3749 Park Boulevard, Hillcrest
Being a fan of pork, passing by a restaurant called the Whole Hog was bound to stir up some cravings. The place practically sits in the middle of the intersection of Robinson Avenue and Park Boulevard , jutting out on the small strip of land created where Park abandons straight lines and swerves east-west for no clear reason. I've noticed it for months and every trip past I've wondered: which part of the hog would I go after first?
It finally opened last week. A soft opening at least, with only two parts of the hog yet available: shoulder and belly. This, at least, made ordering easier than I'd expected. Choosing the pork belly sliders was a no-brainer. Deciding on a pulled pork sandwich was less so. The options were Kansas City or Carolina style.
The KC sandwich comes with a sweet, tomato-based sauce, with pickles. The Carolina entry skews South Carolina, with a yellow mustard and vinegar based sauce, topped by cole slaw. Each served on a locally baked telera roll with two sides for ten bucks. I went Carolina.
These guys seem to know their meat. The pulled pork shoulder was tender and flavorful, and just moist enough on its own that it didn't need a whole lot of sauce. Which is good because there wasn't a lot of sauce to be had. Actually, the effect was more of a mustard spread topping the sandwich. The telera was good, but it's obviously not the traditional vessel for such a sandwich. It buried the meat, and the sandwich came out looking almost flat, rather than the piled-high meat we're all used to from BBQ sandwiches. More meat and more sauce, and I think they're on to something.
The sides are getting there. I went with cole slaw, which tasted bright and fresh and decidedly not drowned in mayonnaise (which is a good thing). The mac and cheese truly disappointed me. As simple a dish as it is, I can't help experiencing a moment of childlike joy when I know it'll soon be on my plate. The Whole Hog mac came out dry, and like the rest of the food here, not very saucy (which in this case is a bad thing). It tasted okay, but probably tasted a lot better when it was freshly made.
My favorite of the meal were definitely the 6 dollar pork belly sliders. More evidence the Whole Hog guys know what they're doing when they cook pork, the slices of pork belly are served on sweet Hawaiian rolls with sriracha infuse slaw. The belly was as succulent as I could have hoped – a melt in your mouth savory center to contrast the sweet bread and tart slaw. As easy as these went down I could probably could have handled a few of them, like hot dog eating contest quick.
Overall, not a bad soft launch, with room to improve. While I take exception to its web site's assertion that barbecue is the "only original art form" form created in the US, I did sneak a look at the full menu they eventually plan to serve and made a date with myself to return for some smoked brisket, and maybe bring a little Mingus for these guys to listen to. After all, I pass by this place often, there's little doubt it'll lure me back.