Like the phrase “meltingly tender,” the term “upscale gastropub” has become a tired cliché in food writing, and yet here I am invoking it to describe Pig & Pickle. I just can’t think of a better way to sum up what it’s serving its lucky South Scottsdale neighborhood: scratch-made comfort food with fancy flourishes (full disclosure: my favorite kind of food) and a well-stocked bar with familiar favorites and fun surprises, all in a laid-back space with lots of warmth. The wooden tables and exposed brick lend a simple, homespun feel that contrasts nicely with the urban sophistication of the sleek stone bar and colorful artwork. The best touch is a portrait of the restaurant’s porcine namesake on a wood-slat-covered wall near the open kitchen. It’s perfect for piggy selfies before you pig out. Indeed, Pig & Pickle is the kind of place where you feel comfortable enough to do that – like you’re just eating and drinking at a friend’s house and cushioned from the outside world, if only for an hour or two.
Chef/owner Keenan Bosworth sets the stage for globe-trotting culinary creativity, and chef de cuisine Alec Stoneburner and his team follow suit. Their food has often been described as upscale stoner food, which is apt, but I’m pretty square and I still relish the bold, rich and complementary flavors just as much as someone with the munchies.
I’d been to Pig & Pickle a handful of times before this happy hour media visit, but always for brunch (the biscuits and tasso gravy are my jam) or dinner (the Apocalypse Sow pork burger is an indulgence not to be missed, and for a time I was enamored with a brothy chicken pasta dish that seems to have flown the coop – they change the menu often). It turns out I’ve been missing out on some P&P classics, like the mac and cheese with queso blanco, pepper jack and roasted poblanos (more smoky than spicy – good for this spice pansy), to which we add crispy pork belly. There are always some kind of tacos on the HH menu, but the kitchen mixes them up, so ask your server for details. Our incredibly sweet and attentive server, Alexis, tells us about the fried Chula Seafood cod tacos with fried scallions, red pepper aioli and Fresno chiles, and we can’t say no. Each happy hour dish is only $5 (!), so you can try several items without breaking the bank.
We couldn’t resist ordering beyond the happy hour menu, though, and even those selections were steals when you take into consideration portion size and quality. The Thai chile chicken wings ($13) were smoky, sweet, salty and scrumptious, and the tot of the day ($1.25 each) was a magnificent mashed potato ball stuffed with cheddar, ham and roasted poblanos and fried to a golden-brown crisp. The dish that made me literally moan, though, was pork shoulder tostadas with ginger aioli, house-made kimchi, scallions and sesame ($9 for two). It’s fusion food at its yummiest, and I could happily eat this crunchy, funky, stewy, delicious pileup of flavors every day and never get bored. For a sweet finish, we chose the weekly “sweet thang” ($7): breakfast bread pudding loaded with cream cheese and maple syrup and topped with vanilla ice cream.
Drinks are under the $5 spell during happy hour, too – draft beers, select craft brew cans/bottles, glasses of wine and cocktails will each set you back only five clams. General manager/barman/“Big Juice” (according to his business card) Dominick Scarpinato develops balanced and bracing cocktails like the #ScottsdaleProblems (limoncello, rosé prosecco, orange bitters, lime zest) and the Junior Buffalo “GDE” (gin, orange citrate, grapefruit juice, orange juice and soda). He let us preview a tipple he created for Negroni Week (June 24-30) called the Brawlgroni: Bulldog gin, Campari, Braulio amaro, house-made Jesus Juice and a splash of Echo Coffee cold brew. Proceeds of those sales will benefit Fisher House, an organization that aids military families. And on June 25, you can join the P&P crew at 11 a.m. to make and distribute lunches for those in need – just register at the Campari Day of Service website.
THE INSIDER SECRET
Customization! The Pig & Pickle fellas take Burger King’s “have it your way” motto and kick it up several notches – with the quality of the ingredients, obviously, but also with the myriad ways you can make dishes your own. On the bottom of the happy hour menu, there’s a “customize your provisions” section. To any dish, you can add a farm-fresh egg ($2.50), slow-roasted pork ($4), foie gras ($14), crispy bacon ($6), crispy braised pork belly (my favorite, $5) and/or a house-made aioli (remoulade, ginger or malt vinegar, 50 cents each). As someone who likes to mix and match ingredients and order things my way, it’s nice to get a green light from the kitchen to do so, instead of feeling like a diva for wanting a little pork belly on my mac and cheese. Scarpinato suggested we hack our mac with a side of Buffalo sauce as well, and my goodness, the man is on to something. The vinegary kick cut through the creamy richness of the cheesy sauce and the fattiness of the pork belly. I’ll be ordering that again.
The “first happy hour” is from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and from 3-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The “second happy hour” runs from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. and caters to food and beverage industry employees with late-night noshes and interesting and affordable drink specials.