Wine and Swine: The Tavern in Tulsa Sets the Standard for any Pig Roast.

By on April 23, 2015

 

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There’s something peculiarly primal about a group of men roasting a whole pig and eating it. It’s a heady combination of bloodlust and camaraderie that you’d expect to encounter in one of those remote and primitive corners of the world where every bright red sunrise seems like the eighth day of creation.

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And that’s where I first found it, decades ago at a dot in the map called Wenabubaga smack in the center of the sprawling tropical island of New Guinea. Pigs were killed, cut up and butchered, and hundreds of half-crazed naked tribesmen waited none too patiently for their share of the bloody leaf-wrapped meat.

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I was reminded of all this when I arrived at the Tavern one recent evening, and saw a very civilized outdoor dining scene — tables with starched linen and gleaming cutlery, the downtown Tulsa skyscrapers gleaming in the background — and, over in one corner, five of Oklahoma’s finest chefs gathered around a huge smokey grill. Though they’d been working nonstop since 7:30 that morning, basting the pig more or less continuously, there was a strange excitement in the air.

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I got to talking with a chef named Fleischfresser. (And how appropriate! The word in German means someone so crazed with meat-lust that he rips open the carcass and devours it half-raw and bloody.) But Kurt Fleischfresser is the grand old guru of Oklahoma cooking. “You always talk about the renaissance in Tulsa cuisine,” said Trevor Tack, himself one of the ne plus ultras of Okie chefdom. “Well, meet the man responsible!” And this even though Kurt’s restaurant, the Coach House, is in Oklahoma City. Kurt is more of a quiet intellectual type than his name suggests. I tell him about the pig feast in New Guinea and he wants to know the climate, terrain and vegetation of the area so he can deduce what kind of meat the pigs have. (Not very fatty is his guess.)

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If you’re having a pig feast, the pig’s breed and diet are a very important factor. There are two kinds of pigs, says South Carolina food writer Jeff Allen. “There is the kind of pork that you buy in the grocery store, raised in horrid containment facilities, and then there is heritage pork, old varieties bred for flavor and resilience rather than economy and yield. One bite will be all you need to know the considerable difference.”

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The pig we’re about to devour is a heirloom Berkshire hog from a family farm near Bartlesville. That’s the royalty of heritage pork. (Literally so, since it’s a descendant of the royal herds of the King of England.) “To me, Berkshire Pork is the Kobe beef of the pork world,” says one Chicago chef.

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And there it is, the huge pig, its skin lacquered, smooth and gleaming like mahogany, lounging in its place of pride at the head of a long buffet table. Trevor and Kurt are expertly carving the slick, juicy meat as Ben Alexander gives the side dishes a quick final stir.

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Those side dishes are served buffet-style and though I want to save room for the pork, I can’t resist loading my plate with baked beans and bacon, grilled spring onion, kale with ham, and Ben’s famous street corn.

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Though it’s still winter, the kale and the mustard green salad are fresh, grown in the greenhouses of west Tulsa’s Scissortail Farms. There’s also pulled pork Carolina style (from another pig I think) and it’s excellent. “And you gotta try that tomato chutney!” Trevor calls out. I do. It’s sensational.

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But it’s the pork that’s the star of the show and I load my plate with meat from the shoulder, the loin, the snoot, the trotter. The texture is unparalleled. Pork is usually dry. This is the opposite of dry. Thanks to a high fat content and even more to the skill with which it was cooked (with Trevor spending hours standing by the meat and basting it every few seconds), it is the essence of tender porkiness. And yes, it was very primal.

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And finally, a quick work on the wine part of “Wine and Swine”. When you close your eyes and picture a pig roast most people typically think about standing in your friends back yard drinking a beer.

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The wine element and white table cloth experience outside in the Brady District is what makes this event so uqinquely enjoyable in Tulsa.  The pours were generous, the flavors bold enough to stand up to rich pork, and the winemaker as affable as one could be.

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This year The Tavern invited winemaker Justin Harmon from Argot Wines to bring the vino to the party, what a great choice it was!  The Tavern proudly declares that this is their favorite event of the year, and once you attend one you’ll know exactly why that is true. 

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Brian Schwartz

About Brian Schwartz

Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola. “A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.

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