by Torrey Douglass
Photos by Mimi Giboin
Janelle Weaver grew up next to a lake in Southern Michigan. Seven days a week, three times a day, her mother cooked meals for “the ladies”—six residents living with them who needed extra care because of illness or age. Janelle and her little brother grew up pulling fish out of the lake, trekking veggies in from the garden, and canning in the fall. She learned early that the best ingredients can be right outside your kitchen door.
So it makes sense that today finds Janelle cooking in her own restaurant, The Bewildered Pig, down in Anderson Valley’s Deep End (just south of Navarro). Janelle and partner/landscape designer Daniel Townsend strive to give “a premium experience without pretension” in a space where “flip flops are ok, but you also want to come back to celebrate your ten year anniversary.” Servers are expected to treat guests like the friends or family of someone close to their heart. Come as you are—all are welcome. (Like church, but with better snacks.)
Inside, a mix of elements capture the Pig’s eclectic style of 19th Century Hunting Lodge meets French Country Farmhouse meets Middle English Pub. An antique farming poster in ornate gold frame, old wooden apple drying trays, weathered cleavers and cast iron pans all decorate the plain white walls. (For me it’s the cast iron that really makes an impact. Throw in some touches that are black, spiky, and dangerous looking, and you’ve got my attention.)
And then there’s the food. The thing you need to know about the food is this: when Janelle says “local”, she means it. Rose sorbet is flavored with essence derived from the rose outside the door. Greens come from Blue Meadow Farm down the road, fish is wild caught by Princess Seafood in Fort Bragg, even some of the dishware comes from the Pot Shop run by Alex Moyer outside of Philo. This is not someone who makes sure their crate of tomatoes was grown somewhere in California so they can slap “local” on the menu. This is local food for real.
The emphasis on local sourcing is reflected in The Pig’s experience with Frank Hartzell of Guthrie Ranch. Just outside of Fort Bragg, Frank grows an impressive variety of hard-to-find heritage poultry, and his deliveries contain birds of various sizes. It’s hard to serve a uniform cut of meat when one piece comes from a partridge-sized bird and another from a turkey impersonator, so initially Janelle asked Frank to send birds of similar weights. She withdrew the request, however, after realizing that prioritizing uniformity was one cause of the industrialization of poultry production and lack of breed variety common today. She didn’t want to be part of that.
Rather than specify the bird weight Frank would deliver, Janelle got her culinary creativity cracking. She created a double dish that doesn’t rely on serving the bird in discreet pieces. Dish One is a pan-seared boudin sausage made from the bird’s breast and puréed with eggs, cream, and lemon zest. Dish Two features cured dark meat with seasonings, slow cooked in duck fat and compressed in the pan, sliced and seared before serving. A pretty delicious solution.
Prior to coming to Anderson Valley Janelle worked at Kuleto Estate, a largely self-sufficient farm and winery founded by San Francisco restaurateur, Pat Kuleto. Besides a small selection of wines, the property produced its own olive oil, boasted a fish pond, extensive vegetable gardens, two acres of fruit trees, and a variety of livestock. As executive chef, Janelle’s job was to feed Kuleto and his family, and put together food and wine pairings for the winery throughout the week, all with the bounty provided by the estate. She lived in an uninsulated redwood cabin on the property and loved the peace and essentialism that came with living rurally. Life was pretty sweet.
But as the years went by growth and gridlock changed Napa and its approach to food. Restaurants became myopically infatuated with celebrity chefs and Michelin stars. Ostentation and a “rat race” element crept in, and eventually the live-off-the-land lifestyle of the estate seemed out of step with the Napa beyond its borders. When the property sold to a bigger winery in 2009, Janelle and Daniel knew the time had come to move on.
The Pig inhabits a long, low building that sits alongside Highway 128 surrounded by an expansive packed-dirt-andgravel parking lot. A new redwood fence has transformed a portion of the lot around the restaurant into al fresco gathering spaces—think patio, fire pit, and water features, with lots of seating and drought resistant plants, all beautifully designed and executed by Daniel. Besides expanding the usable space for the restaurant and keeping runaway toddlers off the highway, the fence prevents the headlights of departing cars from blinding diners seated inside. But Anderson Valley is notorious for its resistance to change, and locals have been heard grumbling about “Fort Pig.”
There’s more change on the way. A new back garden is in the works, occupying a grassy knoll that’s typically 10 degrees cooler than any other spot on the property. The plan includes a small outdoor theater, sunken firepit, and a (cigar) smoking zone. On the other end of the restaurant you’ll find the Towns End, a retail, meeting, and catering space that will soon be available for rent. It’s outdoor/indoor areas can host a yoga retreat (catered, of course), winemaker dinners, corporate retreats, or pop up wine tasting for local wineries that don’t have their own retail spaces.
Regardless of new plans and projects, food made with love and integrity remains at the heart of The Pig. I joined three friends for dinner there recently, and as we passed our entrees around the table round-robin style there was no clear winner, and no repetition of flavors. Dishes included the Herbed Gnocchi Parisienne, Covelo Ranch Braised English Shortrib, Peppercorn Seared Rare Fort Bragg Albacore “Nicoise”, and a Beef and Wild Mushroom Loaf. Each dish was unique, beautifully balanced, and cooked to tender perfection in order to let the freshness of the ingredients shine through.
I’ve been known to resist change myself, so I understand why some might look askance at all the changes Janelle and Daniel have brought. For anyone tempted to grumble I have this advice: sit down and have dinner. It’s a lot easier to welcome something new when it tastes this good.