Fine Swine on Willy Street

A Pig in a Fur Coat newest eatery on Williamson

The newly transformed Pig in a Fur Coat at 940 Williamson Street will open soon, likely before Memorial Day.

It’s not easy to find in Madison such dishes as wild boar black truffle sausage stuffed in a pig’s foot, veal breast with house-made sauerkraut, or egg yolk-filled ravioli with pancetta and brown butter sauce. But the wait may be over, as fine dining usually found in Chicago is coming to the 900 block of Willy Street, but with a relaxed casual style. A Pig in a Fur Coat, a communal-style eatery, is set to open later this month featuring Mediterranean dishes with a little touch of Kazakhstan.

A Pig in a Fur Coat Owner Bonnie Arent, along with Executive Chef Dan Bonanno and Sous Chef Jonathan Huttsell, are transforming the space formerly occupied by La Rocca’s Pizza at 940 Williamson Street into a casual eatery offering high-end dishes with a neighborhood feel, including communal seating.

“I really just want to provide a place where people can have the experience I’ve had—I’ve traveled a lot—so communal seating, shareable plates. I really think dining should be an experience, not a necessity,” Arent said.

That experience will include snacks, small and large plate options in a brightly lit, rustic setting featuring primarily Italian, but also French, Spanish, and Moroccan dishes paired with beer and wine selections. In addition to the aforementioned wild boar stuffed in a pig’s foot, which Chef Bonanno says will be one of their staples, they plan to offer a range of charcuterie, or cured meats, with some done in-house and some supplied by Madison’s Underground Meats.

“Everything’s going to be cooked out of a wood-burning oven, so it will have that smoky flavor to it,” Bonanno said.

Madison is becoming known for charcuterie, according to Bonanno, because Wisconsin’s laws related to the purchase of uncooked meats are not as stringent as those in Chicago. “Madison is kind of unique when it comes to charcuterie. You see people in town doing it a lot more.”

In addition to the red meat offerings will be pasta dishes and a selection of seafood, including octopus, sardines, mussels, and clams, all cured and served cold, like it’s done in Spain. Arent, who prior to this managed The Brass Ring, says that their paired beer and wine selections will be mostly local, including brews from Tyranena, Furthermore, Ale Asylum, Lake Louie, and New Glarus.

The wine offerings will have an old-world feel, with Italian, French, and Spanish wines along with some from Argentina and Peru. Bonanno is focusing on wines from family farms that offer limited selections specifically tailored to be served with food. “One of our goals was to really get that farm feel … a lot of old wine estates, we’re talking five or six families go back making this wine,” he said.

Bonanno, 27, has quite a family history, too – his father has operated Tenuta’s Deli in Kenosha for the past 60 years. Bonanno says his father transformed it from a produce store and ice cream parlor started by his uncle into a legendary deli known even in Chicago for having the best selection of both Wisconsin and Italian meats. Bonanno was trained at the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Minneapolis; he worked at restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago before moving to Italy to continue his culinary studies at Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence, eventually working at a few Michelin-style restaurants in the city.

It was in Italy that Dan met Arent, 26, from Racine, who was also attending Apicius. Arent had been working in the restaurant business since she was 16, mostly in the front of the house, serving and bartending at various places in southeastern Wisconsin. She began culinary training at MATC in Madison after high school, and after working in the restaurant business for a time she moved to Italy. After her return to the States she eventually became manager of The Brass Ring in Madison and began developing plans for A Pig in a Fur Coat, which took about a year to pull together.

The friendship Arent and Bonanno forged while training in Italy brought them together for this project in Madison. Dan also brought in his friend Jonathan Huttsell, who he worked with both at Spiaggia in Chicago and a restaurant in Appleton. Bonnie is sole owner of the restaurant, but Dan and Jon will likely assume a larger stake in the future. However, Arent says they make all their decisions collectively.

Dan sums it up best when he talks about why they started the restaurant after their worldwide travels: “I’m a Wisconsin guy—you go away and you bring back something with you.”

About that name

This distinguished citizen swine will watch over patrons at the new Pig in a Fur Coat eatery on Willy Street.

The name “ A Pig in a Fur Coat” evolved from the name of a real dish in Kazakhstan that Bonnie learned about from her sister’s time in the Peace Corps. It was a salad featuring smoked fish with garlic mayonnaise, beets, and carrots, called “Fish in a Fur Coat”. When first hearing of it, Dan jokingly suggested “Pig in a Fur Coat” for their restaurant and they all had a good laugh – but eventually the name stuck.

The name embodies their mission of fine dining in a casual atmosphere, according to Arent. “With the fine dining background Dan has, and Johnny, it’s the fine dining food with the casual setting, so without the fur coat.”

“[We will] just serve the same exact food as other restaurants in Chicago are doing…they get most of their products from Wisconsin anyway,” Bonanno adds. “We can do the same thing without the extra cost of linens, crystal, stemware…pretty much the fur coat.”

For now, the restaurant will have dinner hours only: 4 p.m. – 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 4 p.m. – 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Bonnie says that in the future they may have farm brunches on Sundays.

The dishes will be offered in three categories: snacks, small plates, and large plates; however, everything will be priced under $25. Small plates will range from $8-15, large $15-25, and the dry-aged NY Strips will be market price, as they will be cut to order.

UPDATE: A Pig in a Fur Coat opened Tuesday May 22.

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