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Saturday, December 24, 2016
Round 2: Whole Hog Cafe (Little Rock, AR)
In what has quickly become an annual tradition with my in-laws, we picked up an order of delicious barbecue from Whole Hog Cafe in Little Rock to celebrate Christmas Eve. Clearly I married well.
Truth be told, I much prefer this Cantrell Road location to the other branch I've sampled over on Markham Street. In fact, the barbecue I had from the Cantrell joint is what inspired me to start this blog some four years ago, making today's meal a homecoming of sorts. My first go-round here was before I began adding photos to my blog posts, so I made sure to take a few snapshots this time.
My mother-in-law placed a hefty order of pulled pork, brisket, and sausage, as well as potato salad, baked beans, and coleslaw on the side. Since my wife doesn't particularly enjoy any of those side dishes, we also picked up a small portion of cheesy corn for her. I hoped that she would be kind enough to share.
Large slices of skin-on potatoes in a mayo/sour cream base made for the perfect potato salad. The sour cream added enough flavor that excess spices weren't really required, and the diced chives gave it a pleasant texture as well. Their baked beans are a good combination of sweet and spicy, and they were obviously homemade. Although slaw isn't exactly my favorite food, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed theirs. It was nicely peppered, crunchy, and only slightly sweet from the dressing. The corn was creamy and cooked just al dente enough to hold its shape. It wasn't exactly what I envisioned when I heard "cheesy corn," but it was tasty nonetheless.
Rather than being shredded into oblivion, the pulled pork came in nice big hunks of meaty goodness, complete with much more bark than I expected to find. It was tender and well-seasoned, especially the salty bark. I noticed only a moderate smoke level, typical of most pulled pork. Their pork doesn't need sauce, but it does tend to enhance things nicely here. My favorite of the Whole Hog sauces is the #6 "rich mustard and vinegar," so much so that I didn't even bother with the others today. It was nice and tangy with good hits of acidity.
The brisket slices were a little on the thin side, and a lean cut to be sure. My initial 2012 visit to the Cantrell Road location yielded nice fatty beef, but the large catering order we picked up from Markham Street in 2013 was more similar to what I found today. It's possible that Whole Hog utilizes thinner, lean slices for large orders to try and keep the meat more tender, or perhaps they've just changed up their modus operandi altogether. Regardless, the brisket was certainly tender and exceptionally smoky.
My definite favorite of the meats was the sausage. It wasn't quite the coarse-ground variety that I'm accustomed to from Central Texas, but it was much better than the over-processed mush that most places serve. The meat was sprinkled with a good helping of black pepper, and it was quite juicy. The casings also had a great snap to them, which any Texan can tell you is key to a good sausage.
Whole Hog didn't quite live up to my expectations, but it was most certainly great barbecue. Perhaps I was simply remembering that first meal with rose-colored glasses, or perhaps I was simply too inexperienced and impressionable back then. Either way, I was grateful for my dinner, and I hope that Whole Hog Cafe is on the menu next Christmas.
Whole Hog Cafe
2516 Cantrell Rd
Little Rock, AR 72202