There’s a couple of things that might shock all of you that I have to get out of the way right here at the beginning of this post: first, I’d never actually eaten at any Whole Hog Cafe location before we tried their newest location in Bryant; and second, I’m really not that big a fan of barbecue. I know, I know, how do I dare call myself a Southern food writer and say things like that? But to me, barbecue is one of those things that is incredibly rare to find done well and very easily found done badly – and I tend to take my charred meat products very seriously. And Whole Hog? Well, I reckon that they aren’t part of that “bad” category by any stretch of the imagination…but I can’t really put call them anything unique or spectacular. The best thing I can say about Whole Hog Cafe is that this is a barbecue joint made for folks who like a lot of sauce on their meat, and since I’m more of a dry-rub-and-smoke kind of guy, that might be a big reason for my disinterest.
But let’s talk about some things that Whole Hog does right: they serve big sandwiches piled high with meat and topped with a generous portion of tangy cole slaw. Now I know that some of you folks don’t like slaw on your pulled pork and shredded brisket sandwiches, and I feel real sorry for how wrong you all are. The slaw at Whole Hog is good – crisp and sweet with just enough salty, vinegary bite to add flavor, texture, and crunch to a sandwich. As for the meat, it’s tender and moist, and a perfect vehicle for all those different sauces on the table. Nothing special, but it’s a serviceable sandwich that has one major thing going for it: it’s pretty cheap for the amount of food you get. Add a side of spicy beans or maybe a few fries and you’ve got yourself a pretty satisfying meal for well under ten dollars.
Another cheap option with substantial portions is the Half Chicken dinner. I love half-chickens at barbecue places because you get it all – white meat, dark meat, and my favorite part, the wing. The chicken seen over there on the left had a lot going for it – it was juicy, and the skin had a nice, crisp firmness to it that I take as a sign of a well-cooked bird. The flavor was rather mild, though, and even here it seems that the meat is simply meant as a vessel for a puddle of sauce. Chicken is a meat that really takes to a good rub and a lot of hickory smoke, and while I liked that the meat here wasn’t dry or stringy in the least, I could have used more smoky goodness. Again, for the price, this was an excellent deal on a decent meal, perfect for a quick lunch or a take-out dinner. But my picky self wants the barbecue to sing, to be redolent of spice and smoke, and Whole Hog just doesn’t get there for me. That’s certainly a matter of preference and not an issue of quality; fans of saucy barbecue will love this stuff, and it’s head and shoulders above similar places like Famous Dave’s.
Whole Hog Cafe is located at 5309 Hwy 5 North in Bryant. They’re open for lunch and dinner, and have a very reasonable price per pound on take-out barbecue.