Sunday, January 9, 2011
Going Whole Hog in Little Rock
Many of us backyard barbecuers dream of getting more than a few compliments from the family and friends. Winning a local cook-off would offer some street cred, particularly if it has a name like “Ribstock,” “The Big Oink,” “A Pig Off” or a “Pig Jig.”
You’ll find a good list of these events online at http://www.barbecuenews.com.
The truly talented and brave pit bosses bring it to Memphis-in-May's World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest or the National Championship Barbecue Cookoff in Meridian, Texas, where teams compete for thousands of dollars in prizes as well as bragging rights.
However, it seems to me that it’s much more difficult for those who are successful in the competitive BBQ circuit to truly bring the same taste and quality to a restaurant on a consistent basis. Many have tried but not all can match their reputation to what ends up on your plate. A good reason is that the people preparing your food aren’t always the same ones who faced the judges.
I doubt that Donna and I ran into Mike “Sarge” Davis and Steve Lucchi during our first visit to the original location and headquarters of Whole Hog Café at 2516 Cantrell Road in Little Rock, Ark. However, this place lives up to the hype that has been spread by Fodor’s and TV food queen Rachel Ray (but the people we met were nice folks).
Competing as the Southern Gentlemen's Culinary Society, Davis, Lucci and the late Ron Blasingame (he died in September 2009) competed in the Memphis-in-May championships and won second place for their ribs in 2000, the same year they opened the first Whole Hog Café.
Memphis-in May judges went on to award them second place honors again in the ribs category in 2002 and 2008 and secured their place in history with a first place in 2002 in the Whole Hog category.
Their walls and their web site -- http://www.wholehogcafe.com – testify to their many other honors, particularly in their home state of Arkansas.
Our first of two visits there was marked by a beautiful mistake. When I went back to pick up our order, I accidentally picked up the wrong plate and a succulent beef brisket sandwich, instead of a pulled pork one. I wasn’t paying attention until after I’d taken my first bite, but rather than be disappointed, I was ecstatic.
The brisket was so tender that you didn’t really need teeth to enjoy it. Their slaw, which rests on every sandwich, provided a nice counterbalance in flavor. My wife loved her ribs. While smoked thoroughly, they were very moist. To accent it, Whole Hog makes six different sauces available to you at your table. The sides are terrific too, particularly the sour cream potato salad and the beans.
It is easy to see why Rachel Ray included Whole Hog Café in her list of must-visit barbecue restaurants, which will include some others that will be written about in this blog. MTV also likes it and, of course, you will find President Bill Clinton’s picture on the wall there too.
There are now 12 Whole Hog Café locations. Based on other reviews, the apple did not fall far from the tree.