As soon as you pull up to it, Walrus + Carpenter announces its mission with one word ("Gastropub") and one image (Pig), leaving no doubt as to what it is. If the graphics have an ambitious Brooklyn hipster feel, well, there's that too—not that that's a problem. Inside, there's a bar to the right with hightop tables opposite it. To the left are a couple of dining rooms with brick walls, wood floors, minimalist pig decor and a rear view of the bar. The beer list is impressive and the parking lot is a welcome convenience.
The menu is just as ambitious, both in its grand scale and its use of all the latest trends and buzzwords—again, not that that's a problem. For the barbecue-inclined, ordering can be a challenge here, because they offer no multiple meat combos unless you spring for the "Notorious P.I.G." monstrosity ($130) that serves up seven meats over three courses, designed for four people to share. Individual platters include pork spareribs, babybacks, pulled pork and brisket, each with one fixed (small) side and cornbread. But the barbecue options continue in the appetizers, snacks and smokehouse sections of the menu with an Andouille sausage link, smoked pork nuggets, smoked pork tacos and smoked wings. The nice thing about Walrus + Carpenter is that there's plenty of appeal for the less barbecue-inclined, with fried chicken, roasted chicken, fried oysters, a burger, three different steaks, a few other fish and seafood dishes, nachos, chili and numerous vegetables and salads, all worthy of a look.
A lunch and weekend brunch menu features many of the same dishes from each menu category, with the addition of breakfasty fare such as French toast, brisket hash and eggs, pulled pork eggs Benedict, fried chicken and waffles, chili and eggs, steak and eggs, and breakfast poutine with poached egg.
I visited twice, about a year apart, both times in the late afternoon on weekdays as a respite from the traffic while returning from New York crawls—once alone and once with a barbecue buddy.
Wings: An order here ($12) gets you eight pieces arranged, as all meats are, on butcher paper in a tin tray. They're fairly big, they're smoked, they exhibit decent sturdiness of crust and decent tenderness within. The sauce is sweet and thin, like a maple syrup, only a little different. I'm not quite sure what's in there, but the moisture and flavor nudge things along in a way that the chicken flavor still stands out. Smoke is fairly light. There's the obligatory dipping sauce, but it's not really necessary—these wings do well enough on their own. Epic? No, and even if they were, I wouldn't use that word, but that's another story for another day. Solid? Unquestionably. A new addition to the PigTrip Wings List? Possibly.
House Cured Maple Pork Belly: This one ($8) isn't billed as smoked, but no matter—pork belly is a must no matter how they make it. Part of the fun is seeing all of the different interpretations (thick, thin, stabbed, cubed, cured or not, smoked or not, glazed or not), because there really are no rules. At Walrus and Carpenter, the pork belly is one long, thin slab of meat that looks like a cross between a ham steak and a pounded veal cutlet. That ham vibe gets a little help from the maple syrup that bathes the belly. Much like with the wings, the syrup does its job in a thin and restrained way that lets the meat flavor out. Texture is fully hammy, lacking the juice content and silkiness that the best examples of pork belly offer. In other words, it was too dry, even under the syrup. Flavor for me fell halfway between hammy and bacony, with the cure recognizable but light. Overall, decent enough, but not worth ordering again.
Spare Ribs: On both visits I tried the spareribs platter ($17), named salt and pepper spares the first time and garlic and pepper spares more recently. You get a little more than a half rack, with a small serving of cole slaw and a large block of cornbread (we swapped in a biscuit on the second try). The ribs are of good size, with a strong pink color that's less smoke ring and more hammy. While the pork belly looked and tasted a little hammy, the ribs felt and tasted very hammy.
Large sections of unrendered fat blemished the first visit's batch; a sandy-slushy surface of refrigerated and barely reheated rub marred the second. Both examples allowed a clean bite and both had pleasant flavor (I got salt and pepper, but not so much garlic). The more recent ribs were extremely tender—overtender to a barbecue purist—and borderline dry.
Pulled pork: A sculpted pile of pork shoulder ($15) occupied a small diameter of a large tray, flanked at the corners by pickles, cornbread, cole slaw and vinegar barbecue sauce. Although light on the meat—not much more than you'd expect on a sandwich—the pork came through with enjoyable bark, supple tenderness and subtle porkiness, all aided by the long, droopy chunks that held moisture well. Flavor was a little light on the strands without bark, but a quick dip in the sauce perked things up.
There's no sauce on the tables, but you get a meat-appropriate sauce served on the tray. With ribs, it's a thick, sweet smoked onion sauce that has the feel of a typical jarred variety but with a little more complexity. Pulled pork pairs a thin vinegar that has a hint of sweet and a hint of heat. I enjoyed both.
Cole Slaw: A tiny stainless steel cup delivers crunch and a bit of creaminess without much flavor.
Mac and Cheese: Available as an a la carte side only ($7), this is a baked version that hides very moist, creamy, cheesy elbows under a crunchy panko crust that in many bites feels and tastes like bacon. A little mild on the cheese, but texture succeeded twice.
Cornbread: Here they're making a statement, going with a familiar cakey model on the lower 99% but flinging large flakes of salt on top for a more savory surprise. Moistness prevailed on the first visit and fell to more of a dry crumble on the second, but flavor was enough to carry the day.
Biscuit: A little crunchy, a little dry, a little buttery, a little tasty.
There's a bit of a disconnect between the prices and the portions.
Normally, I'd wait another visit or two before posting a review. But given the lower Connecticut area Walrus + Carpenter is in—too far for an easy visit from Boston and too close to New York City for me to still be hungry on the way back—I'll go with what I'll acknowledge is an "incomplete" review for now. There's enough promise that I'm hoping to get back and try more of the menu as well as repeats of some I've tried so far.
The Bottom Line
So far, a mixed bag with some misses and some hits but no home runs. I like the outside-the-box approach at Walrus + Carpenter. But sometimes their desire to be different seems like more of a priority than good old fashioned execution, and from a barbecue execution standpoint, there's room for improvement.
New York Times review of Walrus + Carpenter
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