If proof is needed that the best restaurants are those that never stop evolving, The Black Pig (blackpigcle.com) is steadfast evidence.
After moving last year from his original home along the bustling main drag of Ohio City to the nearby corner of Bridge and W. 28th, chef and owner Michael Nowak redesigned the menu to better fit its more intimate new setting. Now, looking back on nearly a year in its new location, the time has come for additional changes in both menu and staff.
Working in tandem with Nowak is celebrated chef Jill Vedaa, who returned to the kitchen for the first time since the closing of Rockefeller’s last spring. Joining Jill is executive sous chef Jack Moore, an alum from the Greenhouse Tavern. The arrival of the talented pair signals a renewed focus on daily and seasonally inspired dishes.
“We decided to go with a more ambitious menu than we’ve ever done before,” say Nowak. “This is going to be more of creating new dishes every single day, which is great for creative people; it keeps us sharp.”
While many favorites remain, a new feature titled “The Weekly Pig” will offer a limited number of specials derived from a single local heritage breed hog. Diners can look forward to dishes like boudin blanc, beer sausage and schnitzel. And when they’re gone, they’re gone.
“The menu’s going to say it came from this farm, it weighed this much, it was this breed and these are the dishes we made out of it,” Nowak explains. “It creates a great personal connection between the diner and the food. It’s truly a nose-to-tail experience.”
The original five-course tasting menu will be joined by two new three-course versions. A pasta tasting menu was added after Nowak realized that almost a quarter of diners ordered dishes like popular mushroom agnolotti. The other menu, which changes daily, will consist of a first course, entrée and dessert.
To make this constant inventiveness happen, Nowak explains, requires a backbone of talent. Vedaa had been a longtime patron of the Black Pig before she came on board this summer. She’ll continue to help transition the new menu while she plans to open a restaurant of her own. Already she’s ramped up the dessert menu with fall selections like the Spiced Chocolate Pot du Crème.
Prior to joining the Pig, Vedaa had experience with sausage making but had never broken down a whole hog. Nowak’s guidance has been instrumental in helping her gain the fresh perspective she was looking for.
“You’re your own chef for so long that you sometimes get stuck in a rut of what you know how to do because there’s no one to demand it from you,” Vedaa says. “It’s been quite an educational experience coming to work here.”
That expanded focus on daily creations is part of what attracted Moore, who moved to Cleveland two years ago for a job at Greenhouse, where he delved deep into fermentation and preserving practices.
“One thing I really wanted to focus on by coming over here was being able to find ways to make money off of what someone would normally throw away,” says Moore. “As opposed to throwing your apple peels away, let’s make apple vinegar. That’s the biggest thing I want to bring, to make sure we’re not wasting anything.”
As changing seasons go, Nowak looks no further than the fall harvest to test their creative collaborations.
“We consider this a chance to edit, make some tweaks and make things even better in our fourth year in business and second year into the future,” he says.