1201 First Street, Coronado
I know. My friend Naomi’s been here. Matter of fact, that’s part of why I stopped by. For me, barbecue’s like art. I don’t know much about it, but I know when I like it. Also, on this beautiful evening, it’s so great to find a barbecue joint pretty much facing America’s Finest across the waters.
The sign, “Lil’ Piggy’s Bar-B-Q,” includes an urban pig wearing a Frank Sinatra hat and shades and a black tie so he looks like some porker wise guy.
Ria and I stand here, looking up at it.
“Al Capoink?” I say.
Ria and Carla are buddies. And, yes, this was basically her idea: stop off at the Ferry Landing on the bay side of Coronado for some of “the best ribs in town outside Phil’s BBQ” to take home to Carla. ’Course, now that we’re here, we’re figuring we gotta grab something too. This place is where that great little Thai café used to be, in one of the Landing’s dunce-hat kiosks. Now, first thing you see is a stuffed Texas longhorn’s head on the wall, behind upside-down tin buckets used as hanging lampshades. Rusty old license plates cover the walls, from Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri. A massive cooler fills one side, loaded with just about every brand of beer you ever heard of, and then some. “We have over 100,” says this gal, Erica. “My favorite’s Lindemans’ Framboise. It’s a Belgian beer.” Mmm…tempting.
Erica gives us a couple of menus and sends us out onto their glass-enclosed deck. With the long bench-style picnic tables, you can see that they’re aiming for a party atmosphere. Already, a bunch of guys are chompin’ and chortlin’ down at the other end.
“Ribs,” says Ria. “You’ve gotta have ribs.”
But I want to see the whole menu first. Looks like the cheapest things are the smoked chicken wings, a half-dozen for $5.99. Their take on nachos, “Memphis Nachos,” is $8.99 but looks tempting — they add pulled pork or chicken to the usual pile of gunk and tortilla chips, and barbecue sauce. “Sweet, hot, and crunchy!” it says. But the main deal is in the “piggy sam’iches” and “piggy plates.” Most sam’iches are $8.99. The main ones are pulled pork or pulled chicken in a potato bun, with slaw and one side. Those sides range from “pig tails” (curly fries) through onion rings to corn fritters, salad, and baked beans. On the actual piggy plates you get two sides and white bread. They start at $6.99 for a “lil’ portion” of smoked sausage, to $9.99 for pulled pork (the big portion’s $12.99) to $14.99 for half a dozen baby-back ribs (full rack’s $20.95). They also do beef brisket ($10.99/$13.99) and grilled Bar-B-Q shrimp ($11.95/$14.95). The one thing you shouldn’t do is buy the sides separately. Corn fritters will cost you three bucks, fries four, and onion rings’ll set you back — whoa — six bucks.
“I’m having the pulled chicken, and you’re having the baby-back ribs,” Ria says. “Come on. First time, you’ve got to.”
Fifteen bucks, but I guess she’s right. What else would you go to a barbecue joint for? Besides, two of the guys along the table, Blane and Aaron, seem to know a bit about it. They say yeah, the ribs are good here. “Meat’s cooked well,” says Aaron. He should know. He’s from Kansas, though today he’s having pulled pork. “Spicy sauce is not very good. Not spicy enough. Not enough flavor. But the meat matches up with Kansas City very well.”
In the end, Ria and I share our dishes, have a bit of both. The pulled chicken is a little dry, but flavorsome, and tingles your mouth with its spiciness. Or was that the spicy barbecue sauce I gunked on (which tasted fine to me, but as Aaron said, not dragon-breath hot)? But the ribs are great. Full of flavor. “Awesome,” says Ria, as she nibbles into hers. “Smoky, tasty, tender, fall-off-the-bone, what more do you want?”
The guys say this is wet sauce on the ribs, not a dry-rub. Wet’s a slather, so it delivers a less intense flavor than thick dry-rubs. But it’s good for ribs because it keeps them moist and penetrates better to tenderize them during the long overnight cook. Whatever, this sure tastes good. Plus, we got four sides between us: grilled corn on the cob, two lots of corn fritters, and onion rings. Corn fritters, little balls of cornbread, are like hush puppies. They come with a tub of honey butter. Need that, too, ’cause they’re a little dry by their lonesome.
I also shake from a bottle of Trappey’s Louisiana Original Recipe Hot Sauce. I’m still lookin’ to get beyond tingle to a mule-kick. Trappey’s helps, somewhat.
“Hey,” says Blane, when Erica comes round to see how we’re doin’. “Didn’t we see you singing karaoke at Henry’s Pub downtown? You sang ‘Any Man of Mine,’ right? Shania Twain?”
“Wow,” says Erica. “You guys get around.”
We can’t get her to break into song here. Sigh. I glance outside. The Coronado Ferry is coming in. The setting sun has turned Diego across the bay into a Golden City. Its rays blast off the glass fronts of downtown’s high-rises.
Man. Scary-beautiful. As I say, I don’t know much about art, but how about this? A painting called Red Ribs in the Sunset, showing, like, ribs and this view? View with a Chew. Now that would be art. Art you wanna eat.
The Place: Lil’ Piggy’s Bar-B-Q, Coronado Ferry Landing, 1201 First Street, Coronado, 619-522-0217
Type of Food: Barbecue
Prices: Smoked chicken wings, $5.99 (half-dozen), $9.99 (dozen); Memphis nachos, with pulled pork or chicken, $8.99; pulled pork/chicken in potato bun, one side, $8.99; Bar-B-Q bacon burger, one side, $8.99; smoked sausage plate, two sides, $6.99 (small), $9.99 (large); pulled-pork plate, two sides, $9.99/$12.99; baby-back ribs (half rack, $14.99, full rack, $20.95); beef brisket, $10.99/$13.99; Bar-B-Q shrimp, $11.95/$14.95; pulled-pork salad, $9.99
Hours: 11:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. Sunday–Thursday; till 10:00 p.m. Friday–Saturday
Buses: 901, 904
Nearest Bus Stops: First and B (904); Third and Orange (901, four blocks away)
Ferry: Coronado Ferry
Nearest Ferry Stop: At Ferry Landing pier, 50 feet from restaurant