Restaurant Reviews

The Whistling Pig Has the Bar, and the Bar Food, That Its Neighborhood Needs

The corner of Lakeland Drive and Ferguson Road is among Dallas’ least romantic locales for a cozy neighborhood pub. Sure, many suburban strip malls hide the glimmer of romance lurking in killer bowls of pho beyond the city limits, but this particular sea of concrete plays host to a Dollar General, a laundromat, a couple of styling salons and a vape store. It’s not the sort of address where you’d expect to find a juicy hamburger topped with Asian-style pickles to mimic a banh mi, let alone double-cut lamb chops draped in a fragrant pistou.

Yet just though the door, past the cigarette smokers who congregate outside more often than not, a familiar palate of burgundy and black laps the walls and fixtures. Shawn Tang and Robert Cornwell did nothing to differentiate The Whistling Pig from their first East Dallas bar, Cock and Bull, which opened in 1997 and has become a staple neighborhood pub since. Just as with Cock and Bull, a suit of armor guards the door, the lighting is turned down so low customers strain their eyes when they enter, and a jukebox drives the ambience when a game isn’t on. There are televisions, but they aren’t obtrusive, dimly flickering from the back of the bar room, and a bartender is always quick to greet the thirsty.

Unlike the cozy Cock and Bull, The Whistling Pig is a sprawling space with a massive horseshoe bar that seats 25 drinkers. There are a pair of pool tables in the back, their felts glowing a cool, blue-green under the billiards lighting, and there are booths and tables grouped into a few seating areas. With the high ceilings, it’s almost a bit too spacious to feel like a comfortable neighborhood pub, but a cold pint of beer is always convincing.

A hot pastrami sandwich helps, too. Actually, a hot pastrami sandwich like this one is reason enough to come back more often than is reasonable. Chef Asher Stevens delved into cured meat while setting up the menu at Cock and Bull, brining briskets in his tiny kitchen and slicing the results for Reuben sandwiches that often sell out these days. The new, larger kitchen at The Pig allowed the chef to foray into smoked meats, and the resultant pastrami served on toasted rye with a Russian dressing that’s lightly laced with golden beets tastes like a sell-out sandwich, too.

Stevens’ Cuban should become another neighborhood favorite. It’s filled with pulled pork that comes to life in the same smoker as that pastrami, sliced ham and thick pickle slices. A force to be reckoned with, it oozes with enough melting cheese to evoke the classic childhood sandwich — like a twofer.

That smoky pork is good enough to make other appearances throughout the menu, though it’s never quite as good as that Cuban. It’s in the stuffed jalapeños that puts lesser, frozen versions served at other bars to bed for good. It’s stuffed into a cornhusk, too, along with shishito peppers and masa for a tamale that shows a lot of promise. I was served one that was over-cooked and tough in parts during one visit, but with a quick temperature or timing tweak, these parcels could hold their own on the Christmas tamale circuit.

The same pork is even better in a sandwich, where it’s celebrated on its own. The cooks throw the pork down on the flat griddle to crisp up a bit before tossing it on a bun with a sweet, creamy coleslaw. It’s good, but it can’t stand up to that Cuban or pastrami sandwich because it’s a little dry. How about some apple cider vinegar laced with a little chile pepper and brown sugar for a zinger?

Considering nearby food options include a grilled hot dog at the Fraternal Order of Eagles swimming pool, or a paper-wrapped burger at the Dairyette, White Rock Hill residents can be thankful the Whistling Pig merely exists, but to those who are familiar with Stevens’ cooking, it’s exciting to see the chef liberated from a kitchen the size of a phonebox. The Cock and Bull was so cramped it didn’t even have a deep fryer, so the “toothpicks” that accompany sandwiches on request, until recently, had been an impossibility. Onions are cut into slices instead of rings, forever putting the problem of pulled veg and an empty tube of fried breading to rest. Jalapeños are sliced into similar strips that are forgiving of heat, and together they’re way more interesting than the odd fried potatoes cut into curlicues that otherwise come with the sandwiches.

Not that the menu is limited to bar food; Stevens’ list of entrees is as diverse as any restaurant’s. The double-cut lamb chops on a bed of soft lentils are cooked to a perfect medium rare with soft fat that easily pulls from the bones, and specials pour out of the kitchen at a nice clip. A rib-eye steak with two eggs, over easy, a rack of baby back ribs straight from the smoker, shrimp with so much garlic it lingers for days — there’s so much cooking going on it’s a wonder how Stevens keeps track of it, no matter how big his kitchen.

In fact, the menu might be more fun to navigate if the dishes that don’t work as well were shown the door. A Madras spinach dip riffs on the creamy corporate classic by adding a touch of curry, but it arrived at my table tepid and tasted rather flat. An open-faced roast beef is salty, with gluey mashed potatoes and rubbery meat, and the cod for fish and chips arrived overcooked on one visit. It would be a shame if dishes like these keep someone from sawing into those lamb chops or the Cuban.

Or one of the messy burgers. Whether ordered plain, topped with cheese and bacon, jalapeños and boursin, more of that pulled pork and smoked cheddar, smoked blue cheese and bacon, or the banh mi version, the lowest common denominator is a thick, juicy patty of greasy beef that requires undivided attention. Stevens’ burger is a three-napkin affair that should not be ordered by the timid, or while on a first date, but with a cold glass of beer and some humility it makes for satisfying eating. No wonder more than a handful of customers who live nearby have been pasted to a barstool since the restaurant opened earlier this year.

Out back, a deck of pressure-treated pine is taking shape, and the space feels ripe for some further tweaks as Stevens and the owners settle in. As they do, it’s pretty easy to see the neighborhood heeding that pig whistle and turning this bar into as much a fixture as it did Stevens’ first.