He and sous-chef Greg Schutt had just heaved a whole pig out of the China box stationed out on the patio of King’s Row Gastropub in Old Pasadena. The 74-pound porker lay splayed out on its platter with score marks all over his back and a light to golden to dark brown crispy skin. In the two years that Sunny has been getting up at 3 a.m. every third Thursday of the month to start the twelve-hour process of cooking the hog, he’d never succeeded in delivering a crispy crust. He took a knife, knocked on the skin in various places to gauge the hardness, then carefully cut out around a scored area and peeled off the skin, took a bite, offered another one to Greg, and the smiles on their faces said it all.
This month’s little Wilbur was anywhere from 1 to 2 years old and, as already stated, weighed 74 pounds. Three whole days prior to roasting, he was injected with a brine concoction: orange, lemon, coriander, rosemary, sage, fennel, and (oh, yeah) Hangers 24 Orange Wheat beer. Sunny admits that in his early days as pig roast master, he nervously kept an eye on the temperature gauge, calculating and recalculating the cooking time. But now he’s an old hand and knows his La Caja Asadora or China Pig Roast Box. The coals on a stainless steel grill placed on the top of the box, he says, creates the heat for the meat inside. The box acts like a convection oven. Sunny used to be anxious; now, he just lets the porker cook, for twelve hours.
The big reveal is 6 p.m. People quickly arrive to marvel at the size of dinner, taking a swig of beer and act like they see a pig—head and all—splayed out on a table on a regular basis. But this isn’t the islands, folks, so yes people do gawk a bit, seemingly deciding whether this is cool or revolting. Some women squealed, picked up their pace as they passed, using their hand as a shield from seeing more, but people were also pulled in from the walkthrough(Mercantile Place) by the wafting smell of roasted swine. They would pause, look, and ask questions. Some folks took note, smiled, complimented the chefs and went on their way, while some headed inside to buy the $15 ticket that allows for large helpings of King’s Row’s Crack Mac (very rich and a tad sweet), Greek salad (basic and basically delicious), and various parts of the hog.
As things wind down with the roast, Sunny said in somewhat hushed tones, usually around 9 o’clock, they will usually delve into the head with a few courageous, willing patrons joining them. Greg said they will serve the back of the neck meat , the tongue, and even the brain. He tried it—once—and said it had a very porky flavor, condensed and gelatinous, and almost richer than foie gras, a bit like liver pate. He didn’t mind it, but would prefer to take it home and “create” something with it, rather than eat it plain. His favorite part, he shared, is the muscle that moves the eyes and jawbone. They’re very small, two 1-ounce pieces, but they are incredible, he sighs. We smiled and said that we were already out past our curfew, so would not be able to partake in this ultimate event, much to our chagrin (ha!).
We did get to taste the meat from the “ham” part of the pig, which is basically his rump. Yum, good; the flavor of the herbs noticeable. And though the loin is Sunny’s favorite and very good, we had to agree with Greg that the belly meat was pretty spectacular—steaming and melting in our mouths like butter.
“Too rich,” Sunny said.
More for us, we thought (to ourselves).
We finished with a bite into a square of scored skin: a bit salty, definitely porky, and oh, so crunchy and crackly. If pig’s your thing, King’s Row’s pig roast is a helluva way to spend fifteen bucks. Advice: arrive early, no later than 5:30 so you can enjoy one of their 24 beers on tap, pay to get your pig roast ticket, and then find a seat out on the patio as close to the serving table as possible. Be first in line. Get your pig while it’s steaming…
King’s Row Gastropub
20 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91105
Open 7 days a week
Pig roast every 3rd Thursday of the month