The Ravenous Pig (https://www.theravenouspig.com/) has always been one of my favorite restaurants in Orlando for a special occasion. I started dating my wife in 2006 when I was a poor grad student just starting to work in libraries. Back in the beginning, we’d go out for burgers or Vietnamese food, or a special date night for us was the Cheesecake Factory or P.F. Chang’s. So perhaps just in time (especially for us), chef-owners James and Julie Petrakis opened the Ravenous Pig in 2007. It became one of Winter Park and Orlando’s hottest restaurants, and probably our first “gastropub.” The Petrakis’ ever-changing menu was always full of creative, beautiful dishes and elevated takes on beloved comfort foods made from locally-sourced ingredients. The service was impeccable, and the atmosphere was upscale, yet warm and welcoming, never formal or stuffy (two things I hate). Luxury gives me anxiety, anything too fancy seems like a betrayal of my stoic, down-to-Earth parents. But the Pig always made me feel like I belong there — at least once in a while, when we were celebrating something.
I took my now-wife there for a date shortly after it opened, feeling so cutting-edge hipster cool after reading a blurb about the Pig in Orlando Weekly. It almost felt like something clicked for me that night, changing me forever. Maybe the Ravenous Pig was my foodie origin story — my radioactive spider bite, my lightning and chemicals, my intrinsic field subtractor. That dinner — that menu! — made me think more about food, and where it came from, and all the cool and new things you could do with it. The Pig might have been the first restaurant of its kind I had been to as a dude in my late 20s used to canned tuna and sardines, ramen and spaghetti, and Fuddruckers for a real treat — a restaurant where even a burger and fries could be high art. And since then, we’ve had some memorable meals there, often shared with friends from near and far.
But along the way, with so many great new places to eat (some of them definitely inspired by the Petrakis’ successes), a few years had passed since our last visit to the Ravenous Pig. Flash back a year to February 2020, in those innocent, pre-pandemic days. We found ourselves out on the town the evening before Valentine’s Day, arguably a much better night to go out. We decided to treat ourselves to a romantic dinner date, knowing we’d stay in and law low the next night, and I’d prepare a nice dinner at home.
This was only our second visit to the Ravenous Pig’s “new” location on Fairbanks Avenue, across the street from Fiddler’s Green and Swine & Sons, even though they moved in a few years ago. I never noticed the hostess station was a card catalog-looking setup behind glass, which appealed to my librarian’s sense of aesthetics.
It’s a stunning space.
And they cure their own charcuterie in this climate-controlled case, which is always impressive! I consider myself a connoisseur of the salted, smoked, cured, and pickled.
We started out with an order of smoked wings ($9). Believe it or not, my wife is more of a wing eater than I am, but I knew the Ravenous Pig would have wondrous wings. It’s a wonder we had never tried them before, but it’s possible these particular wings were a newer offering, considering they change their menu often and we hadn’t been in a while. These were nice and juicy, with a crackly skin and a good smoke flavor that didn’t overpower the taste of the meat. They were seasoned with garlic, parmesan cheese, parsley, and Calabrian chiles — a kind of spicy pepper I am obsessed with. But even though these weren’t spicy, I liked these wings much more than she did, and ended up eating four out of the five.
Another thing my wife always loves is octopus. There are a few restaurants that make excellent octopus dishes, including long-time favorite Pizza Bruno, but this charred octopus ($32) definitely made the grade with her. The huge tentacles were firm and meaty, grilled to perfection. I admit I’m not the biggest octopus fan, because I’ve had tiny, shiny, slimy baby octopus a few times, and I just can’t get into those. This kind of preparation, with large char-grilled tentacles, is much better.
This Spanish-style octopus was served with the most excellent papas bravas (some of the finest fried potatoes I’ve ever had anywhere), a tomato-olive vinaigrette (I like tomatoes and she doesn’t; she likes olives and I don’t), and topped with an artistic swirl of paprika aioli that went perfectly with the papas bravas.
I was torn between a few choices, but since it had been so long since our last visit, I went with my old friend the Pub burger ($18). This is a contender for Orlando’s best burger. Some of the only ones that come close are from Orlando Meats, which I named one of my Top Five dishes of 2018 in Orlando Weekly, and a recent find at Alex’s Fresh Kitchen in Casselberry, which I listed in my Top Ten Tastes of 2020, also in Orlando Weekly. But the Pub burger is the granddaddy of them all. Cooked to a perfect medium rare and served on a fresh-baked, grilled brioche bun, it is topped with melty blue cheese (sometimes too pungent for me, but perfect in these proportions), with bibb lettuce, marinated red peppers, and crisp, house-cured pickle slices. I’ve written ad nauseam about my slow quest to appreciate pickles, and this gastropub made the first pickles I’ve ever liked, the first pickles to make me think “Mmmm, good” and not “Ew, gross!”The shoestring-style fries are usually truffle fries, but I’ve also written ad nauseam about mushrooms being my enemy, and that unfortunately includes truffles too. I guess I’m just not a fungi. On this visit last year, I had the foresight to ask our patient server Tanya to ask the kitchen to leave off the truffle oil or whatever truffle seasoning they use, and everyone came through for me. They were great, especially dipped in a little ramekin of garlic aioli that you know someone whips up fresh every day. I ate most of the fries first, because we all know how fries get cold quickly, especially the shoestring variety, and how sad cold fries are.
Close-up of that beautiful burg:
For dessert, we usually default to an assortment of the Ravenous Pig’s daily house-made ice creams and sorbets (three scoops for a very reasonable $6). Tonight my wife asked for a single scoop of their incredible chocolate ice cream made with cacao nibs ($2), which is so rich and deeply, darkly chocolatey, served over crispy crumbles of shortbread. It’ll have you calling out “CACAO! CACAO!”
But we couldn’t say no to the cheesecake ($8), a special for the special night out. The soft ricotta-based cheesecake was served with fresh grapefruit, a scoop of grapefruit sorbet, crunchy honeycomb-type things that got stickier as you chewed them, and a swirl of local honey. This was small, but rich, and we made every bite matter.
I want to reiterate that even though I try to publish a restaurant review every week, we’re not bougie people who go out to classy joints like the Ravenous Pig that often. But Valentine’s Day (or the night before it) is an opportunity to treat ourselves, and more importantly, treat each other. We chose the perfect place to do that treating exactly a year ago, so I saved this review to publish now, to give my constant readers, my Saboscrivnerinos, an idea for this looming V-Day. With the pandemic still raging, my wife and I still don’t feel comfortable dining in anywhere, so I haven’t made it back to the Pig since this visit, 364 days ago. But we look forward to an end to all of this, when everyone can get vaccinated and be safe to eat out again. All that time away makes our occasional visits to one of Orlando’s all-time best restaurants that much more meaningful, memorable, and magical. When the world gets safer, safe enough to go back out to eat again, I’m sure we’ll return to The Ravenous Pig and hopefully meet up with friends to celebrate still being alive, surviving and thriving together.