Food was never very far from the thoughts of Mississippi blues great Armenter Chatmon, better known to the world as Bo Carter. At least we assume he was thinking about food when he dreamed up blues ballads like “Banana in Your Fruit Basket” and “Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me.”
OK, so maybe those references are just a little ambiguous. Maybe he was thinking about food, and maybe he wasn’t. But there’s no doubt that Bo had his dinner plate in mind when he warbled the tune I love best, “Pigmeat is What I Crave.”
I’m right with him there: Meat, fish, fowl or soy protein, it’s hard to beat pork for sheer deliciousity.
Naturally when I heard about a new barbecue joint out in the East End called Pig City, I knew where I had to be. I ripped “Pigmeat” onto my iPod and was ready to head out that way when Eat ’N’ Blog correspondent PAIGE MOORE-HEAVIN announced that she had already been, and loved it.
Here’s her report. I’ll tack on a few observations of my own at the end.
Pig City BBQ sweetens the deal with cherry wood
Having spent 11 years in Owensboro — within sniffin’ distance of several world-renowned BBQ joints — I have a small chip on my shoulder when it comes to evaluating smoked meat. My first rule is that your meat needs sauce (or “dip” in Western Kentucky), it’s too dry and flavorless in the first place.
So, needless to say, I was eager to try Pig City BBQ when it opened recently in Middletown (next to “the old Furrow’s building,” for Louisvillians who give directions based on landmarks that no longer exist). Since the co-owner’s sister is a friend of mine, I scored an invite to a friends-and-family night before the restaurant opened to the general public.
Pig City doesn’t look like you’d expect. With its sleek surfaces, bright colors and flat-screen TVs, the restaurant seems more upscale than your traditional BBQ joint. There’s no bar, but you can order from a long list of bottled beers, a few pre-mixed cocktails and a short list of wines.
The meat doesn’t taste quite like you’d expect, either. According to the restaurant’s Web site, Pig City BBQ seasons with a special rub and smokes the meat for up to 24 hours with cherry wood. The unusual choice of wood imparts a slight sweetness to the meat — especially the chicken. They also offer a very tender beef brisket, plus traditional Memphis-style ribs and pulled pork.
Sandwiches range from $6 to $7.50, and you can add two sides for $2.50. Main course platters include sides, and range in price from $7 (for half of a chicken) to $18.50 (for a full slab of ribs).
All of the meats come unadorned with sauce, and they required none, easily passing my “good enough without sauce” test. If you’re into sauces, you’re in, pardon the expression, pig heaven, with six squeeze bottles neatly organized in beer six-pack holders on every table: Pig City’s signature Champion sauce, Western Kentucky mild, smoky Kansas City, Carolina mustard, tangy Tennessee original, and Texas hot.
Of all the items I tried at the preview night, the cheesy potatoes (one of 16 side dishes on the menu) were by far my favorite. They’re similar to a certain chain restaurant’s hash-brown casserole, but creamier and studded with smoky, thick-cut bacon.
Next time I’m in the city — of Middletown, that is — I’ll definitely pig out at Pig City BBQ again.
Pig City BBQ
12003 Shelbyville Road
Restaurant consultant Houston Jones, who said he designed the eatery for restaurateurs Jeffery Polsgrove and Jeremy Molsberger, said it has capacity for 140 diners inside and 40 more on a deck overlooking a small pond and fountain out front.
We followed Paige out a couple of weeks after her preview, and over-ate in a bid to try as much of the menu as we could. I started with a cup of burgoo ($4.99), a reasonably authentic rendition of the Kentucky original made with lots of shredded baby-back rib meat and canned vegetables in a thin tomato-laced broth, then went on to a shared appetizer, a generous portion of baby backs ($4.99 for three ribs, although we actually got four, which made it a lot easier to share). They were just about the leanest, meatiest pork ribs I’ve ever seen, a strong plus, but they were a bit on the dry side and didn’t have a lot of smoke character. As a Louisville boy who thinks of Owensboro as a long way out in the country, I have no prejudice against sauces, and I thought they helped. The Texas hot particularly fired my six-shooter.
The “three-sandwich special” ($5.99) is a good lunch option for those like me who can’t make up their mind. Three square buns, remarkably reminiscent of slightly oversize White Castles, bore small but reasonable rations of pulled pork, pulled chicken and sliced beef brisket. All three meats, again, were tender and juicy but struck me as a bit on the bland side, not enough to complain about but definitely benefiting from add-your-own sauces. (Try the yellow mustard-based sauce on pork or chicken … it gets my two-thumbs-up.)
The half-chicken dinner ($5.99) was noteworthy for portion size: A beautiful, mahogany-color serving looked almost more like a small turkey than a chicken, and the meat was juicy and tender. Again, smoke flavor was subtle at best, but the chicken was good enough that it didn’t matter. A little Memphis-style thin sauce brought it around for me; my wife, who shares Paige’s disdain for sauces, enjoyed it au naturel.
Side dishes ranged from good to excellent. Long-simmered wide Roma beans gained stature from plenty of shredded meat. “Cheesy potatoes” were as Paige reported, and my bride loved them, too. BBQ beans were a little more idiosyncratic; well cooked, creamy and tender, they weren’t improved in my opinion by a thick, sticky-sweet sauce with a wild-cherry flavor that bore an unfortunate resemblance to Smith Brothers cough drops.
That was one of the few disappointments in a fine barbecue repast, however, and if Pig City could just kick up the smoke quotient a little bit — easy, easy, don’t overdo — they’ll move into my top rank of local barbecue joints. Our Sunday lunch for two mounted to $26.99, plus a $6.01 tip for caring, competent service; you don’t really have to spend that much, and probably shouldn’t, unless you want to skip dinner like we did.
Ciao and Muchas Gracias in Portland
An unexpected urban pioneer has arrived in a new strip center just off 22nd Street in Portland, a historic if under-appreciated neighborhood just a short distance west of downtown. Fresco Southwest Grill and Pizza offers your pick of Mexican or Italian dishes — or, if you like, a little of both — in a sparkling, inviting space that looks a bit like a fast-food franchise but offers hearty, welcoming service that you expect of a mom ’n’ pop.
Here’s Eat ’N’ Blogger SUZI BERNERT with a scouting report:
You’ll find an L-shaped service area, one side Mexican, the other Italian; menus with pictures and descriptions are on the walls. The Mexican side offers the usual tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos and taco salads, but any resemblance to Taco Bell ends with an array of fillings that include steak, grilled chicken, shredded beef, shredded pork, ground sirloin and grilled vegetables. The Italian side has pizza (whole or by the slice), spaghetti and meatballs, Italian sausage sandwich, chicken parmesan sandwich and Italian fries (with mozzarella cheese and herbs).
Our son Edward, torn between Mexican and Italian, settled on the Pizza Combo — a slice of pizza with french fries and a drink ($3.99 for cheese pizza). I ordered guacamole and chips ($2.89), my litmus test for Mexican fare. A large basket with almost a pint of guacamole surrounded by freshly fried tortilla chips arrived first. The guacamole was bright green with visible avocado chunks, very flavorful with a hint of onion, lime and an earthy undertone. The lady behind the counter told me the recipe came from her boyfriend’s family in Acapulco. Only a teenager would eat pizza and french fries together, and Edward did. The pizza slice was very large, with a medium-thick crust bearing a nice balance of sauce, cheese and toppings. Edward liked it a lot. His fries were hot, crisp, golden and abundant.
We couldn’t help notice that several customers ordered burritos ($4.99-$5.49), which were very large and gave off wonderful scents as they passed our table. A low-carb burrito option presents the ingredients unwrapped on a plate instead of wrapped.
On a later visit, I tried a chicken quesadilla to go. It consisted of simply seasoned shredded chicken with a load of white cheese, fresh-grilled to order, served with sides of salsa, sour cream and guacamole.
If Fresco’s fast-food fare can’t quite rank with the top Mexican or Italian food in town, it is good, plentiful food at a price that’s more than fair. Beer and wine are served, and dessert options include cookies, Derby Pie, chocolate éclair and peanut butter pie, although I can’t imagine having room for dessert after portions this large. Mark Fresco down as a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
Fresco Southwest Grill & Pizza
2047 Lytle St.
Marching for Dimes
The 2006 March of Dimes Signature Chefs Feast and Auction will be Wednesday, Nov. 15, at the Marriott Louisville Downtown. A gourmet-style sampling feast featuring selections by more than 20 local “Signature Chefs” will begin at 6 p.m., followed at 8 p.m. by a live auction featuring dining packages offered by the chefs. Patron tables with preferred seating for 10 are available for a $2,000 donation (of which $1,650 is tax-deductible); individual tickets are $150 ($115 tax-deductible).
Dining Out for Life
Mark your calendars and plan to support the 10th annual Dining Out For Life on Wednesday, Nov. 29. Dine out at any of more than 50 participating restaurants, and 20 percent or more of your bill will be donated to House of Ruth for the support of Glade House, caring for individuals and families affected by HIV and AIDS in our community. For a complete list of participating restaurants online, visit www.diningoutforlife.com, click “Louisville,” then click “Participating Restaurants.”
Contact Robin Garr at [email protected]