Review: The Pig (Chapel Hill, NC)

In the world of barbecue, much is made of tradition – doing things the way they’ve always been done.  There’s something to be said for this: some of the best cue you’ll find in the Triangle comes from Allen & Sons, where Mr. Allen still gets up in the middle of the night to chop hickory wood and start the meat cooking for hours and hours.  This traditional formula has been tweaked over the years to the point that nowadays most barbecue is cooked over gas.  More recently, the cuisine has been updated by places like The Pit in Raleigh through the use of local, pasture-raised, hormone-free meat sources.  The Pig in Chapel Hill builds on this progression but takes it all even further, with an ambitious menu that aims to please the meat lover and vegetarian alike.

The building is located in a small shopping center off of Weaver Dairy Road.  Despite a large façade, the restaurant feels tucked away (it’s easy to pass right by).  The inside is quite modest and small, and, like a prototypical bbq joint, lacks much of any adornment.  The menu is scrawled on a large chalkboard above the tiny kitchen, and is impressive in its scope.  Items include not just bbq, but also pork belly sandwiches, catfish po-boys, homemade pastrami and bologna, and, for the vegetarians, country-fried tofu, shitake po-boys, or a sweet PLT sandwich (sweet potato, lettuce, tomato).  There are usually some additional specials as well.  The list of side items is equally tempting, if a bit more traditional: hushpuppies, mac & cheese, collards, baked beans, fried okra, mashed potatoes, and so on.

I ordered the pork belly sandwich ($6.50, with pickles on the side) and a side of sprouts n’ shrooms ($3.25).  Having the sides priced a la carte like this can lead to a pricey meal, particularly if you opt for a sandwich as your main item.  My wife ordered the small bbq tray ($7.50), which came with slaw, hushpuppies, and pickles.  I’ll summarize right here by stating that, with the exception of the hushpuppies, everything was incredibly delicious.  The pork belly was meltingly tender and had a nice sweet glaze on it.  The slaw on the sandwich included plenty of carrots, and made the end result even better, though the whole thing was served on a cheapy throwaway bun.  The pickles were fantastic; they were crisp and sweet and tasted as though they’d only been marinated for a day or less.  Not being a huge fan of pickles in general, these were just right.  The sprouts n’ shrooms was a small bowl of charred brussels sprouts and button mushrooms.  It was good too, but I’d probably try a different side item next time.  Perhaps I’d choose the fried summer squash or okra, both of which I also had the chance to sample.  The squash was served as thin golden planks of crispiness, seasoned with coarse salt and oregano.  The okra was also crusty and delicious, and heavy on the chili powder.  The hushpuppies, being more of an underseasoned cornbread fritter, were a departure from the norm, and weren’t a big hit with me or the rest of our party.  It’s normally very hard for me to lay off the hushpuppies at a bbq restaurant, but these didn’t keep me coming back for more.  As for the bbq itself, I thought it too was great.  It lacked smokiness but was very flavorful, having arrived well sauced from the kitchen.

Having tried many bbq restaurants over the years (and enjoyed most all of them), I love the approach that the Pig is taking.  I’m excited to go back and try more of their menu.