Wednesday, January 3, 2018
My first choice for lunchtime barbecue was unexpectedly closed today. Apparently their heat went out, and since it was all of 19 degrees overnight, they felt like this might be problematic. Good call. I made a snap decision to check out Hawgz Blues Cafe in North Little Rock instead.
Best I can tell, this joint opened sometime in Spring 2017 or so. There was a surprisingly limited interior dining space, which is odd given the enormity of the building itself. A large group of customers had most of the tables gobbled up when we arrived, so maybe there's really more seating than it seemed. High ceilings and large open spaces made the room feel even more empty. It has kind of an old Nola house feel to it, and I assume that's what they were going for. Food aside, this is surely a great spot for live music and evening cocktails. Their big outdoor patio looked like it gets rocking quite often, at least in warmer weather. The bar area I saw probably has plenty of traffic as well.
Hawgz Blues offers a Southern Smoked Dinner with either brisket or pulled pork, but I was bold enough to request both. This combo automatically comes with baked beans and potato salad. Good enough for me. For the little guy that I had in tow, I ordered the kid's chicken tenders with mac and cheese instead of the standard french fries. All requests were happily accommodated.
I ended up with a side of unexpected coleslaw, too. There were nice hits of mustard and crunchy cabbage in each bite. I'm no fan of slaw in general, but this was almost enough to change my mind. The beans were pleasantly seasoned and had some sizeable hunks of meat throughout. Although their potato salad wasn't quite mashed, it was close. The creamy mayo base had plenty of veggies mixed in for texture. Each side had merit, and I was happy to have them all.
The brisket was sliced thin but still had evidence of bark and a rosy smoke ring, though the thin slicing didn't offer too much of either. The thinness did help keep things tender at least. A moderate smokiness was the most I could find. Their sauce added both acidity and a sweetness, but wasn't overpowering at all. It was actually a nice combination of natural and added flavors.
My pulled pork was even better. Big chunks of tender pork were a welcome change of pace from the stuff that's chopped into oblivion. I found it much smokier than the brisket, but I wished for more bark. Hawgz Blues uses a different sauce on the pork, and it had some definite heat to it. The spiciness lingered on my lips and tongue, as did the smoke.
Although chicken tenders and macaroni aren't exactly a gourmet meal, my son seemed to enjoy them both. That may not seem like a ringing endorsement, but he has a pretty discerning palate for a one-year-old. Take that as you will.
I like to read reviews from other customers both before and after trying out a new barbecue joint, mostly to see how my personal experience measures up. Yelp in particular has a fair amount of negative reviews for Hawgz Blues, criticizing both the food and the service. Honestly, I found neither one lacking all that much. I've already given my two cents on the food. As for service, every employee I saw was hustling hard, and two others besides my waiter checked to make sure that everything was ok at various points during the meal. I appreciate that kind of work ethic. Perhaps there were just some growing pains early on, but whatever the case may be, Hawgz Blues Cafe seems to have things under control now.
Hawgz Blues Cafe
5524 John F. Kennedy Blvd
North Little Rock, AR 72116