Right from the start—since its opening on June 1, 2016—business has been booming at The Crispy Pig on Glen Cove Avenue in Sea Cliff. It has been a bit of a phenomenon in a tough business where restaurants on Long Island seem to come and go. They have blown away the theory that everyone wants to eat healthy all the time. They have proven there is still a need for good old-fashioned, feel-good comfort food, and that sometimes it’s okay to splurge on some extra calories here and there. So what makes The Crispy Pig work? One simple word: quality.
Michael and Jodie Imbriano, a husband-and-wife team from Glen Cove, have put their hearts and souls into the business, and their efforts have paid off. Michael is no stranger to the food business. He has basically been involved with food his whole life. Along with running the restaurant, for the past 3-and-a-half years he has worked for US Foods National Distributor, the largest food distributor in the New York marketplace. He did catering for the Nassau County Bar Association for ten years, and he currently does all the in-house catering for Chaminade High School in Mineola. Residents of Sea Cliff remember Imbriano best for his gourmet market Buon Appetito, which he ran in the same location as The Crispy Pig from 1997 to 2010.
Because his family owns the property, Imbriano decided he wanted to do something different. Influenced by The Spotted Pig, a successful gastropub in New York City, Michael and Jodie set out to create a restaurant that Long Island had never seen before: a pork-inspired gastropub featuring re-invented comfort food with a southern flair. Since a lot of the menu does contain pork, they needed a catchy name to express what they were trying to achieve, so one night while sitting at their kitchen table, Michael and Jodie came up with The Crispy Pig.
Renovations began immediately at the small restaurant which seats fifty people. Only the windows, the door and the floor are original. The walls are whitewashed and are surrounded by reclaimed wood, and Edison lightbulbs hang from the ceiling. The most dramatic feature is the oversized Crispy Pig sign which hangs on bricks that were part of a brick oven once located in the space. Michael’s father took the oven apart brick by brick, and then laid the wall out. As for the sign, during a trip to Mexico last year, Michael met a guy at the pool who happened to make signs for Hollywood studios. They started talking, and next thing you know, the man started making a sketch of the sign right there. Michael loved it, so when the man got back to California, he made Michael the sign and had it shipped to New York. In just a few short months, the sign has become iconic.
“When people come to The Crispy Pig, they immediately say Brooklyn has come to Sea Cliff,” says Michael. “That is just the look we were trying to achieve. We wanted a warm vibe with the soft woods, like the bar which is made from walnut.”
Under the guidance of executive chef Michael Stuhlmuller, a talented self-taught chef with an enormous passion for cooking, The Crispy Pig uses the finest products they can find. While all the meats come from US Foods, the pork belly comes from Fossil Farms in New Jersey, vegetables from Rottkamp Brothers Farms in Glen Head, and some baked goods, which supplement their own desserts, from Diane’s Bakery in Roslyn. The chicken is antibiotic-free and comes from Harvestland Chicken. Even their paprika is top notch and imported from Spain.
“I’m all about the quality,” says Michael. “I want to bring the best product. I don’t want to cheat the customer. The customer today is educated. They know pricing, they know food. If you give them a good product at a good price; give them the whole experience – the look, the service, the food – that’s what they’re gonna want. It has to be the whole package. People like to see a husband-and-wife team working the floor. It’s half the battle. It’s caring about your business. It becomes a personal experience.”
“Give me something vibrant. Give me something beautiful.”
Chef Michael Stuhlmuller has been working in restaurants since he’s sixteen years old. He remembers being so impressed watching chefs prepare meals. He started working the front of the house in a diner in his hometown of Centereach as a teenager. Growing up eating basic food, Stuhlmuller saved his money and started taking himself to fine dining restaurants where he ate food he never dreamed existed.
“I couldn’t get enough of it,” says Stuhlmuller. “I started buying books and I started reading, and then I started working for better and better chefs. This is probably one of the most technical jobs, and the best part of working in this business is that you will never stop learning. You can’t get set in your ways. This is why I love it.”
As for his style of cooking, Stuhlmuller explains that he is influenced by the products he receives. “Give me something vibrant, give me something beautiful. I want to see marble in the meat, I want seafood that smells like the ocean, and then you’ll see my style of cooking. It’s endless what you can do with food. It can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be. I’m passionate about what I do. It’s not what I like about cooking, it’s what I am. I will never be anything else. I’m always striving to get better. This is what excites me.”
When you sit down at The Crispy Pig, the first item brought to the table is warm squares of homemade corn bread and soft jalapeno butter served in a mini cast iron pot. Water and soda is served from mason jars. The comfort starts here.
Next up Chef Stuhlmuller brings out one of his signature dishes, a southern chicken and Belgian waffle appetizer served with 100% real maple syrup and pancetta cubes. The waffles are crispy and, unlike other chicken and waffles out there, the tender boneless chicken breast is actually sandwiched in the waffle batter. This appetizer is very large and could definitely be shared, or eaten as a main course.
I am served one of their most popular appetizers next: their house crispy wings with homemade barbeque sauce which is a variation of the St. Louis style sauce. The chicken is prepared confit style, then each one is individually battered and fried before the sauce goes on. It creates a very moist and tender, fall-off-the-bone wing. For wing lovers, this is a must.
A butter-washed, perfectly cooked catfish entrée is up next, and is delightfully flavored with fresh thyme, rosemary and garlic. It is served over a bed of sautéed collard greens which were fresh, vibrant and flavorful. For meat lovers, the meatloaf is the way to go and will really satisfy if you’re hungry. A whole, mini prosciutto wrapped meatloaf with a thin layer of smoked barbeque sauce, is served over mashed potatoes. A fried egg sits on top of the meatloaf and adds both richness, and color to the dish, as does a sprinkling of fresh chives.
For dessert, crispy fried donut holes in a bourbon caramel sauce with toasted sunflower seeds and homemade whipped cream is a Crispy Pig favorite.
Twelve beers are on tap and are continuously rotating, and feature many local breweries such as Oyster Bay Brewing Company, Garvies Point Brewery, Crooked Ladder and Greenport Harbor. Wines from Bedell Cellars and other Long Island wines will be coming soon. Specialty cocktails are also available. Be sure to look out for the new spring comfort menu. They are toying with the idea of serving fried chicken with biscuits and gravy. I hope they do.
And you never know who you may run into at The Crispy Pig. Recently on a Monday night, New York Giant Jayson Bromley, Jr. showed up, and a half hour later, actor Kevin James. I told you The Crispy Pig is popular!
The Crispy Pig is open Monday through Thursday from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Sunday from Noon until 9:00 p.m. and lunch is served on Saturday from Noon until 3:00 p.m.