Of all the foods in the world, BBQ is not something I ever really crave. I’m never hankering for, or in the mood for BBQ. But heck, a new BBQ joint opens up in town, and well, I’m up to try it. The Bearded Pig just recently opened up in the San Marco area (right across the street almost from my other favorite SM restaurant, V Pizza). Apparently, one of the former owners of Ovinte and Bistro AIX opened up this new place. I love Bistro AIX and Ovinte, so it stands to reason that Bearded Pig will be no exception.
When you first roll up to the Bearded Pig, you see it’s an unassuming grey building. Good news – there is parking across the street next to the hotel, so don’t fret.Bearded Pig has both inside and outside dining. When you walk in, you can either sit at the bar, which is full service, or you can walk to the back of the room and place your order and get a number for delivery. Just a heads-up, there is more outdoor dining space then indoor dining space, so if you are like me and can’t handle heat well, try to get there early (although they do have a good amount of shade and fans). There’s even some green space, so it’s definitely family friendly. We decided to sit at the bar, since the bartender was super helpful and we could get a better feel for the place.
The beer garden aspect of Bearded Pig is probably best represented by this outdoor space, as well as their rotating drafts (about 6-10). Most are local brews, which is nice, and they are definitely on the reasonable side as far as pricing ($4-$6). I was even more impressed by the bartender, when I told her that I wasn’t mature enough yet to like beer and preferred ciders, she recommended the Grapefruit Radler, which was perfect! Light and refreshing – perfect for a summer day in Florida. She also had great recommendations for DJSM, who is a self-professed craft beer snob and knows his way around a tap himself.
DJSM definitely wanted to try the pulled pork sandwich, but I wanted to taste the rainbow, especially when others who have tried the Bearded Pig have suggested that the pulled pork was beyond dry. The bartender recommended then that we try the San Marco Platter, which is a little bit of everything (two meats, ribs, chicken, and two sides). DJSM was not immediately swayed by this prospect, but the bartender was awesome and suggested that she could throw a bun on the platter for him to make a sandwich, no problem (I’m not sure that’s standard, but we took it!). We chose the brisket and the pulled pork, with the dark chicken meat, and the ribs.
For our sides, we asked the bartender to help us out again. All of the Bearded Pig’s sides are vegetarian (even the baked beans). The macaroni and cheese comes with three different cheeses (including fontina). The baked beans do not have any meats in them, unlike some versions, and has four different beans in it. The potato salad has no mayonnaise in it, but has more of a mustard/vinegary base with green beans with the potatoes. We opted for the mac and cheese (wasn’t even a questions, hello!) and the potato salad. The mac and cheese looked unassuming, but tasted amazing with all of the creamy cheeses. The potato salad had just enough bite/vinegar to keep us coming back for more, yet still managed to be amazingly creamy too.
The pulled pork was a bit on the dry side, but I’ve come to expect that from most places. That’s what sauce is for, right? The ribs had just the right amount of smoke, while the brisket was insanely moist and flavorful. The right mount of fat, salt, smoke, and juice. Not to sound like a broken record, but the chicken was the juiciest chicken I have ever tasted. Ever. The San Marco platter also provided more than enough food for two people (and a good sampling of their offerings, so you can figure out what you like). We even needed to get a to-go box, since we couldn’t finish it all.
On to the most contentious point – the sauces. While most classic BBQ restaurants require sticking with one flavor profile, Bearded Pig gives people some options. They have one called “The Drizz,” a mustard based sauce, the “XXX,” which has habanero and ghost peppers in it, the “OG,” which is vinegar based, and “Sweet,” which is what you think it is. The Drizz was probably the most flavorful one, and had a strong mustard profile. The OG was kind of bland, and worked the best combined with the other sauces. The XXX was not too overpowering surprisingly, but instead built slowly through the finish. The sweet was a typical sweet BBQ sauce, and didn’t really have any interesting or different notes than the average. I think that this is probably the area where Bearded Pig could stand to improve the most on. All of the sauces were just a bit weak in flavor, and could use a bit more finesse.
If you like BBQ, I would highly recommend checking out the Bearded Pig. They are still relatively new, but there isn’t much they need to work on. Additionally, they seem to have a lot of great specials and community events. Over July 4th weekend, they were offering a four pack of Barley Mow beer in collector cans with 10 wings for $22. That’s not bad, since the beer alone will run you about that price. AT the end of July, they are apparently going to be doing a “Carnival” and joining up with Bells, complete with face painting and games. Sounds pretty entertaining, even as an adult!