The Ravenous Pig wasn’t the first high quality restaurant in Central Florida, but when it opened in 2007, it seemed to be harbingering a new era. It was, I’m pretty sure, the first in the area to call itself an American gastropub, which gave it a certain mystique with the dining public, even if technically it wasn’t really a gastropub.
The heart of Ravenous Pig was the husband and wife team of James and Julie Petrakis, Central Florida natives who met while attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Both were fans of Manhattan’s Spotted Pig, which may have influenced the name of their first restaurant.
The thing I remember most about my first visits to Ravenous Pig – which was originally located down Orange Avenue from its current location in the space now occupied by Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen – was the enthusiasm of the staff for the food they were serving. They seemed happy to be working there. That sort of attitude almost always trickled down from the top.
The success of the Petrakises – which included both being jointly nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef – South award seven times in a row – led to a growing empire. They opened Cask & Larder, Swine & Sons (now sold), and the Polite Pig at Disney Springs, as well as the Ravenous Pig Brewing Company.
Of course, multiple venues means that neither is likely to be found at the stove. Clay Miller is now the executive chef of record at Ravenous Pig. (Even though Miller’s name does not appear on RP’s website, he is cited in Michelin Guide’s blurb that designated Ravenous Pig as a Bib Gourmand selection (“good value, good quality cooking”).
I had not been back to the restaurant since Miller was named executive chef, so I paid a visit recently.
I started with an appetizer of crispy pork belly. I figure if you’re dining in a place with pig in its name you might as well go with the hog. The delightfully fatty pork belly was coated in a soy glaze that was slightly sweet and top with slices of jalapeños for some heat plus some pickled slaw. Crushed peanuts served as a garnish.
My dinner guest chose the fried zucchini (technically a side dish), crisp coins smothered in a piquant and pulpy tomato sauce with a squiggle of green aioli and a dusting of grated cheese. Delicious.
I went with the steak frites for my main course. It was an aptly named tenderloin grilled to a perfect medium rare and served with crispy fries with a hint of truffle. (I’m pretty sure it was the Petrakises who first started using truffle essence locally.) There was bordelaise for the meat and garlic aioli for the fries – at least that’s what I used it for.
My companion had the moulard duck breast, wonderfully undercooked and flavorful, with chanterelle mushrooms and parsnip puree and a slaw fashioned out of Brussels sprouts.
I took umbrage with the mud pie dessert. I know mud pie, I used to serve mud pie when I was a waiter many years ago, and sir, that was no mud pie. Instead it was a brownie topped with chocolate custard and a graham cracker crust finished with a plop of Chantilly cream. Nothing muddy there.
Though I didn’t see the same exuberance from our waiter that I witnessed at the original RavPig, service was nonetheless carried out with professionalism and poise.
I think one of the smarter things the Petrakises did when they started to branch out was to not do multiple locations of Ravenous Pig. It’s much better as a one-off. And while it has definitely changed over the years, it’s all been for the good. And good is the operative word when talking about the Ravenous Pig.