Winter Park gem hits all the right notes
I was a huge fan of The Smiths. Like bangs-to-my-chin, you’re-incapable-of-understanding-my-pain, dopey mopey huge. As with many an early Smiths fan, I felt a deep sense of ownership. The Smiths were my band, I and I alone discovered them, and they played to an audience of one – me. Every new adolescent depressive that hopped aboard the Steven Patrick Morrissey fanwagon felt like a piece of my identity being ripped away. What can I say? Kids suck and wee me was no exception.
I half promised myself I’d never write a review about Swine & Sons. I’ve been jamming to “Swine” for years and it’s always felt like an under-the-radar groove that I’d be happy to see remain under the radar. Pragmatically speaking, it’s also long done well and I had little interest in peppering any more awkward atop what can already be slightly awkward communal dining. So, what changed? Their trajectory. Just as I was forced to regrettably acknowledge that The Smiths would soon belong to the world, I’ve come to realize that Swine and Sons will soon belong to all of Orlando. Sellouts! I know, I know – Swine & Sons is no secret. The cat’s been out of the bag for quite some time. Most local foodie folk revere it. But the cat’s now running wild. I sense more and more destination diners dithering between its chocolate chip and oatmeal cream pie cookies, more social buzz, and there’s – god forbid – expansion plans south of downtown (more HERE).
If you’re an Orlando food scenester, you likely know that Swine & Sons recently moved into the mini-food hall that is Winter Park’s The Local Butcher & Market (more HERE). The old location adjacent to Ravenous Pig is now something I believe is called Dr. Happy’s Shiny Mouth Bones. Although ‘older stuff’ always rocks harder, I’m totally down with the new space. Fellow lodger Da Kine Poke is a solid purveyor of poke stuff, the Local Butcher boys haven’t missed a beat from former Meat House ownership, and I can now window shop bratwurst while waiting for my meal.
No need for a deep-dive history lesson, but worth noting that Swine & Sons has long been associated with Orlando’s much-loved gastro-pioneer, Ravenous Pig. Ravenous and Swine both fell under the ownership of the Swine Family Restaurant Group before Swine’s operational partners Alexia and Rhys Gawlak bought the brand and picked up sticks.
Food wise, Swine & Sons offers counter-order sandwiches and salads, charcuterie, and catering. They do all of it extremely well. Adjectives? Belly friendly. Soul satisfying. ‘Southerny’ in all the good ways and none of the bad. I grew up in the Carolinas and spent years dancing between fish camps, BBQ joints, greens, beans and fried things. There’s a lot to like about Southern food and a lot to run away from screaming. Skim off the yummy kitsch and Ambrosia Salad and Moon Pies are awful, people. (Cheerwine and crisped livermush? Fantastic).
Swine & Sons takes some of the best Dixie bits and adds a dash of unexpected to morph them into eats just skewed enough to mesmerize. Chilaquiles (from the deep south, $10), or what we call ‘breakfast nachos,’ are down-homed with pulled pork. A tender-as-can-be kalbi-marinated beef sandwich ($14) finds some soul with collard kimchi and Duke’s mayo. We’re talking eclectic, southern-influenced eats in a casual-as-can-be atmosphere set to a soundtrack of Bowie and Nirvana.
I’ve been eating at Swine & Sons a couple times a month for many years and have a number of favorite plates; Cobb Salad, Crispy Hot Chicken, Avocado Toast, the Southern Cuban sandwich, the… you get it. I always walk away happy. In server-speak, “It’s all special.” Rare is the resto that never slings a dud, but across countless meals we’ve yet to be disappointed. The small kitchen exhibits a level of quality, consistency and attentiveness that shouts passion for great grub. As a recent collab with popup darling Bangkrak Thai Street Kitchen attests, it’s a kitchen that is also relentlessly adventurous – there’s always a new wrinkle to explore. Case in point – Lettuce Wraps ($10) with crispy clams, pickled onions, roasted tomatoes, and a chorizo xo sauce recently made a menu debut.
Let’s dish details. I’ve formed a bit of an addiction to the Cobb Salad ($9+). Whenever I find myself on carb-watch, I find myself hovering creepily over it. Bell & Evans chicken added atop mixed lettuces, smoked pecans, tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, blue cheese, and avocado with a buttermilk vinaigrette. A heap o’ freshness that eats like a meal. Munch, on the other hand, swears by the Florida Shrimp Roll ($11); Key West pink shrimp, fennel, frisee, citrus segments, fines herbs, and citrus vinaigrette. Deliciously clean and balanced but with operating instructions – eat it in. The roll can get mushy when taken out.
All-day, everyday breakfast items are fab, but the weekend breakfast menu is where it’s at. It features weekend-only plates like the calories-for-a-day Grit Bowl ($9; burnt ends, cheese grits, chow chow, fried egg, avocado, pork rinds) as well as the occasional delicious curveball of a special like a Deviled Crab Benedict with Grilled Asparagus, Lake Meadow Farm Egg, & Bearnaise Sauce on Millet Toast.
Advice for first timers: dip your tongue in the water with Swine & Sons’ more time-tested menu items. The Avocado Toast ($10) is among the best I’ve ever had and I spent most of the last decade in ‘yummy mummy’ London neighborhoods. It’s a sprawling chorus of greenery topped by a soft-boiled egg and buoyed by outstanding house-cured bacon.
If your taste buds like to travel deep, deep south we’d also point you to the Pimento Cheese & Pork Rinds ($8 and a good table sharer). The cheese is house made. The pork rinds are bbq spiced. It’s drizzled in hot honey and it’ll melt your brain.
A Crispy Hot Chicken($12.50) sandwich is a glorious mess and highly recommended; Bell & Evans chicken, hot spiced pickles, and white BBQ sauce – all on buttered bread. Don’t be an amateur. Hands do not touch napkins until after the sandwich has disappeared.
What else, what else? Very good house made pickles and kettle chips make for winning sammy sides. There’s a tightly focused but solid selection of wine and soft cocktails as well as a rotating range of craft beer. The Dibon cava ($6/glass) or a Bicyclette ($7) of Capelletti, cava and orange, are both fine fuel for a boozy brunch or lunch. Finally, staff and setting are equally laid back and approachable, making for an easy vibe that’s easy to like.
On my most recent visit, I found myself sitting between a laptop-tapping beverage rep and an amorphous blob of twittering beards and tattoos. Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Lips like Sugar” played softly while the kitchen worked itself out of the weeds. It was crowded but comfy crowded. Patrons casually loitered, shopped around the market, chatted with other diners. I’d come to eat one of the few things I’d yet to try – a riff on the classic Turkey Club ($12) that’s been on the menu since day one. Like much of the food, it’s traditional with a twist: smoked turkey, tasso ham, avocado, malt aioli, arugula, toasted millet bread and tomato jam. And like everything else, it fucking rocks.
So, a final bit of real. Tomato jam? That’d be ketchup. Yams? Spray-tanned sweet potatoes. Polenta’s just Italian grits, cornmeal-fried okra will cure what ails ya, and you’ve probably never heard of it, but I’ve discovered this groovy little joint called Swine & Sons with some of the hottest hitting southern plates in town. You what? You’re already a fan? You know all the words to Crispy Hot Chicken and Chilaquiles? You saw them perform off-menu jams at Beard in Baldwin back in ‘18? Damnit.