Tasty to Terrible

Our first visit to the Hog Pit was great; our second was awful

Two visits to the Hog Pit Smokehouse Bar and Grill ... two radically different experiences.

Experience 1: Lunch. Rainy Sunday, about six tables occupied, country music.

Our server came to the table relatively quickly and asked if we'd been there before. She explained that all of the meats are "marinated" for up to 12 hours, that the sides are made fresh daily, and that the three sauces—Hog, Black Magic and Voo Doo—are made in-house from original recipes.

I did have to ask how the sauces differ: The Hog is mild; Black Magic is spicier with chipotle; Voo Doo is really hot, with 12 types of peppers. (The menu states that the meats are "slow smoked over pecan wood for up to 16 hours." I'm sure that's what the server meant to say.)

The Hog Pit is more bar than restaurant. The bar itself is wrapped in shiny corrugated metal and sits squarely in the middle of the main room. A side room has pool tables, and there's a tempting patio out front. Beer signs and faux graffiti are splashed about. Influences of the other type of Hog—aka Harley-Davidson—are found, although there were no actual bikes around when we were there.

We ordered a full smoked baby-back rib platter ($18) and the smoked brisket platter ($9), both with the Black Magic sauce. (The ribs are also available in a half-rack, $12, and quarter-rack, $7.) The platters come with corn bread and a choice of two sides among cole slaw, hog beans, fries and calabacitas (with a $1 charge for sweet-potato fries). We both ordered the beans, with one order each of calabacitas and sweet-potato fries.

The food was delivered in practically no time. (We did have to ask for the cornbread, though, and because our server never really stopped by to see how we were doing, we had to take it to-go. It was wonderful the next morning for breakfast: dense and slightly sweet, with bits of corn and chiles.)

The portions were generous. The brisket was piled high on a slice of Texas toast. Smoky and tender, the beef was obviously prepared with great care. The ribs were meaty—more so than other baby backs we've tried. Pink from long hours of smoking, they basically slid off the bone. They may have been a little fatty, but still proved to be a nice sample of good smoking.

The sides were impressive, too. The calabacitas consisted of thinly sliced triangles of zucchini, tomato bits, corn nibs and chiles, all topped with a shredded white cheese (Monterey jack?) which melted into the veggies as soon as the fork touched them. The beans were rich in smoke and laced with bits of pork. The sweet-potato fries were perfectly cooked—lightly crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, without a trace of grease—and nicely seasoned.

Though we were sated, we ordered the Jack Daniels bread pudding ($4). The dense fist-sized portion of cinnamon-raisin bread was drizzled with a luscious caramelized Jack sauce. There was a real homemade sense to the dish.

After this visit, I would've gladly recommended The Hog Pit.

Experience 2: Dinner. Monday evening, several tables occupied, music ... well ...

I wasn't all that fond of the country music playing during lunch, but it was way better than what was playing—or playing in parts—that night. First, it was Van Morrison, and then three lines into the song, the music switched to America; before that song finished, the Rolling Stones popped on, only to be replaced by yet another abbreviated song. It was like playing "Name That Tune" on acid.

After we were given menus, we decided to split the Hog chili ($5) and the barbecue wings ($9 for 12; $6.59 for six), along with the pulled-pork platter ($8) and the barbecued pastrami sandwich ($7).

When it came time to order, our server informed us that they were out of the chili, the pastrami, the calabacitas and Amstel Light. Bad enough, but that information should've been presented when we were given our menus.

So ... we ordered the half-chicken platter ($12) instead. We asked for the Hog sauce on the wings; our server didn't bother to ask if we wanted a different sauce on the entrées.

The presentation on the wings was slapdash, with a ranch dipping sauce that was watered down to the point where there was no flavor at all. Plus, the wings were woefully undercooked.

Our entrées fared no better. The pulled-pork portion was meager in comparison to the brisket on our first visit. (We joked that maybe they were running out of pulled pork, too.) My chicken was watery and bland, and the cornbread—which we again had to ask for—was too dry to eat.

The sides, which had been so tasty at lunch, were disappointing. The slaw was barely dressed, and needed salt and pepper to bring up the flavor. The beans were barely room temperature; the fries were unremarkable; and those sweet-potato fries this time were so greasy that they were inedible.

We opted out of dessert; we just didn't want to chance, say, the deep-fried Oreos ($4).

Why such a big difference between lunch and dinner? It was the topic of conversation all the way home.

One big plus: The sauces were prepared well and quite distinctive. The Hog was slightly sweet with just enough black pepper to balance out the sweetness. The Black Magic was thick and smoky, with just enough of a kick to wake up the taste buds. (We didn't get a chance to try the Voo Doo.)

I'd like to believe that our first visit was more of a reflection of the true Hog Pit Smokehouse Bar and Grill. At least two of my Weekly colleagues have had great food there, so here's hoping the second visit was just an off night. We all have them now and then.

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