By Gretchen Kurtz
By Mark Antonation
By Cafe Society
By Kristin Pazulski
By Chris Utterback
By Cafe Society
By Jamie Swinnerton
By Jamie Swinnerton
Play a game with me. I promise it won't take long.
Say you're dying. Say, for comfort's sake, that all the crap you learned in Sunday school or Hebrew school or wherever is true. Your god is a god of love and mercy and forgiveness, but has a wicked sense of humor. And there, on your deathbed, your god presents you with a choice: one restaurant, for all of eternity. It'd be like living in a small town in the Midwest, except that you get to pick the joint.
What would it look like? What would it have behind the bar, on the tables and, most important, on the menu? Remember: This is it for a bajillion years. Consider carefully.
I know the smart answer would be some kind of fantastical French or Spanish cafe with a menu that changes daily, dependent on what the angelic chef can pull from god's garden, poach from his back forty. The wine list would be packed with nothing but the best bottles of history: war-year Lafite, 1945 Cheval Blanc, Rothschild bordeaux. Escoffier should cook, seconded by Loiseau, with Ripert on fish (even though he's not dead) and James Beard handling the mashed potatoes, roasted chicken and cookies. Add a sushi bar in the back, a confiserie in front, plunk the whole thing inside a strip club and you're golden. Every night would start with an icy glass of '99 Perrier-Jouët and end with a brief rain shower of chocolate truffles and a lap dance.
A good answer — and one I might've given out of simple reflex until recently — would be a truck-stop cafe, open all night and staffed by the best egg-and-fryer men in the business, with fresh pie baked every day by the world's greatest grandma, chicken-fried steak and grits, corned beef hash. The waitresses would all be sardonic, hard and faded-rose pretty. The grillman would be wise. There'd be a smoking section, of course. And at night, long after the regulars have gone home, Tom Waits and Mickey Rourke and Bukowski and Elvis would show up for sandwiches and a couple hands of no-limit hold 'em.
But both those answers have problems. In time, I know the French place would get to me and I'd panic for two fingers of cheap whiskey and a hot dog. And within the first thousand years, I'm sure I'd get my dead ass thrown out of the diner for showing up without pants or picking a fight with Mickey Rourke over Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man or, really, any movie he did in the '90s. I'd hit on the wrong waitress and get shanked by the jealous Filipino busboy in the parking lot.
And, in time, I'd grow bored of the food no matter what was on the menu. A man — even a dead man — can only eat so many plates of corned beef hash or sole meuniere before he goes a little wrong in the head, having sweaty dreams of Vietnamese pho and breakfast burritos and cornbread.
But it occurs to me that there's one food, one perfect food, of which I would never grow weary. One miraculous food that lends itself to nearly any presentation and selflessly elevates everything it touches. One food from an animal that I, an atheist, have difficulty reconciling with my godless worldview because it is so perfect and so obviously put here by a wise and generous higher power to make all us hairless monkeys happy forever.
That animal is the pig. That food is pork, in all its glorious incarnations. And now The Berkshire has me seriously reconsidering my notions of dining in the sweet whatever-after.
The Berkshire, which Andy Ganick opened in December in Stapleton, is all about the pig. It's named, of course, after the most famous of the heritage breeds. Its decor is piggish though not cutesy — focusing mainly on the repeated motif of the restaurant's logo, a big, tusked and leaping Berkshire hog. There are quotes from famous thinkers (Churchill, Twain and, yes, Elvis) sketched onto the walls, mostly dealing with eating pig or drinking. Near the door, there's a rotary slicer, polished to a bright sheen and used in full view of the floor to deconstruct the bagged and laced meats hanging nearby into beautiful, thin slices of hog. And the menu?
The menu is like something out of my sickest, most indulgent food fantasies: all pig, all the time. Pig for lunch, pig for brunch (a plate of bacon and a can of Pabst as the house "hangover special"), pig for dinner and a little pig in between. Almost every plate on the menu has pork worked into it somehow, and I think that if he could get away with it, Ganick would even garnish the bar's cocktails with pig: a plug of pork belly shoved into the neck of my Corona in place of a lime, a little twist of pork rind depending precariously from the lip of a martini. As it is, the bar does offer bacon-infused vodka.
My first visit to pig nirvana was almost accidental. I'd thought about going somewhere else, but stumbled across a Berkshire menu and immediately canceled all plans. I called Laura. "Pig restaurant," I said. "Get dressed."