It would have been so easy for The Pig to cash in on the twee, retro-Americana aesthetic so many restaurants are rocking these days. You know, tables made from vintage barn wood, antlers on the walls, rusted Coca-Cola signs. This nouvelle barbecue joint is, after all, trendy: locally and regionally oriented, snout-to-tail cooking.
But The Pig keeps things humble, and that's one of the things I dig about the place. In a narrow Weaver Dairy Road space with an old-fashioned lunch counter, The Pig has done little to diverge from the yellow Formica-and-acoustic tile decor of 'cue shacks since time immemorial.
You order from the blackboard menu—specials on the left, regular items on the right—and take a number. The regular menu reads like your standard BBQ joint: BBQ plates and trays, sandwiches, side dishes.
But at The Pig, everything is elevated a notch or 12, infused with modern, creative touches and a palpable sense of respect for the ingredients. The whole-hog pork barbecue ($11)—locally raised, hormone-and antibiotic-free—is roughly chopped and deeply smoky, with a near-perfect balance of moist "white" meat and crispy exterior "brown" bits.
The meat is drier than some, which just means it needs an extra squeeze of vinegar sauce from a greasy squirt bottle. The fried chicken ($14) is some of the best I've found in the Triangle (and oh, have I looked)—moist, melting meat encased in a gossamer thin layer of crisp, spicy batter. Ribs, pork loin, catfish and brisket round out the meat menu.
Almost everything on the meat menu is also available in sandwich form. In adiditon, the charcuterie, which includes Southern classics like bologna and pork belly, as well as occasional specials on global treats like boudin blanc, pastrami and chorizo, is all made in-house. The bologna sandwich ($6) is a guilty delight, a thick, eraser-pink slab of porky goodness that's wholly unlike anything you remember from your childhood lunch box.
Owner Sam Suchoff, a former vegetarian who has worked at The BBQ Joint, Neal's Deli and Lantern, has made special efforts to keep non-meateaters happy. There's country-fried tofu ($13)—fat dominos of tofu marinated in soy and deep-fried, then rolled in nutritional yeast and blanketed in veggie gravy. Though it doesn't resemble country-fried steak by any stretch of the imagination, it is tasty: crisp on the outside, velvety on the inside, the nutritional yeast imparting a satisfying umami savoriness. There's also a fried oyster mushroom sandwich and a "sweet PLT"—sweet potatoes, lettuce and tomato.
Even without the tofu and the mushroom sandwiches, vegetarians will be amply served by the side dishes ($3.25 each), one of The Pig's greatest strengths. The "sprouts 'n' shrooms"—a hot, crispy pile of Brussels sprouts and mushrooms that have been tossed naked in the deep fryer until crackling and then sprinkled liberally with salt—is completely original and utterly genius. Fried squash and fried green tomatoes are both delectable, with crunchy, herby coatings that don't slither off when you bite into them.
Collards are superbly smoky, hush puppies have a deep corn-y taste that belies their stone-ground origins. I was served two different styles of mac 'n' cheese on two occasions—the first, a baked square, was a bit dry and rubbery, while the second, a scoop of noodles swimming in a creamy smoked cheddar sauce with a crumb topping, was frankly awesome. Notable misses include the green salad, which is just a pile of lettuce in dressing, and the slaw, whose bland creaminess reminds me of cafeteria versions.
The specials menu runs hither and thither: tamales, gumbo with homemade andouille, a "French bologna sandwich" with house-made boudin blanc and radishes. This is where Suchoff is really having fun, and it shows.
For dessert, I had a very sad banana pudding (mushy, brown) and a very good, if odd, Cherry Coke cake with Coke syrup-infused buttercream and layers of chopped maraschino cherries. Other dessert items include a big, beautiful lemon bar, a coconut cake and fresh beignets. The lineup is ever-changing, and I'll be excited to see more creative offerings along the lines of the Cherry Coke cake.
As for drinks, happily the selection goes well beyond sweet tea, with a fridge case full of microbrews and Alsatian Rieslings.
And though the decor may say "Smithfield" or "Greenville," the clientele (hipster types, cute young families) and the soundtrack (The Smiths, The Strokes) serve as a handy reminder: You're definitely in Chapel Hill.