3rd Little Piggy
With prime provisions and tiptop proprietors, Swine & Sons grabs a big market share of goodness.
If every item in your neighborhood Whole Foods Market were personally crafted, house cured or locally brewed, labeled by hand, sliced to order and presented by the people who owned the store, it might approach the almost fanatical care and devotion of Swine & Sons. But it wouldn’t have Alexia and Rhys Gawlak behind it.
Swine & Sons Provisions is the new endeavor from the Ravenous Pig empire. In their campaign for world food domination, James and Julie Petrakis have gone from opening an insanely ambitious and unexpectedly popular gastropub called The Ravenous Pig to the artisanal Southern grub of Cask & Larder, garnering international praise and several James Beard Best Chef Award nominations (for both James and Julie as a couple, an unheard-of accomplishment) in the space of 11 years. All the while they have championed the local, sustainable and seasonal from their kitchens and in a self-crafted pantry.
Technically, Swine & Sons, next door to Cask & Larder, is a grocery with a lunch counter. But it is so much more to everyone involved, particularly the couple behind daily operations, Alexia (“Lexie”) and Rhys Gawlak, who have been working with the Petrakis clan for over a decade. This amalgamation of culinary talent might be truly unique: two married pairs of Culinary Institute of America-trained chefs partnered in the same place, with a common goal of farm-to-table, hand-crafted, hyper-local food.
Swine & Sons Provisions
Pickled carrots and garlic dills fill the provisions case, rows of glass flasks filled with hot honey Fresno sauce and Alabama white BBQ sauce sharing space with 32-ounce growlers of Cask & Larder brews (Olde Southern Wit, fragrant with coriander and tangerine peel, was the tempting choice one particularly hot afternoon). The sandwich board recently boasted of a Southern Cuban with house-cured Tasso ham and roast pork layered with slow-cooked collards and house pepper jelly, and the meat case featured in-house bacon, lamb ribs and duck ham from the humidity-controlled curing case in the corner.
At 35, Alexia has an air of determination and purpose as her eyes check every counter and case. “This is a natural outcropping of everything that happens in the restaurants,” she says. “Customer requests, things we think should be offered and how kitchens have evolved. What’s good about this place is if it comes into our mind, we do it.”
Alexia grew up in Orlando, working in kitchens from dreadful to amazing. She met Fort Pierce native Rhys, skateboarder turned dishwasher turned chef, when she was 20, and more or less dared him to apply to the Culinary Institute of America in New York—the place where, just a few years before, James and Julie had met. When he was accepted, he returned the favor and handed her an application. They went to CIA together, returning to Orlando where Rhys worked at Norman’s and Alexia joined Primo (Rusty Spoon’s Kathleen Blake was chef de cuisine; Julie Petrakis was sous chef), and later Luma on Park.
Then the call came while Alexia and Rhys were on their honeymoon: The Ravenous Pig, cornerstone of the Petrakis empire, was about to open. With Alexia as sous chef and Rhys behind the fledgling charcuterie program, the Pig opened the area’s eyes to a new chapter in local cuisine.
Rhys, 40, has a love of all things cured, smoked and preserved that is primarily self-taught. “It’s mostly trial and error,” he says. “When you get a chance to debone an entire pig, you take it. And your mistakes become sausage. I’ve watched a whole lot of YouTube videos in Italian to learn new things.”
A plan to open their own meats and sausage business at East End Market was withdrawn before the artisan market opened, but the bones of that endeavor can plainly be seen at Swine. Rhys has his eye on expanding the offerings and fully expects to have the meat case filled with his own creations by summer, and a theoretical plan to create a retail line of sausages makes his eyes light up.
“Rhys has a good time with lunch,” Alexia says. “He loves educating people about the meats, the sauces, even down to showing people the slicer!” She says she’s excited about the potential of Swine & Sons but wouldn’t rule out the idea of having her own kitchen one day. Rhys is happy just making stuff.
“I want to offer restaurant quality food that people can take home,” he says. “I really like this model. I like to provide.”