It’s a very crazy time to start a new job,” says Tracy O’Grady. She was supposed to begin her tenure at Green Pig Bistro at the end of March. “Then COVID hit,” she recalls. She instead started in April, doing takeout exclusively and remaking the kitchen “from scratch.”
Longtime Arlingtonians will likely recognize O’Grady’s name. She was chef-owner at Willow, about 3 miles from Green Pig, for a decade before it closed in 2015. Between her time at Willow and Green Pig, O’Grady and her husband, Brian Wolken, owned Campono in the Watergate complex in DC. They closed the restaurant when the Kennedy Center began canceling shows due to the pandemic.
Longtime fans of Ballston neighborhood haunt Green Pig will still find old favorites like Buffalo pork ribs, but many have been retooled. For example, the fried chicken biscuit has a new base. O’Grady admits that she didn’t think the old biscuit was amazing, so she tweaked it. The new version is a square of light, buttery dough that’s by turns crisp and flaky. It even withstands the saucy deluge of honey and homemade hot sauce that makes the crunchy piece of fried chicken between the layers both sweet and spicy.
The biscuit is a great way to start a meal, far better than the crispy goat cheese and quinoa cakes, which are lighter on flavor than they sound. Peaches and a seemingly unseasoned yogurt sauce do nothing to repair matters. A better choice is to share a pan of macaroni and cheese.
O’Grady has added three original mac recipes to the menu, including pulled pork and seafood versions. But purists will love the five-cheese mac. The first distinction is the garganelli pasta, which is made from scratch by O’Grady and her team. It’s the first element in what she plans to be a robust homemade pasta program. The cheesy sauce includes smoked Gouda, both white and yellow cheddars, Gruyere and Parmesan, each of which contributes its own unique characteristics. It’s not a mish mash; diners will actually taste every cheese. The miniature skillet in which it comes in is baked just before it’s served, leaving an appealing crust.
The garganelli and biscuits aren’t the only carbs that are homemade. Brioche burger buns—sturdy, shiny specimens—are griddled in order to best bolster the patty of Virginia Black Angus. If the burger is cooked over its requested temperature, it’s not a major tragedy, but in this case, the bacon cheeseburger, stacked with crispy bacon, cheddar and smoked Gouda, and spread with homemade sauce, was a bit dry overall. Fries are still inconsistent. On one visit, they were soggy and brown. The next time I tried them, they were crisp and salty outside, soft and subtly sweet within. The second time, they came with the Perfectly Porked Panini, which was also on the dry side, despite a filling of both porchetta and smoked pork shoulder with a surprising addition of charred broccoli.
In general, I had more success with plated entrees than sandwiches. A pork porterhouse (since replaced by a center-cut chop), was also slightly dry, but the tangy smoked pork and mustard jus that dressed it did wonders to enliven everything it touched. That included a fun three-bean ragout, a bit like a cassoulet, but with crisp haricot verts included in the mix. Even the gooey, savory cornbread and cheddar bread pudding benefited from the panache of the sauce.
The best of the entrees is a hanger steak, a cut that I would usually expect to see with fries, a sauce and little else. But O’Grady makes it interesting with a Latin-style spice rub and red chimichurri to match. The sauce combines roasted red peppers, chipotle, cumin and red wine vinegar, a vivid combination that could brighten up practically any dish. But the truth is, each element on the plate speaks for itself, whether it’s a crispy black bean and bacon cake or buttery, grilled corn on the cob.
One of O’Grady’s other pet projects has been revising the dessert menu. “One of the big things that attracted me to this job is we make everything in-house,” she says. At press time, that included a menu of sweets that boasted eight options. They range from the soft, likably saline salted chocolate chip and toffee cookie to the Key lime pie that’s sized for two or three people. The highlight is an oven-hot, soft bread pudding that’s flavored with white chocolate and dotted with tangy dried cherries. Squiggles of caramel decorate the scoop of vanilla ice cream top, along with crunchy flakes of cereal. It’s a bonanza of flavors, textures and temperatures.
Another contender is the molten chocolate tart. The intensely chocolaty pastry is only slightly sweet, a sophisticated dessert that’s served warm. The problem? Only a chocolate chip’s worth of the center was molten. The overcooked tart should have melted into the vanilla ice cream on the side. If it had, it would have been a grown-up delight. But it was an attempt that didn’t quite land.
But I trust O’Grady to continue to refine her menu and her techniques. Just weeks after I tasted her food, I saw major changes to the bill of fare. She is watching closely to see what works and what doesn’t. Before long, she’ll make Green Pig the destination it deserves to be, beyond its current status as a local hangout. // 1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington; Open daily for dinner, brunch is served on Saturday and Sunday; Appetizers: $4-$16; Entrees: $15-$32; Desserts: $8-$16.
A collection of cookbooks and chef’s knives is fun, but keep your eye on the open kitchen for the real entertainment.
Five-cheese mac, fried chicken biscuit, hanger steak
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