Since the tsunami of pork belly, fried pigs ears and chocolate-covered bacon began washing over the food scene, I’ve been a little pigged out. But Swine has renewed my love of the other white meat.
The place practically squeals. What’s not made of salvaged barn wood is covered in maple-tanned leather, and cords of chopped oak stacked to the ceiling feed the smoker out back. You can smell the smoke from blocks away in downtown Coral Gables, an unlikely place to be breathing burning wood mixed with seared flesh.
The look may be down-home, but this barbecue joint exudes a rustic elegance. When is the last time you wiped your messy hands with a cloth napkin after eating crispy, burnt Black Angus ends? And the well-trained staff couldn’t be more competent or enthusiastic.
The only issue I have is with the no-reservation policy. With only 100 seats upstairs and down, an hour and a half wait on weekends is the norm. And then there’s the blasting soundtrack, which ranges from Led Zeppelin to Bo Didley and can be a bit nerve-jangling.
But food this good is worth putting up with a lot. While standing three deep at the bar, you can study the impressive list of bourbon-centric cocktails, oenophile-friendly wines and sudsy choices ranging from light lagers to hearty ales. When is the last time you washed down juicy baby-backs with a bottle of 1996 Margaux or a grand cru Montrachet? There are plenty of fine bottles for under 50 bucks, too.
And, while you might assume this is no place for dieters or vegans, there are options for them and their gluten-free pals. A garden of green salads gets a good dose of cream, butter and/or bacon, but the accommodating kitchen will customize anything. A fantastic wood-grilled whole local fish, the forager’s plate of wild mushrooms and a squash casserole dotted with crispy kale and spiked with sherry agrodolce are as light as spa fare.
A Caesar piled with strings of smoky pork shoulder is one of my favorite salads of the year. The kale salad was unmanageable with its palm-sized leaves and acidic cider dressing, but hunks of Cheddar, alcohol-soaked raisins and crisp pieces of tangy apple compensated.
The Swine chili with slabs of smoky poblanos and pieces of brisket as soft as the trio of beans is worth a trip on its own. In fact, anything with the word “brisket” in it belongs on your table. There’s the amazing burger with a mix of brisket, pork and short rib meat as well as sliders and a sandwich complemented by briny pickled onions, fresh-grated horseradish and a tangy molasses barbecue sauce. The meat cooks all day and is covered in a spicy black dry rub that ought to be sold at the door.
Shrimp and grits are as good as any I’ve had in the deep South, made here with springy pink shrimp from our own coast, crispy squares of Virginia ham and smooth, buttery, stone-ground grits shipped in from South Carolina.
Southern fried chicken is as tasty as it is at Swine’s South Beach sister, Yardbird, and so is the moist, crumbly corn bread.
Sides receive just as much care. Mac and cheese made with thick pasta the shape of curly-cued pig tails and swathed in a creamy mix of cheeses is topped with a crispy herb crust and, bacon, too. Stewed green beans are cooked with a salty ham hock and strewn with crispy shoestring onions, while charred brussels sprouts are simultaneously sweet and tangy with green apple bits and bacon vinaigrette.
Desserts by the talented Max Santiago are as over the top as the rest of this indulgent menu. All are worth a try, especially an exemplary red velvet cake, but the Sticky Icky Bun might be my favorite. It’s a French toast of a cinnamon-swirled bread in a pool of bourbon-spiked toffee-maple syrup with sweet potato ice cream and strips of candied, crisp-as-chips bacon.
Email Victoria at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesceE.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.