Saturday, December 24, 2016
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
Friday, December 2, 2016
I saw The Love Bus food truck (well, food bus) while I was out running a quick errand this morning, and I made a last minute decision to stop by. Because why not?
I had my doubts about this refurbished school bus barbecue, but everything that I observed coming out of their "kitchen" both looked and smelled delicious. Oh well, at least the TriStar Centennial hospital was right next door if I happened to need medical attention. I grabbed a pulled pork sandwich, plus a couple of their signature Soul Roll eggrolls: the Mac Daddy and the Chicken Philly. Orders trickled out of the window at a snail's pace, and I hoped that my increasingly long detour would be worth it.
Their Mac Daddy roll is a glorious combination of smoked bacon and cheesy macaroni. I bit in, and my immediate reaction was, "Wow!!!" The flaky eggroll wrapper was the perfect vehicle for the gooey mac and cheese, and the salty bacon gave things some much needed savoriness. When I read "the cheesiest" in this roll's description, I naturally assumed that they were referring to the classic Kraft product slogan. Well, if they're using blue-box macaroni in this dish, they sure fooled me.
As its name might imply, the Chicken Philly eggroll consists of smoked chicken, sauteed onions and peppers, a three-cheese blend, and barbecue sauce. I didn't catch any smoke in this eggroll, but I didn't really expect to either. Despite its lack of smoke, the chicken was at least juicy and salty. The crisp bell peppers and pungent onions were a nice touch too, invoking a little Philly cheese steak nostalgia.
To my surprise and my delight, The Love Bus serves up seasoned hand-cut fries instead of the all-too-typical frozen crinkles. Their heavy dusting of spices jazzed things up nicely. Fries wouldn't have been my first choice to accompany a barbecue sandwich, but I did enjoy them immensely.
The pulled pork sandwich was spot-on. It had a pleasant smokiness throughout, as well as plenty of jet-black bark mixed in. I found hints of barbecue sauce here and there, but thankfully only enough to add a slight sweetness and a little acidity. Although I remain doubtful that the pork was smoked on-bus, it certainly was tender, juicy, and very flavorful. The crunchy purple slaw was also a welcome addition. It was visually appealing and enhanced both the taste and texture of this sandwich.
I must admit, The Love Bus isn't a place that you'd expect to find awesome barbecue, at least not with a cursory book-by-its-cover examination. Those preconceptions aside, their 'que is definitely worth a try.
The Love Bus