Being from New York state, it is almost impossible for me to look at Richmond without seeing a strong comparison to New York City. I’m sure that is blasphemous to true Virginians, with fair justification. Still, it shouldn’t be hard to see why I can make this comparison. Both cities were settled before the Revolutionary War. Both served as national capitals, however briefly. Both were major trade centers in their section of the country which were vital to the development of the rest of the state around them. What strikes me the most is division into neighborhoods. When you say to someone in NYC “meet us in SoHo” it is akin to telling someone in Richmond “we are going to Shockoe Bottom.” Sure, the areas are defined by different things, but the premise is the same. Watching neighborhoods change, slowly, also reminds me of NYC. A lot of the neighborhoods there have undergone dramatic shifts to make them what they are now. We are doing that in Richmond. The one I’m most interested in watching is Churchill.
Churchill is slowly changing into what I call a “food neighborhood.” It doesn’t have the shopping of Carytown, the bar scene of the Fan, the booze of Scott’s Addition or the business heavy industry of Downtown. It’s slowly making its change upon the backs of amazing restaurants, local markets and bakeries. One such institution bringing both people and prestige to the neighborhood is The Dog & Pig Show. It was on our list for Supper Club so it was time to check it out. All four of us met there on a beautiful Wednesday evening to see if the food lived up to the hype.
The Dog & Pig Show is by no means big. It functions mostly as take-out, which makes sense as they only have four tables. Granted, if they had tried to squeeze any more in their front dining area, it would be a very intimate meal with your neighbor. The front counter is covered in a warm rustic wood and topped with an old school metal cash register. The menu is written beautifully on a curving blackboard hanging off the metal railing from the floor above the register. The wall on your left is a living mass of ferns and mosses. It brings a bright green burst to the room and plays off the earthy cobblestone floor. The space is inviting and seems bigger than it is.
The menu isn’t that big so you don’t feel overwhelmed. We had nine items to choose from, not including dessert. If I were bold, I would say that the influence on most dishes was South or East Asian, but I don’t want to speculate. Prior to arriving, I had heard great tales of the shrimp and grits. People said that meal alone was worth the trip. Thankfully, two of the ladies went with that (gulf shrimp, cheese grits, roe, bacon butter, kimchi, garlic and herbs). I say thankfully because I wanted to try it, but my heart had set itself upon an entree of a different color. As soon as my eyes took in the description of the Bangkok Bun and my brain was able to process all the magic, my heart knew what it wanted. A humble potato roll topped with a curry ginger mayo and layered with house-made thai sausage, bacon, avocado, over-medium egg and pickled cucumber. I want that in my face stat. Finally, to round out our order, there was Khao Soi (northern thai curry, coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, egg noodles — flat and fried — mustard greens, spring onion and lime). We took over the biggest of the tables and patiently waited.
Our meals came out quickly, packaged in to-go containers. It seems that regardless of dining in or out, that is how it’s packaged. All the packaging was biodegradable, so I have no qualms. The first thing that all of us noticed was the portion sizes. I will throw hefty out there as I think it describes it best. Both portions of shrimp and grits were enough to feed two people each. The Khao Soi was a “I’m going to have leftovers” size for sure. My sandwich was stacked high and looked to tame the beast that is my fat man hunger. All three ladies knew they were in for some work. Challenge accepted.
Let’s start with the shrimp and grits. I struggle with a description of this because I think that a photo does it better justice than my words ever could. A picture can’t describe the taste, though. It was, for lack of a better word, comforting. The grits were outstanding. They weren’t minute grits cooked into a gross wallpaper paste. These were grits that someone had taken time with. They retained a sense of purpose, which I find a lot of grits tend to lack. The cheese added to them gave them the a savory flavor and a creamy texture without robbing them of their individuality. Floating around inside were icebergs of Gulf shrimp. You would catch a piece of one bobbing around, not realizing that beneath the surface is a giant, perfectly cooked crustacean. In all, this dish was exactly what shrimp and grits is supposed to be. At least that’s my carpet-bagging opinion.
On to the Khao Soi!! This Burmese-influenced dish is usually made with rice noodles (the name is believed to be a corruption of the Burmese word for noodles which is just “khao swè”) in a curry broth. In this case it was made with egg noodles. I hesitate to call this a soup, a curry or a stew. It, in my opinion, is more akin to a delightful pasta dinner with a thick beautiful sauce. The curry was flavorful without beating your tastebuds to death. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know I believe in balance of flavor. It’s so easy to push one note to the forefront of a dish, but it detracts immensely from all the other work put in. Curry can easily be like that. Either with too much heat or maybe a heavy fist of cumin. Yet, the balance of this curry was noted. You got flavors instead of a flavor. The lime was subtle but not ignored. The noodles were not cooked to the point of a mushy mass. Instead they retained spring and vigor, wrapping themselves willfully in the sauce. The fried noodles gave a crunch to the dish when wanted, but were more of a supporting actor than a star. Not saying they were bad, but they weren’t the focus of the dish. Good dish in terms of all things, but one that I would have to be in the mood for. For me it’s a “I really want ____” dish and not a “I guess I’ll try ____” dish.
We will end this gastro-trip with my Bangkok Bun. I think the term manwich needs to be stripped from the canned sloppy joe mix and used more appropriately as the adjective it is. This was a manwich of solid proportions. Hefty. Stacked. Not made for a dainty hand. Something for the dedicated, of which I was one. I loved a lot about this sandwich. I suppose I will start from the outside and work my way in. The bread was excellent. If you don’t truly appreciate a potato roll for its airy lightness, then you are a fool. This roll fit this sandwich perfectly. Its subtle flavor and “there, but not quite there” texture was exactly what the fillings needed. A heftier bread would have worked, but you would have lost something. The curry-ginger mayo was slightly lost among the other big flavors in this sandwich. On random bites you would get a flash of sweet tangy ginger, but overall I found it greatly muted. Still, it wasn’t a detractor so I will not complain. The avocado was a thick hulking slice of creamy, fatty awesome. It did cause the contents to be a little slick, but it was expected and forgiven. The thick cut bacon was a crisp swath of smoky and salty pork deliciousness. I think that not having it on this sandwich would have been a fatal flaw. I say that not just as a bacon lover but as an appreciator of culinary art. The egg was cooked so there was a bit of runny yolk, but not an explosion of mess all over your clothes, face, hands and plate. It provided a bit of sauce to sop, which is the job a sandwich like this begs to do. The house made thai sausage was excellent. The patty was thick and flavorful. There was a slight browned char to the outside, giving it a crisp texture. It was a wonderful centerfold to this food porn magazine. To me though, the star was what you would least expect: the pickled cucumber. The vinegar flavor was spectacular in its pronounced etherealness. The crunch was spectacular and was easily able to handle the heavy texture lifting of every bite. I could eat jars of these cucumbers as a daily snack. I applaud the work of this humble vegetable in tying this sandwich together.
As with most meals we eat at Supper Club, we ended this one stuffed to the gills. All of the ladies had leftovers to take home and revisit or trip with the next day. I sat staring at an empty wrapper with no regrets to my gluttony. I know for a fact that we are promised no days on this earth, so why not eat my fill of greatness today because what if I can’t tomorrow? With that being said my friends, why wait another day? Go out to Churchill, park your car and walk (with hungry purpose) into The Dog & Pig Show. Order yourself something tasty. Then, once your tongue stops patting you on the back, tell me what you think. Until next time my faithful readers, may your shrimp be massive and your sandwiches of manwich proportions.