When owners Bonnie Arent and Chef Daniel Bonanno opened A Pig In A Fur Coat on Williamson Street in 2012, the restaurant’s unusual name turned a head or two. These days, it’s the food that’s making a name all by itself.
“The restaurant’s name wasn’t necessarily meant to mock fine dining, but it’s a good description of what we’re trying to do: serve good food without the fur coat,” says Chef Dan. “We don’t have stemware or tablecloths or high overhead, so we don’t have to charge fine dining prices. All you experience is good food, served really well.”
Bonnie describes the menu at A Pig In A Fur Coat as “Mediterranean comfort food with inspiration drawn from France, Spain, and Italy.” Dan describes it simply as “a reflection of me, my family, my teachers; a reflection of us.”
Dan, a first generation Italian-American and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Minneapolis, first met Bonnie in Italy while attending the Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence. Before coming to Madison, he worked three years as sous chef for James Beard award-winning chef Tony Montuano at Spiaggia in Chicago.
“I was familiar with Madison, because everyone in Chicago uses Wisconsin farmers to source food for their menus,” Dan says. “So when the chance came to open a restaurant here with Bonnie, it seemed like a good move.”
It certainly was a good move for Madisonians, which tend to pack the tiny restaurant six days a week. With seating for only about 40 and no reservations accepted, wait times can run long on weekends, but on weekdays, rarely last more than 30 minutes. Customers are welcome to walk the Willy Street neighborhood or have a drink at a neighboring bar while awaiting Bonnie to call them for their table.
Once seated, a menu filled with dishes designed for sharing awaits. From snacks to small plates to large plates and dessert; from light dishes such as a beet salad to rich and heavy luxuries, such as poutine with foie gras, A Pig In A Fur Coat features not only heritage pork from Fox Valley Berkshire, but also seafood, pasta, and rabbit.
“We didn’t design the menu for everyone to have their own entrée,” Bonnie says. “All the plates are really made to share.”
While the menu changes seasonally and features as much local food as possible, several mainstays beloved by a loyal clientele rotate with the seasons. For example, Porchetta, roasted pork shoulder stuffed with sausage and roasted for 12 hours and finished with a veal demi glaze, might be served with carrots, parsnips, and almonds in the fall or winter. But come spring or summer, the dish transitions to feature Anaheim peppers with grilled spring onions and garlic.
“Our Porchetta is really based on classic Italian street food,” Dan says. “It’s one of my favorites.”
Then there’s the Ravioli, made from hand-rolled pasta dough and filled with ricotta and duck egg yolks sourced from Nami Moon Farms in Custer, Wisconsin. In the fall, the pasta dish will likely be served with brussel sprouts, three-year Parmigiano Reggiano, bacon, and toast. In the spring and summer, however, look for it to be plated with morels, asparagus, and brown butter.
A third signature dish, which Bonnie claims to be her favorite, is Pork Tripe, which is slowly braised and then stewed for five hours with pancetta, tomato, and onion. Then it’s chopped up and sautéed with pork belly strips. Tomato sauce, lemon, Swiss chard, and garbanzo beans get added to the mix in a cast iron pot. The mixture is topped with a poached egg and served with bread crumbs.
Despite the restaurant’s name, which leads customers to often assume the menu is all about pork, in reality, Dan and Bonnie sought to create dishes that weren’t being served in many other Madison restaurants—hence the porchetta, tripe, and duck egg ravioli. Add in a snack plate of Duck Fat Fries, and most every food group is covered. “We use more duck fat than anything else,” jokes Dan.
Entering its third year and still highly acclaimed by customers, food reviewers, and the industry—Dan was nominated as Rising Star Chef of the year (for a chef under age 30) for the James Beard Awards—A Pig In A Fur Coat has hit its stride. That doesn’t mean, however, the owners are sitting on their laurels.
“We want to continually work to make the restaurant better,” Bonnie says. Two avenues for future growth include adding a classroom in the rear of the building, featuring cooking classes, wine courses, and special events. A Pig In A Fur Coat is also working on launching a catering business in 2015, taking their fine dining without a fuss on the road.
Jeanne Carpenter is a cheese geek and food writer living in Oregon, Wisconsin.
A Pig In A Fur Coat
940 Williamson Street
Madison, WI 53703