Yes, Virginia, there is a Dixie Pig. He's alive and totally revitalized in Alexandria.
After nearly three years of on again, off again false starts, nearly endless code enforcement requirements coupled with contractor troubles and public hearings, the day is finally here.
The evening sky over 1228 Powhatan Street once again glows with the neon caricature of the city's beloved porker. He will make his official grand entrance March 1, which is, believe it or not, "National Pig Day."
This time however, right under his rooftop prancing, well rounded, figure, is a new addition — the name Ruffino's. Mansur Rad and Robin Gamzeh, owners of Ruffino's Italian Restaurant in Arlington, are also the proud owners of The Dixie Pig.
What is this National Pig Day? As Rad said, the Los Angles Times first reported in 1999 that Ellen Stanley, an art teacher in Lubbock, Texas, started the event in 1972. As the Times related, "Because she loves everything porcine and has a massive collection of porcelain pig figurines."
Rad brought forth a large wall calendar known as Chase's Calendar of Event. Written along side March 1 was "National Pig Day." The calendar explains, it is to honor "one of man's most intelligent and useful domesticated animals."
THE NEW MENU reflects the owner's expertise in Italian cuisine, but there will also be barbecue and spare ribs.
"There are four different recipes for barbecue. We are going to cook them all and let the customers decide which should be the permanent one. Then we'll put it on the menu as a special at least once a week," Rad said.
The totally refurbished restaurant has been conducting a shakedown cruise since February 10. That's when they held their sneak opening to test not only their menu and staff preparedness, but also times of operation.
"The first night we did great. It was packed," Rad said. "And we have been doing a good lunch business. But we also discovered that breakfast was a bust. Our first customer that first day didn't come in until 11:30 a.m., and he wanted lunch."
Based on customer traffic since February 10, the owners have decided not to offer breakfast. However, they will have brunch on Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 9 a.m., according to Rad. From Monday through Friday they will operate from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
During the weekend brunch period they will offer "breakfast and lunch choices such as traditional breakfast items combined with burgers, sandwiches and salads," Rad said. "We will also offer dinner on the weekends, the same as during the week. Our hours on the weekends will be from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Saturday and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday."
WITH SEATING FOR 53 at a combination of individual tables, booths, and food/bar there is ample room. Customers can count on service from six employees per shift with two shifts per day, he noted.
Those who frequented the former establishment will not recognize either the decor or offerings for the palette. The atmosphere is light and bright with four new skylights in the ceiling of the dining area.
The walls are a delicate seamist green accentuated by seven dark green and white striped booths along the parking lot side wall. Two of those walls contains prints of a painting done by the late Clay Huffman of the original lighted Dixie Pig. "They were given to me as a gift for our opening," Rad said.
In addition to the booths there are 10 individual tables that can be configured to accommodate various size parties. Both seating possibilities are complimented by a neighborly, fully stocked bar at the kitchen end of the dining area. It can seat approximately eight for food or drinks or both.
The lot outside provides parking for nine vehicles, including one handicapped parking space. "We think this should be plenty. Most of our customers thus far, have been within walking distance," Rad said. The restaurant is also handicapped accessible.
AS FOR THE MENU, it is a cornucopia of Italian specialties for which Ruffino's, now in business 12 years, is noted, as well as other items. Each day there will be a specialty offering.
Last Friday it was baked salmon with steamed vegetables covered by a caper garlic/lemon sauce. It came with a side of spaghetti and tomato sauce. Priced at $13.95, it was listed as "What Robin caught today."
There is a wide array of appetizers ranging in price from $3.95 to $7.45, complimented by soups and salads priced from $3.50 to $8.50.
Pastas are listed at $6.95 to $9.50 and include such specialties as tortolini, offered alfredo or cardinal.
Entrees include various chicken dishes from $9.50 to $10.45; veal offerings at $10.45 to $11.45; and seafood and pasta combinations from $8.95 to $12.95. There's even pizza at $5.95. Extra toppings are 85 cents each.
Deserts include key lime pie, cheese cake and carmoli with strawberries, tiramisu, cannoli, snikers bar pie, and spumoni. Prices range from $3.50 to $4.50.
In addition to the full bar, customers have their choice of house or specialty wines as well as domestic and imported beers. The non-alcoholic list is equally comprehensive.
When it comes to brunch, Ruffino's Dixie Pig is not to be outdone. In addition to eight omelettes offerings, there are two types of steak and eggs as well as pork chops and eggs. These share the brunch menu with french toast, served with either sausage links, bacon, or canadian bacon, and eggs benedict. Prices range from $3.50 to $15.95.
Juices include orange, tomato, cranberry and apple. There is also the possibility of starting with a Bloody Mary, Mimosa, or other kick-starter of choice.
"Our menu is the work of Jerry Ruffino who's been our chef for 12 years," Rad acknowledged. "I've actually been a chef for 20 years," Jerry added. He is supported by night cook Rene and the kitchen crew of Juan and Earl.
Making their jobs easier is a whole new kitchen coupled with walk-in cooler and freezer. The entire building is served by a new air condition and heating system. "All odors are now contained within the system," Rad explained.
From the eye-catching new beveled glass front door to his highness, actually and figuratively, "The Pig" on the roof, the reopening of this Alexandria landmark should be a treat for all who enter.
Speaking of "The Pig," Rad admitted it was a costly undertaking to preserve the visual icon. "It had to be completely redone including all new wiring and lighting. The cost was $8,000."