Bull & Swine borrows from America's most classic barbecue styles — St. Louis ribs, Texas brisket, Carolina pork shoulder — but one thing you won't find south of the Mason-Dixon line is its distinctive "New Haven" sauce.
The new restaurant makes the sweet-style sauce with Foxon Park white birch beer, infusing it with nearly a century of local history. The 94-year-old East Haven soda maker's classic beverage has long been a natural companion to New Haven apizza, and now Bull & Swine's owners hope that legacy will continue with the unique barbecue condiment.
"It's our way of kind of putting a New Haven brand connected to us," said co-owner Albert Greenwood.
This is the second establishment for Greenwood and his business partner, Craig Hotchkiss, who opened Oak Haven Table & Bar just a few doors down the block in 2013. The two have enjoyed success with their original spot, a tapas-style restaurant with a concentrated focus on local ingredients and a mixology program heavy on whiskeys, and they've been looking for expansion opportunities.
When nearby Mexican restaurant and tequila bar C.O. Jones closed earlier this year, they seized the chance to double their presence on State Street. Barbecue seemed like a natural fit for the small, homey, 40-seat space, and the two opened Bull & Swine in early July, offering a menu of smoked meats complemented by appetizers, sides and a full bar.
"With this concept, it was as simple as: Find a demand and fill it," Greenwood said.
The Elm City area has been traditionally underserved when it comes to barbecue, with just a handful of smokehouses between New Haven and its surrounding towns. The majority of those are quick, casual eateries; the partners plan to set Bull & Swine apart from the pack with its sit-down service and what Greenwood calls "kick-ass cocktails." "People aren't expecting a barbecue place to have a full-blown beverage program," he said.
"We like doing the upscale feel," Hotchkiss said. "You want to feel like you're in a nice place even if it doesn't cost a lot. And with us, it's casual fine dining over [at Oak Haven] and that kind of leads into here. You want the service like you're at a fine-dining place, but you don't want to feel like you're in a stuck-up environment."
A selection of "bites" ($4.50 to $10) complement the main dishes, like smoked deviled eggs, smoked slab bacon with habanero honey, fried pickles, grilled asparagus with Walden Hill ham and sherry cream sauce, smoked and fried wings and Cajun fries.
The backbone of the restaurant's menu is the meat-by-the-pound feature ($6 to $19) with brisket, beef sausage or meatloaf; smoked chicken (in half or whole-bird portions) and turkey legs, and pork: St. Louis-cut spare ribs, housemade chorizo verde, chopped smoked shoulder and pork belly. Chicken also comes "island-style" ($15), a half-bird that's jerk-marinated and smoked, then buttermilk-fried and served with collard greens. Each meat is served with classic accompaniments: pickled red onions and slices of white bread.
Sandwiches ($10 to $13) include the "Fast Battard" with brisket on French bread, a Carolina-style pulled pork shoulder with mustard sauce on brioche, and fish and chips, a departure from the meat with beer-battered white fish and pickled jalapeño tartar sauce. Salads ($8 to $11) range from a simple garden option with apple cider vinaigrette to a decadent BLT creation, featuring candied bacon, fried green tomato and a brown butter vinaigrette.
Sides, or "fixins," are priced separately at $4 to $6, with choices like grits, potato salad, mashed sweet potatoes, baked beans, collard greens, cornbread and macaroni and cheese.
All of the meats are slow-smoked in house, thanks to a large Southern Pride smoker fueled by assorted woods. Brisket goes in for 12 hours; pork shoulder gets 4 to 6 hours and poultry, two to three, at about 220 degrees. Meats are dry-rubbed but left unsauced, allowing guests to have their own "adventure," said culinary director Paul Cordero.
"I think that's important," he said. "Barbecue touches a lot of nerves with a lot of people." Bull & Swine also offers a sweet Kansas City sauce and mustard-based Carolina version, in addition to its birch beer-inflected "New Haven" style.
Greenwood and Hotchkiss have seen some overlap with customers at both of their restaurants, with guests visiting Bull & Swine for dinner and then ending the night with drinks at Oak Haven. But others who've never been into Oak Haven have come directly to check out the barbecue, Greenwood said.
The partners say they're happy to be investing in New Haven's East Rock neighborhood, noting an increase in development on State Street and beyond, including the upscale Corsair Apartments.
"We've always preached that we wanted to be part of the community [here]," Greenwood said.
Read more about Bull & Swine's cocktail options here.
Bull & Swine, 969 State St., New Haven, is open Tuesday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon to 10 p.m., and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. 203-915-6806, bullswine.com.