"This is like Thanksgiving!" was an apt and echoed declaration at last Saturday's sold-out Root Down Community Supper, a nearly four-hour, family style feast with the air of a holiday celebration rooted in the primal carnivorous lore of a country pig roast.
Diners gathered elbow to elbow around three long white tables that filled Primal Cuts' usually sparse showroom for the first in what will be a quarterly community supper built around seasonal local food. Along with Central Oregon Locavore, the organizers have revamped the Meet Your Farmer Dinners previously held at Common Table.
The festivities began at 6:30 p.m. with guests filing in the front door and adjusting from the bitter cold outside to the warm dim interior, removing winter layers and milling about. Wine was available for purchase, but many brought their own drinks from kombucha to growlers of Boneyard Beer which soon filled the tables that were adorned simply with tealight candles set in small carved out pumpkins.
Guests were encouraged to find a seat and help themselves to the appetizers offered at the front counter. There were westside foraged pears and plums, breads and candied nuts from Baked, several kinds of Cada Dia Cheese, including Juniper cheddar, camembert and feta along with prosciutto, sausage and patè provided by Primal Cuts and "Westside Cider" made from apples foraged on the westside.
"It's the butcher, the baker and the food cart maker," declared one diner alluding to the Galveston trio behind the meal preparation: Primal Cuts Meat Market, Baked Bakery and Spork.
The slow pace of the meal, with significant time between each course, fostered a casual atmosphere and augmented the celebrity status of the roasting pig that diners were lusting after. The chefs and bakers, too, seemed to take on luminary standing, able to command the room with a couple of butterknife taps to a wine glass as they prepared to announce each course to the diverse and enthusiastic crowd.
The evening was marked by booming bursts of applause and bouts of muffled eating across a background hum of chatter. There was a wood fire burning outside behind the shop allowing diners to leisurely commune inside or out between courses.
The sides prepared by Spork were a sweet, sour and tangy celery root mash topped with an apple, fennel and bacon salad and rich, buttery purple and sweet potato mash topped with fried cabbage. Special care was put into the sourcing of ingredients for each course. The vegetables were provided by Central Oregon farms, while the bread from Baked featured an exciting debut of our region's first steps toward local grain processing with the use of locally grown, locally milled organic whole wheat from Rainshadow Organics in Terrebonne. And then, of course, there was the pig.
The room exploded with laughter and applause as Primal Cuts' Bryan Tremayne shared the story of the pig with diners. "So, what I did for the pig, well, I chased it around for a little while out at DD Ranch." Primal Cuts took care of every step of the process, butchering the pig on-site at the ranch, de-hairing the pig themselves, injecting a brine and, finally, roasting it at the shop for what Tremayne described simply as "a very, very long time."
Guests hurried back to their seats as volunteers were seen entering the dining room with large plates of pig and setting them amongst the chaos of eager fists of fork and knife, now emptying beer and wine bottles and baskets of bread. The consensus was that it was worth the wait. The meat was superbly prepared, flavorful and with the added benefit of being able to try several different parts of the pig, a departure from the familiar ham.
As diners hunched a bit in their seats, rubbed their bellies, smiled and sighed, the enthusiasm had clearly not worn thin with the announcement of the final course clocking in at the third hour: desserts by Baked and coffee from Lone Pine Coffee Roasters. There was an incredible pumpkin pie made with local pumpkins, a pecan pie with local honey instead of corn syrup, Oregon hazelnut truffles and fig and date cookies, which Baked proprietor Gordon Benzer described as, "too hard to pass up on a night like this."
The evening ended with a standing ovation from diners, something I have yet to see at a farm-to-table dinner. Stay tuned for the next community supper, "Deep Winter."