Pride of Place

Neil Griggs (R), owner and chef of Cochon on 2nd, with his partner and corporate chef, Justin Dallinger. Their chef coats sport embroidered pink pigs with polka dots—an ode to pig culture.

Pigs and more rule at Cochon on 2nd in Williamsburg.

Cochon on 2nd isn’t so much about a porcine-centric menu as it is about the owner’s fondness for pigs. In fact, other than an occasional pork belly appetizer, possibly a pork chop, and some well-placed prosciutto, cochon in any form barely makes its way to the menu of this Williamsburg restaurant. Neil Griggs, owner and chef, tells me upwards of 70 percent of the menu is seafood-driven, speaking to the town’s proximity to the bounty of the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. 

A perfectly-seared scallop rests atop smoked pork belly, finished with an apple cider butter sauce.

Pig culture abounds, however. Waitstaff wear impossibly crisp white shirts with chubby blue and white polka dotted embroidered pigs. Barn boards, right out of a Suffolk pig barn, adorn the walls of this neighborhood restaurant, like a special breed of shiplap or wainscoting. Griggs grew up in Suffolk, and the legend of his grandfather, Moody Hollowell, a hardworking farmer, loomed large throughout his childhood. Although Moody died when Griggs was just 12, his spirit is all over Cochon on 2nd—from nostalgic photos, to the private dining space next door, Moody’s Room, and the occasional dish eponymously named for the grandfather he adored.

The food at Cochon on 2nd is comfortably upscale and the service equally pleasing. Griggs, a Culinary Institute of America grad, spent decades in private club management before setting his sights on opening a restaurant in Williamsburg. 

Cochon on 2nd, which mostly caters to foodies-in-the-know, would be equally at home in a culinary mecca as it is nestled on a side street in America’s colonial capital. “In the warmer months,” Griggs says, “80 to 90 percent of our clientele are locals.” And that number goes up as temperatures drop. 

On a rainy March evening—and it’s pouring—my friend Carole and I dodge raindrops and head into Cochon. We’re greeted immediately by friendly faces and the unmistakable energy of the open kitchen, just ahead. There are no gas ovens or stoves at Cochon, with wood being Griggs’ preferred kitchen fuel. He tells us that it’s unique to the area, adding that wood “gives our dishes unbeatable flavor.” He even has his own “wood man,” who, like clockwork, supplies him with perfectly aged hickory, or sometimes, applewood or white oak. And that wood-burning quality lends a certain ambiance to the restaurant, both familiar and comfortable, like you’re ponying up to a firepit with friends—without the smoke.

Cochon has been in Williamsburg for nearly a decade, and it’s clear that it and Griggs have hit their stride. Griggs has had enough time to establish tried and true vendors—and to be discerning about with whom he chooses to work. His preference is to use local

suppliers when and where he can—vegetables from family farms, oysters from Guinea, beef from Seven Hills in Lynchburg, chicken from Joyce Farms in Winston-Salem. “They meet my requirements—how the animals are raised, their diet, how they’re treated, how they’re finished—these are really important parts of the equation to me,” Griggs says. “Taste is important, but there’s a bigger picture to consider.” 

Our meal starts off in fine form with glasses of champagne—LeClerc Briant Brut Reserve—which I could happily swig. It’s smooth and light and fresh, with a long finish—a definite winner. Our first appetizer arrives: slow-smoked pork belly topped with a single sea scallop, charred jet-black—clearly the beneficiary of a prolonged, woodfired kiss. Simply garnished with thyme apple butter, both were fork-tender, with delicious, complementary flavors.

A miniature tuna steak with ginger teriyaki comes next, topped with a dollop of fried foie gras. The tuna is perfectly seared and seasoned, and the foie gras is like butter, so silky that it almost disappears after a bite. An arugula salad, with Maytag blue cheese, berries, spiced pecans, shaved Parm, and a honey-lime-ginger vinaigrette is a welcome palette cleanser. Medallions of prime beef tenderloin in a peppercorn sauce arrive as our entrée, with baby vegetables—carrots and courgettes, which are especially sweet and tender. 

Throughout our courses, we took full advantage of pairings from Cochon’s impressive wine list, which Griggs downplayed, but with which we were most impressed. Our selections included Kistler Russian River Valley Pinot Noir—rich, medium-bodied and seamless on the palate—followed by Chateau Pommard Close Marey-Monge Monopole, a big, bold, and elegant dry-style pinot noir.  

There’s nothing fussy or pretentious about Cochon. Here, you won’t find precious food foams, complicated deconstructions, or over-the-top garnishes, but you will find an ever-evolving menu with inventive and inspiring dishes. Griggs’ focus is always about the food—the vegetables that look especially delicious when he and his chef Justin Dallinger go farmers market shopping or the salmon that was just flown in from Scotland. “Our menu changes frequently,” Griggs says, “and it’s always dictated by what’s available.” 

Sallie Sue’s Lemon Pound Cake is a Cochon on 2nd signature dessert. It’s Griggs’ mother’s recipe, and he tells us that making it requires starting off with a cold oven. “My version still isn’t quite right,” he says, “but it’s close.” Dressed with fresh berries and whipped cream, it’s melt-in-your-mouth delicious. 

It’s clear that Griggs has surrounded himself with what he loves—delicious food, a top-notch team, loyal customers, and bits and bobs from a life well-lived—family photos, jars of kitchen utensils, the occasional antique. He’s almost convinced himself to hang up his chef’s apron and turn the day-to-day ops over to his kitchen team—“I think I’ve chopped enough mushrooms in my life,” he quips. That barn board adorning the walls at Cochon is Moody’s—from his pig barn in Suffolk. When the farm was sold, Griggs got permission from his aunt to salvage the wood, knowing exactly where and how he would repurpose it in the restaurant. If you know the backstory, you understand that there’s a certain pride of place that comes with just walking through the door. Griggs does this every single day, and customers who know him, can appreciate knowing how important a grandfather is to his grandson who proudly carries on his legacy of hard, honest work. And really good food. 

Sallie Sue’s lemon pound cake, named for Griggs’ mother, served with fresh whipped cream and Grand Marnier-soaked strawberries.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue. 

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum