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Come for the pork, stay for the camaraderie: Pizzeria Delfina's pig roasts offer more than just food

Monthly al fresco dinners feature all-you-can-eat food, good vibes

A group of children watched with utter glee as John Arcudi carved slices of meat from the slightly charred head of a whole roasted pig on the vine-covered patio at Pizzeria Delfina in downtown Palo Alto.

An older man hovering nearby laid claim to the pig's tongue. Others waited in line for the fatty cheeks while nursing cups of ice-cold Peroni beer.

Welcome to Pizzeria Delfina's all-you-can-eat pig roast, an indulgent celebration of, yes, food and drink, but also — unexpectedly — community. The convivial feast on the Italian restaurant's picturesque patio brings people of all ages together in a way that feels rare in the Silicon Valley of 2019.

At the dinners, held on the last Tuesday of the month from May through September, you'll see long tables lined with families, friends and couples lingering over bulging plates. No one's in a rush to do anything except enjoy a lazy summer evening al fresco.

Pizzeria Delfina started the pig roasts several years ago as a way to take advantage of the Peninsula's warm weather.

"We were excited to be somewhere where they have summer," said owner Craig Stoll, who lives in San Francisco. "We wanted a way to celebrate and have a party. In thinking what would be our favorite way to have a party, this is it."

Preparation for the most recent roast started a week ahead of time with the arrival of two 100-pound pigs from Schmitz Ranch (raised humanely on a local, vegetarian diet). Cooks scored the hogs' skin with razor blades and marinated them for three days with a mix of parsley, garlic, chili and salt. In years past, they've done a Mexican marinade reminiscent of cochinita pibil, Stoll said. The restaurant serves one pig at each two-hour seating (the "matinee" at 5:30 p.m. and "prime time" at 7:30 p.m.).

The pigs cook long and slow over six hours, enclosed in large Caja China roasting boxes topped with coals. Meat-laced smoke from the boxes, parked in the restaurant's back parking lot, wafts into the patio enticingly.

Half an hour before the first seating, veteran pig-roasters and newcomers alike lined up in a designated area on the sidewalk alongside a retractable divider, like we were waiting to get into an exclusive nightclub (but one that serves all-you-can-eat pork). Two young children peered excitedly into the patio for a peek at the pig, wheeled in by two staffers just before 5:30 p.m.

Arcudi, chef de cuisine at Pizzeria Delfina Burlingame, and Russel Rummer, culinary director for all Pizzeria Delfina locations, diligently broke down the pig as people returned for seconds, then thirds, waiting for the most sought-after cuts. The chefs start with the legs and then move forward, cutting the head off for the grand finale.

Rummer's favorite cut is the "underrated" neck.

"It's a really good ratio of meat to fat," he said. "Everyone's like, 'I want the belly or I want the cheek,' but the neck — it's a good spot."

An herby salsa verde, salsa roja, pickled red onions, flaky sea salt and pickled vegetables serve as accoutrement for the pork. Acme Bread rolls are on hand for anyone who wants to construct a D.I.Y. sandwich.

While the pig is the main attraction, Delfina doesn't skimp on the sides, which are always seasonal and Italian-esque. In late August, the heaping buffet celebrated peak summer produce: juicy heirloom tomatoes in a panzanella salad, grilled corn slathered in Calabrian chili butter, charred Jimmy Nadelo peppers, figs with ricotta on toast and a refreshing melon salad tossed with cucumbers, chili, mint and feta.

There was also fagioli all'uccelletto, silky butter beans cooked with onion, tomato paste, rosemary and sage and then baked. Plus, a platter of so-crunchy-they're-loud chicharrones.

For dessert, diners served themselves spoonfuls of a warm Gravenstein apple crumble baked in enormous ceramic dishes, accompanied by scoops of vanilla gelato.

A ticket — $60 for the first seating, $70 for the second, $30 for kids 12 years and under — gets you all you can eat for two hours and as much Peroni, lemonade and iced tea as you can drink. Wine and cocktails cost extra.

The scene at the patio was a breath of fresh air in Palo Alto. Instead of the automatic rush from work to home, headphones in and eyes buried in phones, people of all ages paused to connect over pork and wine. Several attendees said they make a point to go to at least one pig roast, if not multiple ones, every summer.

There's only one event remaining this year, on Sept. 24. Even if you can't make it (or don't eat pork), we could all stand to channel some pig roast vibes — slowing down and connecting with loved ones and friends over good food — into our day-to-day lives.

For more information and to purchase tickets, go to pizzeriadelfina.com/paloalto/.

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