Hog & Hominy rocks seasonal cocktails, farm-fresh sides, and an innovative pizza menu.
Snagging a table near Hog & Hominy’s impressive brick oven isn’t always easy, especially on busy weekend nights when the energy of the place crescendos into an upbeat din. I visited the East Memphis restaurant three or four times before sitting close enough to watch Chef Trevor Anderson make pizzas, an almost contemplative ritual where he turns out some 200 pizzas every day.
From the start I was mesmerized by the dough, tossed hand-to-hand in quarter-turns, the parade of mise en place framed by filtered sunlight, and the red-oak logs, flicking flames into the far reach of the 950-degree oven. So was my husband, who clocked the pizzas’ cooking times.
“Just under three minutes,” he said, as Anderson swung a long-handled pizza peel from oven to plate.
Unlike my husband, the chefs at Hog & Hominy rely on skill and intuitive timing to make pizzas and meatballs in the wood-burning brick oven, built with repurposed bricks from the restaurant’s renovation. “With the pizzas, we are pretty much eyeing it,” said chef and co-owner Michael Hudman. “If we mess up, we start over.”
Hudman and boyhood pal Andrew Ticer opened the much-anticipated restaurant in mid-July, located down the street on Brookhaven Circle from its big sister, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen. True to its moniker, an early nickname for the state of Tennessee, this lively bar and bistro celebrates heritage-breed pork, seasonal ingredients, and the collaborative whims of chefs from both restaurants.
The lunch menu’s fried chicken sandwich, for instance, grew from a chat between chefs about how Chick-fil-A brines its chicken overnight. (Who knew?) They decided to try brining with the liquid leftover from the restaurant’s pickle relish.
We tried the chicken sandwich during our first visit for lunch, along with the shrimp BLT, a mix of shrimp, Benton bacon, basil, parsley, and thyme mixed in a light cream sauce and served on sourdough. A side of either house-made potato chips (excellent!) or compressed fruit came with each plate. I opted for fruit, an unexpected taste treat of cubed watermelon flavored with salt, chili pepper, and lime juice. The customers next to us got mango, similarly prepared.
For starters, we ordered an artful mound of vinaigrette salad made with tomatoes, fresh basil, local cucumbers, thinly sliced red onions, and cracked black pepper applied with generous turns. My husband selected the day’s chalkboard special: a white ceramic bowl filled with cream of mushroom soup, bacon leeks, and a drizzle of oil.
At both lunch and dinner, dishes are served family-style from an imaginative menu that can be off-putting for first-timers who might not know where to start. So here’s a tip: Think of the menu’s snacks as mini-appetizers, the plates as mini-meals, and the farm-fresh sides as vegetables to balance the plates.
A nice way to sample Chef Aaron Winter’s contorni menu is to toast the meal with house Negroni, hand-crafted by mixologist Nick Talarico and barrel-aged for six weeks. Share arancini with others at the table; these deep-fried risotto balls stuffed with mushrooms and sprinkled with Parmesan are irresistible, so get two orders. Next, try a house-made mortadella hot dog with a side of tarragon creamed corn, a Southern favorite updated with new ingredients.
Don’t skip dessert, especially if you order a warm and satisfying blackberry crostata. This type of Italian fruit tart is fashioned after a family recipe for bumbleberry pie and topped with crunchy almond crumble. Nutella, vanilla, or muscadine gelato served in glass tulip sundae dishes offer more sweet endings.
Some diners might be a little confused by the menu’s sprinkling of Italian words like barese, lardo, crudo, and Calabrese. But the expert staff at Hog & Hominy is more than happy to translate. They might even gently push you toward trying something new, like crispy head cheese in a pool of tomato and watermelon gazpacho with a fried-egg cap. (Yes, I was timid, but now I’m a believer.)
Pizzas are the backbone at Hog & Hominy, and the combinations are unique, especially for Memphis. They have no pepperoni and cheese pizza, but suspend judgment until sinking into the Iowa, a bright and cheerful pie made with sweet corn, leeks, cream, Taleggio cheese, mozzarella, and crispy bites of bacon.
I’ve pretty much eaten my way through Hog & Hominy’s eight pizza combinations and enjoyed them all except one: a pizza called the Gulf Coast with sliced squash, shrimp, and mussels. It was a little weird, even for me. Still, a single disappointment doesn’t dent my unabashed enthusiasm for Hog & Hominy’s gutsy menu where flavor trumps predictability every time. Add hip decor (polished cement floors, retro Tolix café chairs, and an outdoor Bocce court), classic cocktails, and two dozen whiskeys, and I’m more than happy to predict this: The new kid on the block is here to stay.