Cochon on 2nd Brings Grandpa Moody’s Smokehouse Flavors to the Edge
Moody Hollowell didn’t live to see Cochon on 2nd up close.
But he’d be right at home in his grandson’s restaurant in The Edge District. Cochon on 2nd is a tribute to a man whose impact chef Neil Griggs can still feel four decades after his passing.
It’s a place rich in wood décor repurposed from Hollowell’s Suffolk farm. That’s him in the black and white photo wearing a top hat and carrying a pail next to a trough and two pigs. His teenage daughter, Salli Sue, Griggs’ mother, smiles next to him.
Best of all at Cochon, Grandpa Moody would soak in the smells, reminiscent of his own smokehouse where a young Griggs watched in awe and whiffed in delight. Those summers were special to Griggs, who lost his grandfather at the age of 12, but easily recollects the mountain of a man, who stood 6-foot-4 and looked like a rock star in his younger days.
“You walked in the smokehouse and you could smell his hams, and it was life changing. When you were there for breakfast, the bacon was cut by hand. I can smell it now,” says Griggs, chef and owner of Cochon on 2nd, which opened in September 2015.
Griggs believes in the goodness that follows cooking over wood. After all, “People have been cooking on wood for thousands of years for a reason,” he says. “It tastes better.”
He duplicates the smokehouse effect by grilling over hickory and wood; there’s not a hint of gas. He cooks on high heat for a Maillard reaction that flavors and caramelizes the meat and fish to produce its distinctive flavor.
“We’re the only ones in Williamsburg who do it this way,” he says. “When you walk in our restaurant, you feel like you’re in a smokehouse.”
Better yet, the aroma leaves no doubt as to what’s grilling in the kitchen.
Steak lovers can feast on the Aged Prime Black Angus Beef Tenderloin with Port Wine Reduction. Smoked Maple Leaf Duck breast with Fig & Port Glaze is special, too, along with a Rosemary Marinated Rack of Lamb. Fish lovers will find their fill from Wood Grilled Scottish Salmon with Chef’s Sauce, Pan Seared Nantucket Scallops with Mushroom Butter Brown Sauce or a Pan Seared Seasonal Fish and Prawns Provencal.
“It’s not as much about fork as it is about farm,” Griggs says.
He wasn’t planning to be a chef. In fact, he longed to be an artist of some sort but could neither paint nor play piano. But he liked to grill as a youngster and dubs himself a pyro today. Bartending in a French restaurant introduced Griggs to the kitchen and the route that laid his culinary and business foundation. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America with an eye on food and management. His 30 years of experience includes catering Bill Clinton’s second Inaugural Ball.
“I didn’t go to chef school just to be a chef,” he says. “My career has been half in the kitchen and half out of the kitchen. I’m able to be in boardrooms as much as kitchens.”
In addition to Cochon on 2nd, his ventures include a catering company in Northern Virginia and Moody’s Kitchen, a takeout restaurant also in the Edge District. He also spent 12 years in country club management.
Building Cochon was a literal labor of love. As soon as Griggs secured the lease, he approached his aunt about removing the wood from the farm. She told him he could take anything as long as it wasn’t structural.
Hauling the actual wood wasn’t an easy undertaking, requiring four or five trips between him and his son from Desert Road, where the original barn still stands, to Williamsburg. The bounty included wood from the pigs stalls, their birth numbers still visible and a larger plank for the bar.
Once Griggs got all the wood in one place, he cleaned it and added shellac. It created just the effect he envisioned.
Once everything was in place, Griggs stood back in awe.
“The wood is the centerpiece,” he says. “It’s a quaint country restaurant. Less is more. It’s all about the food and the service.”
A chef’s table overlooks the open kitchen and can accommodate parties from two to 10. The menu for that table is personalized; patrons are encouraged to be adventurous.
“It’s so close to the kitchen, you can have conversations and you can see eyes,” Griggs says.
“One of the great things about an open kitchen is you can watch them take the first bite and they don’t know you’re looking. You know when you did a good job.”
He has since added a private dining room, Moody’s Room, with a wood-burning hearth fireplace with a 300-year-old spit jack, a mechanical jack that turns a spit during grilling.
As a young chef, he piled the plates with excessive amounts of food.
“When you get older you want to see what few ingredients you can use to make it pop,” he says. “It’s no frills, but it’s harder to do. You’re exposed. It’s like going out with no makeup on.”
Cochon ingredients are top-of-the-line, organic, local whenever possible.
As delicious as everything is, make room for Salli’s Sue’s lemon poundcake recipe for desert. It’s special and generation, no surprise given the roots that make dinner at Cochon an unforgettable experience.
Cochon on 2nd at 311-106 Second St., in Williamsburg is open 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sundays and Mondays. Call 757-229-1199 for reservations.