On an otherwise gray Wednesday in Denton, the meat beacon shone bright from Locust Street as The Juicy Pig swung open its doors and its walk-up window for an anticipated, if brisket-less, soft opening.
To be sure, even after The Pig hits its stride, which a couple opening-day issues say it hasn't just yet, Denton will still scream for its great signature barbecue restaurant. The bottom line is, this isn't it, which is a bit of disappointment along the same lines as the gap in expectation vs. tastiness at Bet The House across the way.
While it's not the sauce-covered second coming, The Pig's arrival should still be a moment of hope, for there is potential here. The place, whose kitchen is managed by Denton foodie maven Pam Chittenden, has personality, a bevy of sausages, sides and sauces, and goes hard through the paint with its dessert game. It's just one option, but the rotating selection of fried pies ($3), piled high with coarse sugar, really adds something here.
But the eyebrow raiser here is the, how to put it, 'meh'-tasting meat. Kind of an important part of the menu at a barbecue spot in a metro area bursting at the seems with the goods on that front. The chicken is chicken. The pulled pork was presumably yanked from the shoulder area of some porcine mammal or another. The sausage was the best offering on a (soft) opening day without *gasp* brisket or ribs, but the quality of the supporting items creates enough curiosity for a return trip.
Juicy Pig offers three kinds of sausage, and hopefully in large enough quantities moving forward to at least make it past lunch rush without selling out. Traditional green onion and habanero sausage are all available, as well as a triumvirate of slaws and sauces. Chttenden & Co. are working with JP slaw (read: traditional), spicy slaw, and a third variety not yet unveiled, going by the mysterious monicker 'Slaw Number 3.'
When asked what it was, one employee told those gathered in line that it wasn't available during the soft opening, and that he had just as much idea as the guy asking what exactly went into it because, "It's still in Pam's head." See? Mystery. Personality.
The pricing scheme is more than fair as well. Go for the 'Whole Pig' plate ($15) that nets you three meats, two sides and two deviled eggs, or for a quick bite, a sandwich ($6-$7) does the trick. Lone Star is the only beer in the house, too, so you know you're not breaking the bank whether you go for the bourgeois tall boy or the classy sixer.
It remains to be seen (with a healthy dose of skepticism here) if Texas barbecue meat heads will latch onto something called St. Louis-style ribs, though it should be noted that the only difference between the spare rib we're used to down here and the St. Louis-style spare rib is that the latter has the rib tips and skirt flaps removed (why?). As long as they're not smothered in that crazy vinegar-based Carolina-style sauce, they should be altogether recognizable.
That brings us to sauce, a barbecue black hole for true slow-smoked meat lovers but candy corn for novices. Juicy Pig does offer the clinically insane customer's option, Carolina-style vinegar sauce, a greenish concoction that is actually not terrible, along with a tamarind-based sauce that mirrors most in taste and color what Texans will recognize as barbecue sauce. The third option is an intriguing orangey habanero peach sauce. It's always better when the meat is so good sauce seems a sin, but Juicy Pig is putting forth the effort here, branching out and taking risks, and the team should get props for that.
It's all very out-of-the-box, but one wonders if all the variations and kitsch may have come at the expense of what everyone who darkens that folksy threshold came in for: Some damned good meat. But we'll give the Juicy Pig some time, as we resolved not to be so judgey, based only on a soft opening, in 2016.
Juicy Pig Barbecue
708 N. Locust St.
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Sunday