Labor Day, the holiday celebrated across the country by Americans who grind through the persistent workday, has on its side many reasons to partake in excessive drinking and relaxing. From not working on a weekday to taking advantage of the last days of summer, it’s rarely difficult to justify bad behavior on Labor Day weekend. That said, I feel more than justified in my indulgence at the newest reason to celebrate Labor Day: Pig Island.
For those of you not privy to the details behind Pig Island, let me explain. On Saturday, September 1, 25 New York City top chefs gathered on Governor’s Island to commit various vegetarian crimes against 80 pigs and feed the masses with their work. In addition to the massive quantities of pork that were grilled, shredded and barbecued using various methods, Pig Island’s designers did not fail to realize that New York is a place for drinking.
Sixpoint served as the main alcohol provider with three different kinds of locally brewed beers on tap at various stations throughout the event. So as not to offend non-beer drinkers, myself included, Pig Island also served a variety of ciders and New York State wines. I can’t attest to the quality of the cider, as it quickly ran dry, much to my disappointment. Thankfully, the Riesling offered at one booth more than quenched my thirst, and I can only gather based on the numerous kegs of Sixpoint delivered as refills that the beer drinkers on the island had no complaints.
Though the various intoxicating beverages were obviously appreciated, it is impossible to forget the “reason for the season.” As a Texas girl in New York City, the prospect of dining on delicious BBQ in my new tri-state area was a bit of a joke. I was raised on red meat drowned in red sauce, and New York “ain’t got nothin’ on Texas meat.” Thanks to Pig Island, I now know that isn’t necessarily true. It’s just well-hidden here.
With such high standards for barbecued meat, it was unlikely that all 25 chefs would impress me with their culinary skills in relation to pork. Some samples were acceptably tasty, but I will admit that I took no more than one chew of others. I’m even surprised to say that Dinosaur BBQ didn’t come close to my grandfather’s recipe. Luckily, the hint of sweet onion in the sauce saved my impression of the renowned restaurant, but it was definitely not my favorite.
The cream of the crop title goes to Peter Giannakas at Ovelia Psistaria Bar, a Hellenic grill based in Astoria, NY. While the pulled pork on pita was worth going back for, the rotisserie style pork took the cake, hands down as the most mouth-watering, flavorful, well-seasoned meat at the event. Without shame, I literally asked the cook to marry me. To my dismay, he ignored the question entirely, prompting me to launch into a pork binge. As they say on the ever popular Twitter, sorry, not sorry.
Though Ovelia was absolutely the most delicious concoction at Pig Island, Brooklyn’s Fort Reno BBQ was a ridiculously close second, and as far as actual barbecued pork goes, Fort Reno holds the gold. Featuring shredded pork sliders on sweet Hawaiian rolls with DIY BBQ, Fort Reno gave me yet another reason to be thankful for my move to Brooklyn. I will not admit how many of these sliders I ate throughout the course of the day, but I will state that the chef, Jacques Gautier, and I are now acquainted.
Among other chefs represented at the festival, Sam Barbieri from Waterfront Ale House and Fuhgeddabout It BBQ also made an impression with his smoked hog pulled to order, and Gautier’s Palo Santos enjoyed a rather lengthy line as well.
For some, the main event at Pig Island may very well have been what seems to have become America’s new favorite “gotta try”: chocolate covered bacon. The line for this “delicacy” was so long that many people dismissed the idea altogether or sent friends in. Since 2012 is my year without fried foods, I unfortunately can’t comment on the goodness of this treat.
Post-consumption of all this delectable food, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the majority of the Pig Islanders present desired absolutely nothing more than a nap or a short residence in a seated position. Unfortunately for some, the seating was rather limited at the event, with a small number of wooden picnic tables sprinkled throughout the area. While some were blessed with enough foresight to bring blankets for food-coma napping, it was clear that this thought either hadn’t crossed everyone’s mind or some participants weren’t able to accommodate the bringing of blankets, leaving several bloated eaters to wander about the island without respite.
Other shortages included Grown-up Soda, the delicious soda with less sugar than your average canned soda and water, that oh-so-necessary ingredient that isn’t potable on Governor’s Island. For a certain blogger, lack of water resulted in a near death experience that did not end until I was able to purchase water at a grocery store near the ferry landing in Brooklyn.
Despite the lack of sufficient cider, water, GuS beverages and seating options, Pig Island was most definitely the best way I’ve spent a Saturday afternoon in a very long time. Would I do it every Saturday if given the option? Yes. Would I be so obese after a few months I wouldn’t even be able to board the ferry anymore? Probably. Would it be worth it? Duh.