When Bradford Earle inherited a 7-foot-tall wooden sculpture of a dancing pig, he had no idea it would be the mascot of his future restaurant.
Earle’s wife’s father, who had a thing for pigs, commissioned it — he named him Theo — to sit at the end of the driveway of his Puget Sound home, which he called The Dancing Pig Saloon.
Theo had found a semi-permanent spot in the hallway of Earle’s home for some years, and about halfway through the build-out of his new venture, Hog’s Apothecary — which has its official opening tonight, Sept. 25, on Oakland’s 40th Street — the idea of making him the mascot occurred to him and co-owner John Streit.
So now, Theo is near the kitchen (you can’t miss him). If you want to see him in costume, come at Halloween.
Though Earle and Streit have known each other for about five years — they met through their wives, who went to college together — the idea of doing a joint venture only began about two years ago. Streit had worked as a chef at Pizzeria Delfina, Pizzaiolo and Rotten City Pizza in Emeryville. Earle was a front-of-the-house guy, most recently having managed the bar of Park Avenue Bar & Grill on Piedmont Avenue. They were feeling ready to start something of their own. Streit, who lived on 40th for many years, regularly used to walk by the old Da House of Suds Laundromat on the corner of 40th and Opal streets and envision what it could become.
Since 40th Street is the dividing line between the Temescal and Mosswood districts of Oakland, and Temescal’s restaurant row is nearby on Telegraph Avenue, the uber-popular macaroni and cheese restaurant Homeroom and now Hog’s are on what is considered either the “Temescal corridor,” or “the Jewelbox,” named for Opal, Ruby, Garnet and Emerald streets nearby.
In keeping with its name, the restaurant offers a pork-heavy menu featuring nose-to-tail butchery. As if to prove it, a man with a whole pig hoisted over one shoulder made a delivery during the interview with Berkeleyside on a recent Monday morning, and the restaurant says it is already going through one whole pig or more per week. (The restaurant had its soft opening earlier this month.)
And even though all of the proteins come from local farms — Devil’s Gulch Ranch is a major supplier, not only of pigs but of rabbits and quail too, as are a few other farms — Streit said he made a conscious decision not to list them on the menu.
Streit calls it “name-dropping.”
“When you were one of three restaurants doing it, it was kind of neat, but now there are too many of us doing it, and it’s a pretense that’s unnecessary. I want to let the food speak for itself and, hopefully, people will recognize that it’s good,” he said.
There is also no tagline on the menu saying that most items are local and organic, even though they are.
“Those kinds of statements are really nice fluff,” Streit said, adding that not all restaurants that say that actually do it. He admitted he feels torn about it, given the day.
“When we do line-up, John tells all the servers where everything comes from so our servers can answer anyone’s questions about our sourcing,” added Earle.
The menu, which changes often, sometimes daily, includes bar snacks, known as “bits,” which include “Arlo Shirks” and “Olin Browns,” fancy names for house-made bar nuts and corn nuts — which, it is said, were invented by a man named Albert Holloway in Oakland and originally called “Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn” — as well as a soft pretzel for two.
“Butcher’s Coffer” includes three kinds of charcuterie.
Five of the seven salads on the current menu are vegetarian, and feature seasonal items such as melon, squash blossoms and cherry tomatoes, while two include pork belly.
“Salads are the first thing that’s going to leave an impression with people,” said Streit. “We’re in an area where we can celebrate the bounty that comes out of the ground year round. We got some feedback, initially, that we are an insult to vegetarians.”
He continued, “Yeah, I do whole-hog butchery, but there are at least six things on the menu that are totally vegetarian. You can’t be all things to all people all the time, but that hurt my feelings a little.”
Three house-made sausage sandwiches —chicken and pork with fig and chanterelle mushrooms was an early favorite — on bread by Starter Bakery, the only thing not made in-house, will always be on the menu, along with a corn dog. Streit explained that ideally there will be one sausage that is more accessible to people, like an Italian style, with two others that have more unusual ingredients. The corn dog is a fun item to offer kids (or the young-at-heart) without resorting to “chicken fingers” or mac-and-cheese. “That base is pretty well-covered,” cracked Earle, of their ever-popular neighbor.
All sandwiches come with lard-fried potato chips and house-made pickles.
There are four entrées, including a vegetarian pot pie. The menu is rounded out by a few seasonal sides and two desserts.
And then there is the beer list. Given that they’re calling themselves an American-style beer hall, their beer selection deserves as much billing as the food. They have a Cicerone on staff (a beer sommelier, for the uninitiated). Sayre Piotrkowski, who oversaw the beer program at the Mission’s St. Vincent and co-directed the beer program at Monk’s Kettle before that, selected 33 beers, four wines and one root beer, and that’s just what’s on tap.
The beer list is “locavore meets loca-pour,” said Earle, in that, as much as possible, they’re avoiding breweries that use distributors, going directly to the breweries themselves. The beer is much fresher this way, they maintain, and often the brewmaster is the one making the deliveries, he said. Knowing their brewmasters is just as important as knowing their farmers, he said.
While the owners intend to feature beers from as far away as the Pacific Northwest, the opening menu has only those from California. “There are so many amazing breweries in California that we can do that,” said Earle.
The beer menu will change as often as the food menu, meaning every few days, so that regulars will always have something new to try, and even more obscure bottles will be offered as well (not all from the West Coast).
Judging by those who have come by during the soft opening, the beer hall with communal tables is proving to be popular with Temescal’s young families, who are filling the place between 5 and 7 p.m. As both owners have young children at home, they aim to be family-friendly. But as the hour gets later, neighborhood hipsters and their friends from Mosswood take over, between 7 and 10 p.m., with most of both crowds having walked from their homes nearby. “We’re at the perfect demographic nexus of both,” said Streit.
Streit said he hopes Hog’s will become the kind of place where regulars come for sandwiches during the week, returning on weekends to try the pricier entrées.
While a crowd-sourcing campaign helped the men buy more expensive light fixtures than they would have been able to afford otherwise, ones that accentuate the industrial-chic interior, they feel the campaign also gave some customers a sense of ownership. Overall, they’ve felt the support of the neighbors.
“People have been stopping by every day to ask when we’re opening,” said Earle. “We knew from the beginning that support from the neighborhood was there.”
Hog’s Apothecary is at 375 40th St., Oakland. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 5-10 p.m. for kitchen, 5-11 p.m. for bar. Always closed Tuesdays. Closed now on Mondays (but that will change soon).
Alix Wall is a personal chef and freelance writer in Oakland.