New York BBQ: The New Hog Pit Isn't a Pit At All
I was in New York City Saturday, so it was a good chance to check out the new incarnation of the Hog Pit, located on 26th Street just west of Broadway. I knew the new location would be across the street from Hill Country (I reported it first), but I didn't realize how close the two barbecue restaurants are from each other. I was thinking stone's throw, but this is more like spitting distance.
"Across from Hill Country? What were they thinking?" I actually said it out loud, and that's the thought that kept flashing through my mind on the way in. That is, until it got replaced by another double question mark thought, also uttered out loud: "Squeaky clean? The Hog Pit?"
If you've ever set foot in the Meatpacking District original, you know that the Hog Pit is a rough and tumble affair—literally. The new Hog Pit has ever so slightly worn wood floors and a boar's head mounted on the wall, but that's where the similarity ends (except for the food; more on that later). Surprisingly, the Hog Pit 2.0 has freshly painted, bright red walls, tasteful framed photographs, stately wooden booths and tables. The bar is smaller and more modern and there's a clean-cut, yuppie vibe all around. Somehow it just doesn't seem right.
Having had Hog Pit's "barbecue" previously and not considering it anywhere near Hill Country's league, I asked myself what could possibly be the lure to draw potential customers away from Hill Country. A few theories emerged:
The Cost. Even as good as Hill Country is, the thought of paying $22 per pound for their signature moist brisket or $5 for a small side or $6 for a cupcake may not appeal to your average New Yorker, especially in these tough economic times.
The Bar. Let's face it: not everyone is as into the food as you or I. Some people just want to walk in and have a cold one, without obsessing over who the pitmaster is or what woods they use or how the brisket compares with other joints throughout the city.
The Hassle. I'm the type who likes to go up to the Hill Country meat counter several times, ordering in small batches, but I can see even the most fervent New York BBQ fan tiring of having to deal with the lines (twice if you get sides).
The Menu. The Hog Pit has burgers and Hill Country doesn't. The Hog Pit has pulled pork (not necessarily barbecued pulled pork) and Hill Country doesn't. The Hog Pit has a fryolater and Hill Country doesn't. If any of the first three bullets in this list rang true for you, some deep fried pickles or a corn dog or a big order of fries may have serious appeal, regardless of the execution. There's also skillet fried corn, collard greens and mustard greens.
The Sports. If you want to watch the Jets or Giants, you're probably out of luck at Hill Country, who are more likely to showcase the Cowboys or Texans.
Mind you, none of the above reasons would sway me from entering Hill Country, but I can see the logic for someone else.
Now, for the food. My wife and I shared a pulled pork sandwich, with the collard greens and the cabbage and bacon for sides. It's billed on the sandwich menu as "Juicy Pulled Pork," with no mention of smokers involved. The pork is served on sourdough toast—a nice touch, actually—and it's piled high.
The "juicy" was a tough sell judging by the top surface of the finely shredded meat, which appeared dry. A cross section revealed that gravity took effect, causing whatever moistening agent was used to sink to the lower layers.
I liked that the sauce was served on the side, allowing me to choose how much of it to pour onto the sandwich. The sauce itself was heavy on the tomato (close to marinara) with some tartness tossed in for balance.
Random samples of individual pieces of the pork weren't impressive for either taste or texture, but a big bite of the sandwich as a whole, with a dab of sauce, wasn't entirely horrific. It wasn't barbecue and it wasn't particularly good, but I've had far worse. Both sides were decent enough, but fell short of my memory of the sides at the original. I took a few more bites of the sandwich to confirm my original impressions, then pushed my plate forward. There were more stops to make and this sandwich wasn't going to deter me.