Every year, Scott and I treat each other to one very splurge-worthy dinner – bottle of wine, full meal, dessert. And because we both love our Cleveland restaurants, deciding where we’re going for these birthday dinners is usually a point of lengthy debate. However, this year I’ve known where I wanted to go — and what I wanted to order — for months. A new decade demands an extra-special meal and when I saw the Roasted Pig’s Head on Greenhouse Tavern‘s menu last Fall, my search was over.
The anticipation built over months and whenever the Pig’s Head came up in conversation with other Greenhouse Tavern fans (including Cleveland-raised, Wonder Woman scribe Brian Azzarello at this year’s C2E2), the one piece of advice I got was “Come hungry. And be prepared to share it with someone else.”
Armed with these words of wisdom, Scott and I got ready to head downtown on Saturday night for dinner at the Greenhouse. After briefly reviewing the menu (we pretty much knew what we wanted anyway), we ordered GHT’s Fifth Quarter, their Beef Tartare plate and – of course – the Roasted Pig’s Head.
Because of the heartiness of the dishes (and my red-wine allergy), our waiter Kevin recommended the 2009 Saintsbury Carneros Chardonnay, a reasonably priced bottle that offered up a rich texture and complement to the meal.
And since Scott’s preference for wine and beer runs to the sweet, light side, Kevin suggested a Luk Rose Cider for some pre-dinner sipping. It was a good pick for Scott, who thought it was easy on his tastebuds with a very balanced sweetness.
With our drinks in hand, we set about our first selection. Greenhouse Tavern’s Fifth Quarter is an always-changing special that features the tasty bits left in their kitchen.
Saturday night’s Fifth Quarter was a plate of duck meatballs and carrots done three-way. In addition to a somewhat-traditionally prepared carrot (I think braised, but I was so excited by the dish I forgot to note it), the plate also featured pickled carrot and a white carrot puree.
As delicious as the braised and pickled carrots were, it was the puree I couldn’t get enough of. There was a mild sweetness to it which was a refreshing contrast to the duck meatballs’ heartiness. Mixing a bite of the meatball with the puree and the cherry gastrique that dotted the plate was the most enjoyable taste of the dish.
Last year at an event for Dolce Gusto, I got to see how Chef Jonathon Sawyer and the GHT team prepare one of the highlights of their menu: their beef tartare. The fresh, hand-pressed patty of beef is accompanied by an egg, GHT’s frites, peppers, relish and onions, along with their mayo and Dijon mustard.
Because of the care that goes into this dish, any trip Scott makes to Greenhouse has to include it. So, despite the fact that we had already ordered a feast with the Fifth Quarter and Roasted Pig, we couldn’t pass on the tartare. As usual, the taste and texture were an excellent addition to the meal.
A quick note about the evening’s main attraction: As the menu and GHT’s team will remind you when you order it, it takes 30 minutes to prepare the Roasted Pig’s Head. Be sure to reserve this plate for a leisurely evening where you can enjoy a couple glasses of wine and the company of your friends.
Because trust me, as someone who has now conquered the Pig’s Head, the time you will wait is worth it. Greenhouse Tavern’s roasted pig’s head is an experience any pig-loving meat-eater needs to enjoy (and even if pork isn’t your favorite, give it a try because you just might be converted).
A silver platter comes to your table decked out with half a head cooked in a savory BBQ sauce, along with lime wedges, a vegetable salad and 2 brioche buns.
Another more obvious piece of advice – don’t wear white if the resulting splatters of BBQ I left on the tablecloth were any indication. This is a messy affair – not for the finicky or faint of heart.
Again, though, a little mess is completely worth it as you get to disassemble and enjoy all the different parts of the head. From crispy pork skin to the succulent fat, Scott and I were in a food coma from the richness.
Then there was the muscle underneath which was roasted into mind-blowingly tasty shreds of pork. All of it wowed, but the best bite – as pointed out by Kevin – is a small piece of meat located in the area behind the eye socket.
While Scott and I mostly tore through the head enjoying the meat on its own, I tried the pork out on a sandwich with a squeeze of lime and vegetables (which tasted like they had been dressed in a bit of vinegar). I recommend making an open-face sandwich so you don’t fill up too much on bread.
At Scott’s urging, we finished the meal off with an order of Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme. Greenhouse’s Pastry Chef Matt Danko was recently honored as one of Eater’s 16 “Young Guns” and this cup of custard-y goodness topped with caramel and sea salt is just one very good reason why.
While I thought that dessert and an order of Kitchen Coffee were the only ingredients remaining for an unforgettable evening, there was one surprise left.
I want to take this moment to thank our waiter Kevin. Beyond being very knowledgeable in pig disassembly and beverage recommendations, he was probably the friendliest and most patient host we’ve had during all our visits to Greenhouse.
And – best of all – he’s a Doctor Who and comics fan. After a couple glasses of wine, the topic of comic books came up and he shared that Marc, who was manning the host stand that evening, wrote comics. When I asked if it was Marc Sumerak, the Marvel geeks that Scott and I are couldn’t believe when Kevin said yes.
There are few things I love more than good food, and as I’ve blogged time and time and time again comic books are one of them. So when Marc Sumerak – whose run on Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius Scott and I are huge fans of – came over to our table to say hello, Greenhouse’s cool quotient went up just a bit more.
As a Clevelander, I have to give Sumerak a huge high-five because while many Cleveland comic book creators have moved away, the Eisner and Harvey Award nominated Sumerak returned after his time as an editor at Mavel.
Back in the Cleve, he spends his time freelance writing for different comic publishers, working on creator-owned books like All-Ghouls School, and giving back to the local comic book community through groups such as POP! The Comic Culture Club.
POP! is open to anyone who’s into or wants to learn more about comics (be they fans, retailers or professionals). The group meets twice a month at the Cuyahoga County Public Library’s Parma Heights Branch to share their love of the medium.
And don’t worry about getting into a throwdown over whether DC or Marvel is better, because as Sumerak explained to me, the group emphasizes a fun and respectful outlet for anyone who’s passionate about pop culture.
So cheers, Greenhouse Tavern, for rising to the occasion yet again.
I had been looking forward to this meal for almost a year and the praise that had been piled on for your Roasted Pig’s Head did nothing to capture how good it is – an experience that even Charlotte would be at a loss to weave the perfect words for.