When I was 18 I was a fast-food cook at a takeout stand in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, called the Pig ’n’ Puppy, a name so clumsy and unappealing that I had a difficult time admitting I worked there. (The Pig stood for barbecue and the Puppy for hushpuppies — which is what we served.) But a new restaurant on La Brea has trumped that, and then some.
The Pig as a restaurant name is so funny and wicked and nervy and audacious, well, I just had to go there.
Just south of Melrose, sandwiched, as it were, between the Showcase movie theater and Louis XIV, The Pig is a Memphis-style barbecue stand. And an all-out piece of Americana complete with a new-age Wurlitzer, a CD-spinning Rockola featuring whole album sides of, say, Elvis, Aerosmith, Marc Anthony. The counters and handful of tables are red-and-white-checked Formica; the largest seating area is at the tables out on the sidewalk. Images of Elvis, Jay Leno and Porky Pig grace the walls, and a huge red menu looms down. The crew wear cab-yellow T-shirts; the music’s on loud; the whole place is charmingly assaultive and all but screams franchise.
Which might not be a bad thing.
I have been pretty happy eating at The Pig. The Memphis-style barbecue is almost identical to North Carolina–style barbecue in that it’s slow-cooked pork shoulder that’s either pulled (in chunks) or chopped — except that The Pig’s version has more flavor. It’s delicious — smoky, well-seasoned, a barbecued version of carnitas. Hint: Stuff some of The Pig’s “sweet” coleslaw right into your pork sandwich; the light creaminess and cool crunch of the green cabbage set off the rich, spiced meat.
St. Louis–style spareribs have the sauce cooked on — they’re “wet,” in a word — so that they’re blistered and blackened and caramelized and sticky and very juicy, a lush, almost candied meat. Hickory-smoked baby back ribs are “dry,” that is, rubbed with seasonings and smoked, and, if the eater is inclined, can be dipped into a barbecue sauce of choice. (There are several house-bottled sauces on the table: Smokin’ Spicy, Red Hot Vinegar, Sweet Mustard, Sweet N Sassy.) These baby ribs are more subtle than their larger St. Louis brothers, less sweet, less fatty, and to my mind better overall — although this surely is a matter of personal taste. Luckily, both are terrific versions.
Other must-have menu items include the applewood-smoked brisket; as a dinner or in a sandwich, it has the tenderness of a pot roast and the profound smokiness of slow-cooked barbecue. Sides include that judiciously dressed sweet coleslaw, the spicier red-cabbage “Cajun” coleslaw and an excellent potato salad. Barbecued beans, turnip greens — both are prime examples of their type. The jalapeño corn bread, however, is unremarkable. Oily.
I am happy to report there are no puppies at The Pig.
Skip the New Orleans chicken-wing appetizer and go for the vinegar-glazed semiblackened barbecued chicken. The catfish po’ boy has a good crunchy breaded fillet, but not much else going for it. Hey, not everything’s perfect at The Pig!
And, just to say you have, try an order of fried dill-pickle chips. Thin, sour, succulent dill slices wear a beer batter that is at once alluringly chewy and crunchy — I really can’t decide if they’re inspired or disgusting. The accompanying spiced mayonnaise definitely tips the scale toward the latter.
The Pig is a mom-and-pop operation: Pop, Daly Thompson, stokes the hick’ry and applewood fires; Mom, Liz Thompson, makes oversize pies (apple crumble, blueberry lattice and Karo pecan pie, which is served in downright lethal doses) and larger-than-life double-fudge brownies.
Lemonade is squeezed fresh every day — the use of sugar is unflinching, and authentic. Designer sodas are somehow perfect for this newfangled, high-concept, gleaming franchise-to-be. Choose from orange or grape Nehi, Blenheim ginger ale or Frostie’s eerie blue cream soda.
Out of sheer necessity — the surrounding neighborhood is beastly for parking — The Pig has a valet. Before you hand over your keys (and $3.50), make sure there’s a place to sit. Otherwise phone ahead, double-park and carry out. The Pig has a number of excellent, reasonably priced to-go packages with meats, multiple sides, sauces, cutlery and a generous supply of napkins and wet naps.
The Pig is closed through September 11.
612 N. La Brea Ave.; (323) 935-1116. Open Tues.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. Entrées $6.50–$15.95. No alcohol. Takeout available, even preferred. Valet parking. CB, DC, MC, V. Recommended dishes: pulled and chopped pork shoulder; spareribs; baby back ribs; brisket; potato salad; sweet slaw; barbecued beans.