As Scott puts it, “Squab sounds very French and fancy, and pigeon—who the hell wants to eat a pigeon?” But pigeon, despite having only a small amount of meat, located in the breast, is deeply flavorful and fatty, somewhat reminiscent to duck.
Chef Gabriel Rucker of Portland’s Le Pigeon says he’s never had any problems when foregoing any euphemisms.
“It’s always been well received. The pigeon that we serve is squab. It’s not a wood pigeon or anything like that. There’s people who will joke and say, oh, did you go to New York and get them off the streets or something. But people come to Le Pigeon to have the pigeon,” Rucker says.
To get a look at the possibilities open to Schroeder and O’Malley [no word yet on other pigeon dishes for Hungry Pigeon], we looked at the permutations Le Pigeon has featured over the years.
“We’ll serve the breast for an extended period of time and we’ll collect all of the innards, the legs and the wings,” Rucker says. “Once we’ve built up enough we’ll do a dish that revolves around the pieces. For one example, we took three months of legs and wings and we confited them and shredded them and made a pigeon dry ramen dish with strawberry chutney and parmesan cheese. That was one of my favorite pigeon dishes that we’ve ever done.”
He also saves all those tiny hearts and livers. He mentions how he recently took 200 pigeon’s worth of said organs over to his 2nd restaurant Little Bird Bistro, which opened in 2010 (Le Pigeon opened in 2006). The use? It stuffed spanakopita on their charcuterie board.
“We use the whole thing. We roast the bodies and make stock out of them. Generally, if you’re eating at Le Pigeon, you’re not getting chicken stock. You’re getting pigeon stock,” Rucker says.
As for why he uses it in the first place, Rucker invokes the game bird’s distinct flavor.
“The gaminess of pigeon is beautiful and it pairs with a lot of nice French flavors with rich sauces and red fruit like cherries. It’s a nice bird that you want to eat medium rare. We just put a beautiful dish on the menu of pigeon with ratatouille with a foie gras tomato gravy. We love to put foie gras in every thing,” Rucker says.
At Le Pigeon, dry aging not only gets the skins nice and crispy, but it also amplifies the desired gaminess a bit.
“I could serve peanut butter and jelly with it and people will order it because they’re at Le Pigeon and I’m sure it will be the same at Hungry Pigeon. You get the namesake dish,” he says.
At Hungry Pigeon, Schroeder says he’ll roast the pigeon meat with seasonal vegetables and herbs before finishing the cooking process in the pie. Before tucking in the tender morsels, he’ll ladle on helpings of stock.
“We’ll probably always do pigeon pot pie, but we’ll have different vegetables inside in the spring or fall because that’s the way it should work,” says Scott. And Pat is determined to have the pie shell treated as more than just a vessel for what is inside. He said he uses European-style cultured butter—a drier, higher fat content style of butter—to give his pie crusts a cheesy, nutty note.
He’s looking to nail down a purveyor soon. Bibou has called upon D’Artagnan, while Le Pigeon uses squab from Palmetto Pigeon Plant. If you’re more into walk-up service, you can try D’Angelo Bros. on South 9th St in The Italian Market.*
The rest of the menu, save a few options, will change daily or weekly, depending on their proclivities or item availability. Hungry Pigeon will be counter service for breakfast and lunch before switching to a full service restaurant for dinner. The idea is to match the appetite and tempo of its Queen Village neighborhood clientele, like a European café, but with rustic, family-style portion sizes.
“The most fun way to eat is when you have a few friends or a date and you’re sharing,” says Scott. Just like old times.
Perhaps referring to more than a few dishes beyond the pot pie, guests will someday be overheard saying, pass me the pigeon.
Additional reporting by Brion Shreffler.
Editorial note: If you can hold your breath, visit the horror show (birds, rabbits crammed together in a way that would make Jacob Riis sick) that is Shun Da Live Poultry further down south 9th St. While it apparently harkens back to an earlier era when the market had scores of live poultry shops, it’s hardly anywhere close to meeting the standards that D’Artagnan says it expects of its California based pigeon farmers–regardless of whatever Shun Da’s turnover rate is. If humanely raised and locally sourced is important to you–and you have the space–you can harken back to the pluck of The Great Depression by raising your own pigeons. Just don’t invite Mike Tyson over for dinner. Or maybe you’d join him at the pigeon pageant with your own cooing beauty.