Brace yourself for the most shocking thing I have to say about the Bearded Pig: it’s not about the sauces. The map of Texas on the wall was my first clue as to why. Here in J-town, the sauce is generally the first thing we talk about. There’s a ton of Carolina and Kansas-inspired cue here in our fair city, so a lot of what we have tends to be about the sauce. While there are many kinds of sauces in Texas, Texas-style barbecue doesn’t rely on sauces. They expect their stuff to stand up without one, so sauce is an afterthought, an addition that shouldn’t make or break the food. The unfortunate effect is that you probably won’t be wowed by the selection of mainly tomato-heavy sauces at the Bearded Pig. I didn’t find enough variation in their flavor to suit me, but it’s possible you may love them. The whole point of not using sauces is that the barbecue should be incredibly good on its own–and that’s what the Bearded Pig seems to be aiming for.
“This place,” my husband said as we sat down, “looks like it’s been designed by a hipster who’d heard about barbecue joints, but had never been in one.” Lots of the elements of design were in line with local hipster hang outs and brewpubs. The order counter is in the back, instead of in the front or visible in the center, so that the line is less likely to snake out the door or block the bar (because of course there’s a bar & of course they serve delightfully local craft brew). The drawback is that almost every person through the door that wasn’t in the know, stood there, confused, wondering if they should sit down and wait for someone to take their order. Big screen TVs add to a sports bar feel, both inside and on the outdoor patio. Adding a bit of whimsy to the setting is a small lawn in the back of the patio with cornhole. This universal unifier could probably bring hipsters, frat boys, and dirty South drinkers together in harmony, and when I visited during the day on Saturday, it was kids tossing around the bags. Inside, up on the walls, the artistic stylings of Chip Southworth dominate, and bar stools are orange, like the accent walls. They do not have a decal on the door proclaiming that This Is A Cool Place, but it feels that way. Musical choices that played while I was there included a down-home rendition of “99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” and some Johnny Cash.
On to the ordering experience. The menu isn’t incredibly descriptive, so be prepared to ask questions. You order at the counter in the back, they give you a number, and bounty is brought forth. It is a bounty indeed, no plates, all served on trays lined with butcher paper. All the meat-stuff just gets piled on the paper, and the sloppier sides such as slaw or beans get their own containers. The vinegary slaw will probably gain fans, especially from those that don’t enjoy a heavy Southern-style slaw. I didn’t get the chance to try the beans, but I have been told they are an excellent, flavorful choice for non-meat eaters, so I’ll be sure to try them the next time I’m in.
The sausage gets high marks–but Azar sausage doesn’t tend to disappoint. (Any high-volume place here in Jacksonville that serves stellar sausage most likely uses the local Azar.) The rub on the gigantic ribs is absolutely on point. If you order the brisket, be sure and order the bits you like (fatty, lean, or burnt ends).
Speaking of burnt ends, if you really love them, the poutine fries are something you might want to try. I will say that if you have ordered other things, you will find the portion intimidating. If you don’t normally like poutine, don’t worry, it’s not exactly traditional poutine. Just think of it as three kinds of cheeses melted over brisket burnt ends, on top of fries.
The Bearded Pig is new, so, there are growing pains, but they are adding a new aesthetic and flavor to our cue scene, which is interesting. I’ll be coming back for four reasons: the poutine fries, the beans I have heard about but not yet experienced, the beer selection, and because it Is a Cool Place with cornhole. Cornhole. The Great Uniter. The Bearded Pig is located at 1224 Kings Avenue, and parking is available across the street. Call ahead by dialing 619-2274. Check it out for yourself and tag us in your food pics (@eujacksonville).