Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Make Time For Capitalist Pig

Capitalist Pig opened inside Mad Art Gallery on the south end of Soulard way back on October 22, 2012. I had never made time to go to the restaurant before last week when I was invited by a friend.

This alone qualifies me as a complete idiot. Don't be me. Make time to go to Capitalist Pig.

Ron Buechele spent 20 years as a police officer with St. Louis County. Towards the end of his time on the force, he went back to school at Maryville University and picked up a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Painting and creating art had always been one of his passions, along with cooking. Ron grew up spending time in the kitchens with his Sicilian aunts learning their secrets and hearing stories about "the old country".

Towards the end of Buechele's time on the force he decided to jump headfirst into another venture he had in his head. He purchased the vacant building on the corner of 12th and Lami in Soulard that formerly housed the St. Louis Police Department's Third District headquarters. Being a resident himself of Soulard for 13 years by that time in 2000, Buechele was familiar with the building that had been vacant for a decade at that point. He envisioned somewhat of a communal space for artists where they could work in the shared space and display their creations.

While Buechele was living and breathing his gallery during the day and working the streets at night, he realized that his early vision simply wasn't the way to pay the bills. While Capitalist Pig was years away at that point, we can trace its existence back to that revelation. The Mad Art Gallery became a space that could be rented out for private events, such as weddings.

Mad Art Gallery became a trendy space for weddings with it's intact cells from its former days and its large main room, formerly the motor pool area for the police, with works from local artists adorning the walls. People loved the space for the weddings and other events but Buechele noticed a frequent gripe that often comes up at weddings. "The food really wasn't that good".

Buechele hadn't lost that passion for cooking that his aunts instilled in him long ago. He knew that he could cater the weddings himself and was confident the days of people complaining about the food at Mad Art weddings would be over. Ron opened up shop as a caterer. His plan worked and he ended up having to expand the kitchen at Mad Art.

The expanded kitchen was where Capitalist Pig was really born. Just like how the space originally came to be rented out for weddings, Buechele wanted to find a way to maximize revenue from the newly renovated kitchen. He spent about a year fine-tuning the concept for this venture. He knew he wanted his barbecue restaurant to be different than anything else in St. Louis.As many of his ingredients as possible would be purchased from local suppliers, he'd make as many things in-house as possible and locally-sourced meats would be as cruelty-free and sustainable as possible.

When Capitalist Pig first opened in 2012 it immediately received rave reviews. Then carry-out only, Byron Kerman of St. Louis Magazine called likened his visit to visiting the "Disneyland of meat".

It wasn't like I waited to visit until I could dine in at Capitalist Pig, it just happened that way. I told you earlier I'm an idiot for not trying it sooner.

On my visit, Buechele served me a generous portion of each of the meats on the menu, a Cubano sandwich, a hearty sample of each of the sides and a house-made pickle. All of the meats were delicious. My favorites were the house-made bacon (served like it was before the Industrial Revolution according to Buechele) and the smoked corned beef.

The pork belly bacon looked more like a ham steak and is like nothing you've ever tasted. Buechele wet-cures the bacon and smokes it. It's braised with a combination of bourbon, real maple syrup, mustard seeds, peppercorn and a couple other ingredients that are house secrets.

Diners have the option of using seven different house-made sauces. The choices range from House to Sweet & Smokey to Blackberry Ancho, Habanero Peach and more.

The Cubano was quite delicious. My dining mate said its the best sandwich of its kind she's had anywhere and it's not even close.

While I didn't get to try the burger on this visit, hearing Buechele talk about it has it on my agenda for this weekend. A burger isn't typically on the menu, but it does show up frequently as a special. The patty is always a brisket patty with a combination of spices and mustard and onions ground in. The burger that already sounds heavenly is then often topped with a slice of cheese and a slab of the house-made bacon.

How were the sides you ask? Delicious of course. I'm a sucker for Mac N' Cheese and the white cheddar version here exceeded expectations. The Capitalist Pig kitchen makes the dish throughout the day so it's always fresh for diners. The cheese sauce is a combination of Gruyere and English Cheddar cheeses.

The restaurant serves a unique slaw that should please just about everyone. It's made with mustardm vinegar, mayo, salt and pepper so, it pretty much hits all the points on the map.

Another unique side is the potato salad. Many of the dishes that Buechele creates come from his own likes and dislikes he's seen eating out on his own. The potatoes for this salad are cooked "home fry" style before being combined with the other ingredients like chocolate pickles. The hot combination is then dressed with a cold dressing when ordered. Those chocolate pickles? That'd be made from the house pickle that starts life as a cucumber at local Thies Farm.

Hungry yet? Capitalist Pig is open 11 am - 3 pm Wednesday to Sunday. Dinner is served on Thursday nights from 6 pm - 9 pm while trivia is going on in the main room. Plenty of seating is available in open areas of Mad Art Gallery, in the old jail cells and outside on their awesome patio. Buechele is particularly proud to say that although his staff numbers just 3, including himself, they are able to keep ticket times between 4 and 6 minutes on average. Capitalist Pig features a full bar with local and craft beers as well as an extensive array of bourbons. The team has a signature line of cocktails like a Bloody Mary with house-made mix and peppered vodka that's garnished with a house-made pickle. The Perfect Pickled Manhattan features pickle brine simple syrup.

Capitalist Pig and Mad Art Gallery just announced a summer music series that will see "The Pig" open on Friday evenings. The series kicks off on July 3 with live music from the Missouri Breaks blues band from 7:30-10 pm. Ron Buechele is also teaming up with St. Louis Distillery in July to host an event called Sowsed.

As if you weren't hungry enough, the brunch menu is available on Sundays. Along with Jax Cafe in Benton Park, this may be a new staple for me. I've been a sucker for hollandaise sauce since the great days of Build-A-Biscuit at Market Grill 1.0, Capitalist Pig features an Eggs Benedict dish with a cornbread biscuit topped with a poached egg, chili hollandaise and house-made ham. The house-made corned beef is featured in a corned beef & hash dish while the pork belly bacon is featured in a BLT with chipotle aioli You can get that brisket burger I talked about earlier topped with a slice of cheese and an egg. More traditional breakfast items are also available like a fried egg sandwich and salted caramel french toast.

Check out the Capitalist Pig website today. Don't be an idiot like I was. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter and make time to go there ASAP. You can also check them out in Johnny Fugitt's new book, The 100 Best Barbecue Restaurants in America.