At This Little Pig, a down-home menu with surprising range | Restaurants

At This Little Pig, a down-home menu with surprising range |  Restaurants

As a cook, Jeff Cooke Jr. reminds me of a far-ranging musician adding spices and techniques to his repertoire like traveling guitarists picked up alternate tunings and deep-cut chords to their arsenal of moves. You have to be smart to make a living playing the blues.

At This Little Pig, the restaurant Cooke runs with his wife, Mandy, in Clarence, regulars return for the glow of trust rewarded. Cooke offers more dishes of the moment than restaurants twice his size. That means the dish you saw on Facebook might not be there if you arrive without checking first. Regulars know to call if a special has their eye. Catering closely to that audience through the pandemic earned the Cookes a rapt audience that digs the standards but are thirsty for new delights.

Since opening in 2017, the Cookes have built a reputation for barbecue, fried chicken, icebox cakes and one of the most decadently abundant brunch Bloody Mary bars on the Eastern Seaboard. They’ve also maintained a sustained commitment to local farmers, using their neighbors’ work when possible.

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Earlier this year, Jeff and Mandy went to Morocco, for vacation, chasing dishes and their roots through alleys and souks. Before the Cookes came home, they lined up at spice merchants to load up their suitcases. They brought back versions of ras el hanout, which is a Moroccan masala usually including choices like cinnamon, turmeric, allspice and cloves.

That’s how Clarence was treated to a chicken version of bisteeya, the famous pigeon pie of Morocco. The recipe started with Cooke’s desire to use locally raised chickens. They’re tasty, but more expensive. To stretch them, Cooke reached into his Americana cabinet for a pot pie prep, and came up with a version the kids will dance to.

Main dining area at This Little Pig

The dining area at This Little Pig.

Libby March/Buffalo News

Topped with puff pastry dusted with pistachio and honey, it’s only on the menu a few days a month. But that’s the sort of special guest star that can drop in and dominate the table.

The house band starts with heavy metal: Cooke’s custom-built smoker, dubbed Prometheus. Many dishes start their journey to your table in its warm embrace.

Blueberry bacon bones ($33/$27) are cured like bacon before they’re smoked with brown sugar in the brine. Blueberry-jalapeno jam is the baste. These ribs come sticky, but no one at my table complained about having to lick their fingers. Cole slaw and another side dish, like the braised greens with ham or pimento macaroni and cheese, complete the plate.

Waffle-fried zucchini blossoms at This Little Pig

The waffle-fried Oles Farm zucchini blossoms at This Little Pig.

Libby March/Buffalo News

If you’d like to compare spare rib schemes, the Rib Face-Off ($33, with slaw and side) posits a half rack of bacon bones alongside a half rack of Cooke’s dry-rubbed spares, which come out wearing nothing but smoke and spices. Or go four-way with brisket, ribs, fried chicken and smoked sausage plus sides on the Four Square.

Apps with impact include Piggy Pipe Bombs ($16), a pair of banana peppers stuffed with pulled pork, cheddar and bacon roasted in Prometheus. It’s served over cheese sauce with chiles and Velveeta for a queso with Clarence-level heat.

Lobster roll deviled eggs at This Little Pig

The lobster roll deviled eggs at This Little Pig.

Libby March/Buffalo News

Fried green tomatoes ($14), on the menu for the season, are cornmeal-crusted, with housemade pepper jam and goat cheese. Shaved brussels sprout salad ($9/$14), with pickled onions, goat cheese, blueberries, smoked peanuts and a poppyseed dressing, is a perennial favorite with enough protein for a dinner salad.

Fried chicken BLT ($18), a chicken thigh brined, buttermilk battered and fried to craggy glory has bacon, lettuce and tomato, plus housemade bread and butter pickles. The chicken can be sauced in This Little Pig’s Nashville (spicy-smoky) or knockout (sweet-spicy) sauces. Like other sandwiches, it comes with a house salad or fries.

Fried chicken BLT at This Little Pig

The fried chicken BLT at This Little Pig.

Libby March/Buffalo News

Don’t take This Little Pig french fries for granted. They’re not just cooked to a proper snap, but dusted with malt vinegar powder and dill before being served, worth ordering by themselves ($9) if not chosen as a side dish.

Vegans should know there’s a Beyond Burger ($16; add vegan cheese for $2) for an animal-free cheeseburger experience. My vegetarian choice would be the burrata, cheese like a mozzarella paczki stuffed with runnier mozzarella, ($15), accompanied by fresh peaches, blackberries and heirloom tomatoes, dusted with bee pollen.

Blackened red snapper ($28), over cauliflower, hominy grits and vegetables of the day, led the seafood side when we visited. Sustainably famous salmon ($30) comes with mashed potatoes and tomato parsley relish, shrimp and mussels over linguine ($30) in saffron-infused white wine and butter sauce.

Lemon olive oil cake at This Little Pig

The lemon-olive oil cake at This Little Pig.

Libby March/Buffalo News

Desserts ($10) should not be taken lightly because they’re big enough for two to four people, depending. These childhood favorites include a Bunyanesque peanut butter cup riff, a Belgian waffle with strawberry ice cream, and a rum raisin ice cream sandwich crafted from housemade cookies and ice cream, with a visit from a certain Capt. Morgan.

Belgian waffle with strawberry ice cream at This Little Pig

A Belgian waffle with strawberry ice cream, berries, and whipped cream at This Little Pig.

Libby March/Buffalo News

That’s the way it goes at Clarence’s honky-tonk restaurant. You never know who’s going to pop up on stage. They say too many cooks spoil the broth, but at This Little Pig, these two Cookes are making harmonies to savour.

This Little Pig has added spacious patio

This Little Pig is located at 4401 Transit Road, Clarence.

Libby March/Buffalo News

4401 Transit Road, Clarence (, 716-580-7872)

Hours: 5 to 9 pm Tuesday through Thursday, 4 to 9 pm Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Prices: appetizers and sides, $5-$16; sandwiches, $16-$20; entrees, $26-$33.

Atmosphere: wide open spaces and farm implements.

Wheelchair accessible: yes

Gluten-free options: many options, ie Piggy Pipe Bombs

Outdoor dining: glorious patio

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