Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Side items star at Pudgy Pig BBQ

RING OF SMOKE:  Under the crust on Pudgy Pigs beef brisket
  • RING OF SMOKE: Under the "crust" on Pudgy Pig's beef brisket
The Russellville contingent of Eat Arkansas fans have been after me to go check out this new barbecue place in town. Problem’s been, every time I’ve pulled up in the parking lot of Pudgy Pig BBQ, the place has been deserted.
Monday I gave them one last shot. I figured, I’d been there too early one day (they open at 11 a.m.), too late one evening (they close at 7 p.m. on weekdays), too wrong day (they’re never open on Sunday) and just unlucky all the way around. Maybe it was a sign.
Still, I was relieved to see the OPEN sign lit above the door when we drove up. I did go check the front door to make sure it was open before the family poured out of the vehicle, though.
Inside, we found a pretty big restaurant. There’s a wooden divider up by the door, so it was hard to tell just how big the place was, but behind it the store goes straight back a ways. You could get a crowd of 40 in there.
We were the only customers that early afternoon, coming in after 2 p.m. The menu is written on chalkboard above the counter. There was a daily special — a medium pork sandwich, one side and a drink for $8.29.
We each ordered something different. Paul’s dad went for a large pulled pork sandwich (not pictured) with crinkle cut French fries and coleslaw for $9.69. The sandwiches listed on the board are Pudgy (for pork) and Moo (for brisket) and each comes in one of three sizes with a choice of that or a basket.
Paul went for the pulled pork BBQ Meat Platter ($8.29) and I chose the same but with beef brisket ($9.29). Both came with two sides and two triangles of Texas toast. We sat down and our beverages were brought to the table.
I thought it was cute — the restaurant has a high chair but no booster seat, but the proprietor (whose name escapes me right now) brought out a t-shirt box for Hunter to sit on. It was the perfect height.
He was the only one working at the time, his wife having taken off for a break. I gathered that the business is just the two of them, which explains the hours. He told me he comes in at six each morning to start the smoker.
Our lunches were delivered a few minutes later. I’ve never seen barbecue brought out on a square “fancy plate” before, but no matter, it’s still barbecue, right?
So first the meat. Paul found his pulled pork to be rather soft and juicy, nicely shredded but not very smoky. It was tender, though. He tried it with the regular sauce and liked it. He also tried it with a special mustard sauce that the owner calls “pork sauce,” a mustard and brown sugar concoction that was very, well, mustardy. Paul pronounced it a better sauce for the meat.
I suppose I should mention those sauces. There are three on the table  — the mild, which comes across as a honey-based sauce with plenty of good rub spices like paprika and black pepper. There’s the spicy, which is a kicked up version of the mild, just as sweet and about on par with the average mild sauce elsewhere. And then there’s the cayenne, which we were told was based on Frank’s Red Hot Sauce. The “pork sauce” is available on request.
My brisket was pull-apart soft, no knife required (or provided, I probably should ask). It was a tiny bit dry but had a very deep red smoke ring. I found it went best with the spicy sauce — enough sweetness to augment the beef and enough spices to give it depth.
While the meats were good, the side items were fantastic. Utterly fantastic. The traditional coleslaw wasn’t too milky. The Cajun coleslaw, though — well, you need to try it. It’s a blend of cabbage, green onions, Granny Smith apples, Craisins (sweetened and dried cranberries), a little bit of green Jalapeno and a little hint of cayenne.  We got a sample of it and were just overjoyed.
Then there were the two different potato salads. Paul tried the Home Style Potato Salad — which includes bacon, green onions and little pieces of tomato. He pronounced it good for a mayo-based potato salad, the caveat being he prefers his potato salads with mustard. The chunks of skin-on red potato range up to half an inch and are firm but not quite mash-tender.
I tried the Country Potato salad, which was also mayo based but which featured skin-off potatoes with bits of red onion and celery. This is a very smooth potato salad, and I ended up losing about half of it to Hunter, who could not get enough of it. She chose it over the Home Style version.
And then there was the Fried Corn on the Cob. I’ve had versions of Fried Corn on the Cob before, and every other time it’s been battered before being deep fried. Not here. The frozen cobbettes are thrown directly into the deep fryer, drained and buttered. And they’re good… the deep frying caramelizes the corn, making it firmer and sweeter. I got in a few bites before Hunter decided she wanted it. It was funny to watch — she consumed all of the kernels and then went to town chewing on the cob. If we hadn’t taken it away from her she would have undoubtedly started to take chunks out of the woody part.
In all, we were pleased with our visit. The price range seems a bit up there compared to Old Post BBQ across town, but the quality of the side items makes up for it. Baked beans, fried okra and green beans are other side item options. All sides are $1.75 for a single, $3 for a half pint and $4.75 for a pint. I think I’ll be getting a pint of that Cajun coleslaw and the County Potato Salad next time I come through.
You can also have a baked potato, baked sweet potato or side salad with your meal but it costs a bit more.
One more thing… when I went back to my notes, I noticed that there were other items I’ll have to try. The pork ribs have been highly recommended and I’ll have to get a human guinea pig to give them a shot. There are also sausages (Polish, bratwurst and hot links), smoked turkey breasts and stuffed baked potatoes — I’m going to have to ask if beef can be substituted for the pork listed with them. I also need to ask about the Rib Scraps for People for $3.99 — would that be four-legged people? Hm.
I also missed out on the Triple Layer Bars at the front… $2.25 for these big hunks of chocolate, coconut and peanut butter. Maybe next time.
You’ll find Pudgy Pig BBQ a block east of Weir Road on Parkway (geez, they just built Parkway when I lived there in the early 90s!) — so it’s an easy off-and-on from the interstate at the new Weir Road exit. They’re open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., an hour later on Friday and Saturday and like all proper barbecue restaurants closed on Sunday. (479) 967-6062.

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