For nearly four years, The Blind Pig has been an open secret.
Located in Rancho Santa Margarita, the speakeasy-style gastro pub isn't exactly easily accessible by much of Orange County, nor is it in what might be considered a diner's paradise.
But it has its followers, who are willing to wait sometimes 45 minutes to get a table to savor the unusual and inventive drinks and entrees.
It is, after all, advertised online as the "latest adventurous eatery in Orange County."
"We try to do things that people have not tried," said executive chef Karl Pfleider. "We want everyone to experience new things and come in with an open mind."
There's sisig, a Filipino dish made from parts of a pig's head and liver, as well as braised octopus to lure food enthusiasts from far-flung regions of the county.
The lakeside pub is also credited with helping to usher in the city's resurgent cocktail culture. Pfleider said the progressive menu is best paired with the restaurant's beverages, under the direction of general manager and bar manager Ryan Autry.
In preparation for summer, Autry created Bunco Night, a drink primarily made of Ventura Spirits California Vodka — the only vodka in the world made from strawberries — and Rabarbaro Zucca Amaro Liqueur, a spirit prepared from rhubarb roots, spices and herbs. The crushed-ice cocktail is then garnished with a lemon zest and strawberry.
The lengthy libations listing also includes ryes, bourbons, absinthe, Old World varieties, brandy, all manner of beer and wine, rums, tequila and Scotch.
The Rancho Santa Margarita restaurant, which also serves ginger-glazed duck breast with charred radicchio leaves, is tucked in a shopping plaza that houses The Trough Sandwich Kitchen. Both are owned and operated by restaurateur Tony Monaco.
The concept for The Blind Pig, whose name refers to what the speakeasies were called in the 1920s, developed when South County residents Monaco and former co-owner Jarryd Graaff started talking about opening a restaurant that offered a menu with surprises.
"We knew we wanted to educate customers in a restaurant that was not just a bar," Monaco, 28, said of The Blind Pig. "We don't focus on turning tables. It's all about the guest having a great time."
Despite having little restaurant experience, Monaco, who had always wanted to own his own restaurant, has since opened three eateries, including a second Trough location, on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach.
Pfleider, after opening The Blind Pig as sous chef, rose to executive chef at age 24. His daytime and dinner menus give way to ambitious fare that features luxury ingredients like Wagyu, a Japanese beef cattle breed.
The original menu listed a $24 octopus and roasted bone marrow that was prepared with black garlic emulsion and fennel, but guests were not satisfied with the dish, Pfleider said.
So he tweaked the delicacy, adding bourguignonne sauce, a French sauce with a base of red wines with onions or shallots, leeks and garlic aioli.
The $15 octopus confit is now a top-seller, he said.
A spin on ingredients is carried over to the Trough, where the menu boasts more than a dozen sandwiches and seven breakfast choices ranging in price from $5 to $12.
Initially, The Blind Pig, which opened in 2013, catered to locals in search of specialty cuisine, but Monaco and the staff learned that the restaurant has become a destination for diners from coastal communities like Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Huntington Beach.
Part of the draw, Monaco said, is not only that the menu changes seasonally or that specialty drinks offer their own surprises, but that the restaurant focuses also on hospitality and service.
While guests wait for a table, they may listen to live music played on the restaurant's patio, or watch sports on one of the many flat-screen televisions.
Monaco said his next goal is dependent on what space is available in Orange County, but he would like to open another full-scale restaurant.
"I always want to keep expanding and growing," Monaco said. "It's been a great ride so far."
The Blind Pig is at 31431 Santa Margarita Pkwy., Rancho Santa Margarita. For more information, call (949) 888-0072 or visit theblindpigoc.com.
Kathleen Luppi, firstname.lastname@example.org