Published on November 6th, 2016 | by Brittain Thompson0
Piggin’ Out in North Mississippi: The Neon Pig offers farm-to-table goodness in a casual, hip setting
Butchering is a dying art, but the deft hands behind the meat counter at the Neon Pig, including those of co-owner and chief butcher, Seth Copeland, aspire far beyond perfectly marbled ribeye and supple filet to ambitious creations like duck prosciutto, chicken-strawberry sausage, and salmon jerky. Copeland, along with co-owner and marketing director, Trish McCluney, and managing partner Ashley Peeler, who oversees the Oxford location, have created carnivorous oasis. Manager Allison Wells helps feed the hungry masses. “We’re an old-school butcher shop that proudly showcases, in a farm-to-table atmosphere, the beautiful and delicious foods of this area,” said Wells, speaking over her shoulder as she fell in alongside the grill man, spatula in hand, flipping the café’s marquee offering: a succulent, third-pound patty made of commingled ribeye, sirloin, New York strip, and Benton’s bacon called the Smash Burger. The meat hissed and sizzled on the flattop and Wells tapped the fat drippings from her implement, laid it aside with a metallic clang, turned, smiled, and warmly welcomed a new customer.
The man stepped to the bar, tapped his thumbs together and didn’t bother looking at the menu, impressive as it was, laden with unique specialties. He passed over the seared pork belly selections, served either on an Asian-style bun or in a wrap, with napa cabbage and house-made hoisin, pickles, and siracha. He didn’t go for the grilled cheese made from the milk of sweet-grass-fed cows, specifically, Thomasville cheddar. He didn’t choose any of the numerous selections made from hearty Benton’s bacon, from Madisonville, Tennessee. It wasn’t dessert he came for, like classic Southern layer cakes from Sugaree’s Bakery in New Albany or frozen treats made with all-natural, organically grown fruits from Tupelo’s own PoPsy, or roasted pecan and salted caramel gelato from Sweet Magnolia Ice Cream in Clarksdale. “I know what I want and what I come back for,” said returning patron, Steve Ladd, as he nodded at Wells and simply said, “Smash burger,” and ordered a beer.
The Smash Burger recently brought home the award for “Best Burger in America,” awarded by THRILLIST.com. It’s one of the many concoctions crafted from steers, which are brought in gutted and beheaded and, like the pigs and lambs that arrive at the back door, ready to be cordoned off by the skillful hands of the Neon Pig’s butchers. The grass-fed, pasture-raised meat comes from places like Circle W Farms in Houlka, Simpson Farm in Athens, Tennessee, the produce from Woodson Ridge Farms and the milk from Brown Family Dairy, both in Oxford, and jams and jellies from Native Son Farm just down the road in Tupelo.
Behind the immaculately clean, cool-to-touch glass of the meat counter, thick, heavy slabs of T-bones and arching, marbled-crown roasts of lamb rest alongside burgundy steaks of ahi tuna, Coho salmon, and other bounties of the Gulf. “We hand-cut into primal and sub-primals,” said Wells. “We use a hand saw and a ban saw to cut through large bones.” The best sellers, she said, are the cowboy, a bone-in ribeye, as well as the Denver cut, taken from the shoulder of any of the Neon Pig’s whiskey or beer-marinated ribeyes.
House-made savories, like pimento and cheese and crisp, briny pickles, add to the overall, local experience of eating at the Neon Pig a customer can pick up a meat order or grab a packet of Gypsy Dawg dry rub or a quick, protein boost of OG or salmon jerky. Leaving nothing to waste, dogs can even grab a snack from a stash of discarded bones from the butchering.
Like the Tupelo location the Neon Pig in Oxford specializes in direct-connect, farm-to-table goodness. The Oxford location opened January 11 and according to managing partner Ashley Peeler, Oxonians have received it well. “This is how our grandparents bought their meat, locally, fresh, and cut to order,” said Peeler. The Oxford menu features a Belvis Burger, a play on the name of Mississippi’s most famous pelvis-shaking crooner, which includes a patty made from the Smash grind topped with house-made pimento cheese, house-cured pork belly, Creole mustard, and house-made jerky sauce, all dripping and oozing and served on a ciabatta bun. Another decadent favorite is a fried chicken bacon sandwich, the complex construction of which involves soaking pork belly in chicken stock then a scratch-made roux. Slaw burgers and hot shrimp sandwiches keep salivating patrons coming back for more, Peeler said, as do Taco Tuesdays, when the kitchen staff piles high orders of three flour tortillas, heaped with salmon, Smash grind, or several other delectable favorites, served with chips and a drink. Every evening the “after 5” menu includes a generously cut, locally sourced steak with locally grown veggies stacked on top and even a fried egg crowning the concoction like a cherry atop a sundae.
It’s hard to overstate the value of farm-to-table goodness, Wells said. “We buy local, we support local businesses, farms, and communities, and the money flows back to local sources.” Executive Chef Mitch McCamey, who is the brain-trust behind most of the Neon Pig’s menu, is working in concert with a movement in food culture that values wholesomeness, localness, and sustainability, Wells said. Carnivorous connoisseurs, lovers of specialty, niche culinary creations and all things delicious will find something to enjoy at the Neon Pig, Wells said. “We love people with big appetites for locally sourced, delicious food and a heart for their communities,” Wells said.
The Neon Pig is open Sundays 11 am until 4 pm and all other days 11 am until 9 pm. Located at 1203 North Gloster Street. Phone (662) 269-2533. In Oxford the Neon Pig is located at 711 N Lamar Blvd., phone (662) 638-3257.