Blame it on the onset of the winter chill or Game of Thrones thrills, but restaurants are going hog-wild for whole-animal dinners. From French Laundry-like cloth napkin establishments to pubs where your best pairing is a local beer, there’s everything from porcine pleasures to savory boar to make your next group gathering far from boring. This holiday season, grab a family and a few friends — and even more napkins — and dig in to these family-style whole animal feasts.
Kapnos, Washington, D.C.
It would be remiss for any Greek restaurant not to serve lamb, and Kapnos doesn’t disappoint. Executive chef and partner George Pagonis takes inspiration from his Greek heritage to offer Mediterranean-style, spit-roasted animals including lamb, goat, duck, chicken, and suckling pig. Chef Mike Isabella compliments the mains with sides including Brussels sprouts with candied pistachio and butternut squash, roasted cauliflower with feta, and gigandes beans with rainbow chard, kale, and slow-roasted tomato. It’s worth trying to save some room, though, for the signature wood-grilled octopus in the same oven that cooks up stone-baked Mediterranean flatbreads. Make a reservation at Kapnos.
Frontier, Chicago, Illinois
Ever wanted to try alligator or party like a member of the Blackhawks celebrating a Stanley Cup win? Then Frontier’s “Oregon Trail”-worthy menu is made for you. Think lamb or goat smoked whole over apple and cherry woods, Moulard duck roasted whole with cornbread and Andouille sausage stuffing, or yes, even alligator stuffed with fried chickens and roasted. A lot of the flavors pay homage to executive chef Brian Jupiter’s upbringing in New Orleans; he charms diners with Southern spices straight from his grandmother’s kitchen. Don’t worry if vegetarians are in your party — most side dishes are fit for non-meat-eaters (and those hockey players alike). Make a reservation at Frontier.
River Roast, Chicago, Illinois
It’s a feast for the eyes and stomach at River Roast, where the views of the Chicago River and downtown are matched by James Beard award-winning chef Tony Mantuano and executive chef John Hogan’s contemporary American fare. Fish, meat, and veggies are roasted and carved tableside. Some of the biggest hits include a locally caught fresh fish served crispy or fire-roasted with Mediterranean chips and a whole-roasted chicken served up warm and homey for a Sunday supper with friends or family. Whatever your meal is, pair it up with a selection of local beers and inventive craft cocktails imbued with the splendors from two slow-drip infusion towers. Make a reservation at River Roast.
Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, Las Vegas, Nevada
Vegas is all about going big or going home, which makes Bazaar Meat apropos far beyond the Strip steak. Outfitted by renowned designer Philippe Starck to include a playful alligator trophy head and artfully rustic antler chandelier, the setting is just right for what James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés calls the “heart and soul” of the menu: the 9-11 lb. suckling pig. Drawing from Andrés’ Spanish roots, the signature dish is nested in a Spanish cazuela and roasted in a wood-fired oven for a crispy skin and juicy interior. Served with ensalada mixta, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, add-on sides include a variety of vegetables such as grilled baby corn, grilled asparagus, roasted leeks, Catalan spinach, and perfectly prepared potatoes such as Relmonico, Robuchon, straw, and pommes paillasson. Make a reservation at Bazaar Meat by José Andrés.
The Frog and Peach, New Brunswick, New Jersey
The site of a former large-scale manufacturing firm, it’s only appropriate that Frog & Peach would serve up large-format meals. Executive chef and owner Bruce Lefebvre’s options are tailored to the celebration for seven or more guests and include duck, chicken, salmon, or the pièce de résistance — the slow-roasted suckling pig. Each menu comes with three appetizers served family-style and local veggies whenever possible; Tomato and Charred Avocado Salad, black truffle ricotta gnocchi with bacon and summer squash, Jersey corn succotash, and Jersey tomato with feta are just some examples from the late summer menu. If you’re wondering, they do not (currently) serve frog’s legs, but the name came instead from a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore sketch routine about a restaurant that only served the amphibian and fruit. Make a reservation at The Frog and Peach.
Ford’s Filling Station, Los Angeles, California
Chocolate cake with a side of bacon — what could be better? Chef Ben Ford’s got the answer with whole-hog dinners for parties of 10 or more. The advance notice of 8-10 days may appear high maintenance, yet the space is anything but in this comfy American gastropub. Ford brings one of his favorite ways to entertain at home to the masses with tail-to-snout grub including a whole pig brined, roasted, and prepared in some creative ways — pig head salad with headcheese, pickled tongue and crispy ears with Calabrian chile, bourbon maple-glazed belly with apple slaw, and the whole pig with side dishes like pan-roasted black kale. And, of course, there’s a chef’s choice dessert to pair the savory with the sweet. Make a reservation at Ford’s Filling Station.
Carley Thornell is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at email@example.com.
Photo credits: Galdones Photography (River Roast).