No Jacket Required / This Little Pig
Photos by kc kratt
this little pig
4401 Transit Road, Williamsville, NY 14221
One usually doesn’t expect to find an excellent meal in a suburban plaza. And on Transit Road—a miles-long stretch of pavement enveloped by corporate-chain-filled plazas—it’s like a finding a needle in a Mount Everest-sized haystack. Don’t fret, though, because I have found that rare entity at This Little Pig.
Located at the northeast corner of Main and Transit, This Little Pig’s been charming diners only since mid-summer, but it already has a strong following. The reason: this cozy locally-owned-and-operated restaurant is just doing so many things right. Housemade pastas, sauces and condiments, sausages, and pizza/bread doughs all play a role in virtually every dish on the menu.
Upon entry, the restaurant presents a simple environment—no loud music, no televisions, and not a whole lot of tchotchkes. There are very few distractions to pull your attention from your dining experience or dining partners. With so many other restaurants assaulting diners with walls of televisions or loud music, this really sets a pleasant tone that carries throughout dinner.
In addition to tables, two bars offer dining space: one is where the adult beverages are served and the other firmly plants you on the other side of the open kitchen.
While the cocktail menu isn’t extensive, it is respectable, thoughtful, and the drinks are well-executed. I opted for the Negroni (Botanist Gin, Campari, sweet red Vermouth, orange peel) and had a bit of difficulty cutting myself off. The wine list (when I visited) hosted close to twenty wines and covered all the major varietals. The beer selection, also subject to change, isn’t too shabby with nine domestics, eleven premium bottles (Fat Tire, Founders, etc.), and five local drafts (Big Ditch, 42 North, Community Beer Works, Ellicottville Brewing, 12 Gates).
Crab and shrimp cakes; housemade pierogi
An admirable menu suits a variety of tastes. Crab and shrimp cakes remain a favorite for me after a couple visits. Neither crab nor shrimp are spared in these hefty bundles of seafood joy. Golden, crispy jackets on the outside give way to chunks of sweet shrimp and forkfuls of soft crab on the inside. The lemon-tarragon aioli adds a nice bright creaminess to each bite, while a side of kimchi slaw acts as a palate cleansers—with these refreshing additions, each bite seems like the first.
The housemade pierogi epitomize what makes This Little Pig so special. Made daily by owner and chef Jeffrey Cooke, Jr., three ’rogi are stuffed with homemade farmer cheese and pan-fried in butter along with bacon and apples before being topped with grain mustard and crispy fried onion rings. It seems like a lot, but this plate pings all over your mouth. The apples, both buttery and salty, are cooked to just before al dente so you get a soft bite that finishes with a nice crunch. I initially wondered how grain mustard would fit into such a subdued dish, but the answer is “perfectly.” The small pops of the mustard seeds add depth and bitterness, and the crunchy onion rings add a savory match to the sweetness of the apples. The most exciting addition is the lemon zest in the cheese filling. This unexpected brightness completely rounds out the dish and I’m left wondering how I could ever eat a nonzested cheese pierogi again. Little touches like this find their way into everything on TLP’s menu; it makes eating there so much fun.
All smoked items are done on-site daily. The smoked wings are seasoned with a house spice blend and finished with garlic-butter on the grill. As is the case with smoked wings that aren’t finished in the fryer, the skin isn’t extra crispy but it’s strong enough to break beneath your bite. Served with a pickled slaw and smoked blue cheese, it’s definitely a smoky dish but not overly so.
There are over a half a dozen pizzas on the menu, all with homemade crusts. Of the three I tried, two were on the spicier side—ask your server if you are sensitive to spicy/hot foods. In all instances, my pizzas were heavy on the toppings and the crusts performed well beneath the weight. The medium-thin dough has a nice crunch an airy-chewy texture. Gangsta-Gangsta is the most popular pie, with homemade sausage, capicola, salami, red sauce, honey, fresh mozzarella and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. This spicy pie paired exquisitely with the Negronis I couldn’t stop drinking. Los Alamos is the other spicy option, with homemade chorizo, stuffed peppers, hot and sweet peppers, smoked jalapeno sauce, caramelized onions, smoked cotija and mozzarella cheeses, topped with cilantro and a fresh cucumber-avocado salad. It sounds like a busy pie, and it is, but in a good way. I simply adored it. Meat lovers should try the Tripleta. It’s a heavy pizza, but packed with flavor from the smoked pork, short rib, pulled chicken, roasted garlic cloves, caramelized onions, shaved horseradish, sliced jalapenos, and provolone cheese. The pizzas at This Little Pig are some of the most randomly delicious combinations I’ve seen or tried. They are great to-go options for lunch.
Many of the generous sides can be meals by themselves. Both the Daily Mac ’n’ Cheese and the braised mustard greens and butter beans are large (and filling) enough for a lighter dinner or heavier lunch.
Shoe fly pie; Hot Chocolate milkshake
For dessert, TLP’s shoo fly pie is a bit shorter than a traditional shoo fly, which means it’s not as cloyingly sweet as that pie can often be. The thoughtful touches here are lime zest, salted caramel, and a frozen honey-mousse dollop on top. It is garnished with cabernet-soaked blackberries, which I could eat by the gallon. Milkshakes are another dessert option here—and my personal favorite. Made with Gifford’s ice cream, and large enough for two, shakes can be can boozified with the liquor of your choice for a small upcharge. Consider the Hot Chocolate milkshake (chocolate ice cream, shaken with simmered and chilled hot cocoa, with chocolate chips, whipped cream, and a maraschino cherry) with your choice of vodka, or the Vanilla Bean shake with Kahlúa.
This Little Pig is a family-driven business with the owners working alongside relatives daily, and the pride of ownership is strong. It is evident by the way you are treated from the second you walk in. There is mindfulness of the diner’s experience that far exceeds the nearby corporate competition.
Ess Estmer is a food enthusiast by day, pastry ninja by night.