiz (formerly of Isa and Per Se) and John Ratliff, owner of Greenpoint-based charcutier Ends Meats, was casually dubbed Pig Roast Sundays, and it was so popular that it’s returning for a second season this Sunday, May 5. Like last year, Ramirez-Ruiz’s girlfriend, pastry chef Pam Yung (also of Isa as well as the ParmTorrisi/Carbone group and Roberta’s), will often join the crew to dole out her finely crafted desserts.
Other aspects of the event have changed a bit, and part of that is catering to a growing crowd. “We’ll roast two 100-pound Berkshire pigs per Sunday,” says Ramirez-Ruiz, adding that he still expects the certain prime parts of the animal to run out not long after the 4 p.m. start time. “Come early for choice cuts,” he warns. “Last year, there were nights when all the food would be gone by 7:30.”
Still, by offering two hogs, the pair hopes to enhance the individualized service they were able to offer last year by allowing diners a chance to select their cuts. “We tried to make it a little more personal,” says the chef. “Some people would come up and ask for the cheek, butt, or ribs; others wouldn’t know what they wanted, so we’d try to walk them through whether they’d want a fattier cut and what else they liked in pork to get them something they’d really like.”
He even plans to extend that service mindset to people who’d rather not eat pork. “We’re going to grill fish à la minute when we have it,” he explains, noting that they should have this ability most Sundays, as Ratliff makes weekly trips to Cape Cod for deliveries.
The real change, though, comes in the menu: “Every Sunday will have a different theme,” says Ramirez-Ruiz. “This Sunday, we’ll do Mexican. And then we’ll do Puerto Rican, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The pork is always spit-roasted, but we’ll do it slightly differently for each theme.”
Ramirez-Ruiz, who frequently challenges himself to take on new flavors and techniques, says this will compare with last year’s Vietnamese night, when he brushed the pig with coconut water and served noodles, foie gras, and whole fish on the side. For Mexican night, in addition to Mexican sides, “we’ll have fresh fish to do fish tacos,” he says.
The new focus also gives Ramirez-Ruiz another outlet to continue his flirtation with expanding the boundaries of cuisines, a pursuit he first undertook at his Chez Jose pop-up dinners at the Whirlybird Café, which he runs with the help of Yung. Those intimate, vegetable-forward affairs navigate a broad culinary map, and they’ve proved so popular, Ramirez-Ruiz recently had to add a second night to his schedule. “We’re open Tuesdays and Thursdays now,” he says. “And we open reservations the first of every month for the following month.” (That means he just started taking June reservations.)
As the couple looks for other ways to make a splash in the pop-up and underground food scene, you can taste what they’ve already accomplished at the Crown Vic. Ramirez-Ruiz’s delicious porky collaboration with Ratliff runs every Sunday from this weekend until the end of summer starting at 4 p.m.; check out the Pig Roast Sunday Facebook page for updates.