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Pig Has Ways to Go Before Arriving at Memphis-Style Barbecue

May 18, 2000|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

How can you not love a place that dares to call itself the Pig? And uses a cute little pink porker as its logo?

Next door to a movie theater on La Brea Avenue just south of Melrose, the Pig purports to offer Memphis-style 'que. It's just a little hole-in-the-wall, really, but it could be what the doctor ordered for harassed Angelenos who'd rather take out than eat in every once in awhile.

I usually give new restaurants a week or two before I visit for a First Impression. I hadn't realized it, but the Pig had only been open a few days when I called in a big take-out order. The two friends I sent to pick it up found a big line out the door, and waiting in it, a well-known barbecue connoisseur champing at the bit. Good thing we called ahead.

Back with what looked like a huge amount of food, all boxed up in Styrofoam, we unpacked our feast. I have to say the portions looked just a bit forlorn in those big boxes.

Chicken wings are nicely permeated with a smoky taste, but I couldn't find the Creole mustard sauce that's supposed to come with it. It would be pushing it to call these rib tips "spicy" as the menu describes them, but boy, are they "crispy charred," which I'm not sure is a good thing in rib tips. Apple-wood-smoked beef brisket is tough, but the sweet mustard sauce and mashed potatoes with pale gravy lend a helping hand. Memphis-style pulled pork, which resembles carnitas, is chewy bits of slow-cooked pork shoulder accompanied by some smoky barbecued beans (unfortunately al dente). Not likely to unseat carnitas for pork lovers anytime soon.

Potato salad--eggy, moist, delicious--showed up with the hickory-smoked baby back ribs (world championship recipe). In what world these won the championship I couldn't presume to guess, because our five bones are hacked apart in raggedy bits, the meat completely dried out, as if it had been sitting under the heat lamp for days. The sauce is vinegary and complexly spiced, though aficionados of South-Central barbecue may miss that kick of firepower. St. Louis spare ribs are meatier, but the sweeter sauce hasn't managed to really penetrate the bland meat. The saving grace is the slice of key lime cheesecake.

We'd just finished when the phone rang. That barbecue fanatic in line. "You can have this place!" he hissed. I think he went back to Philip's, the barbecue joint near Leimert Park, to kiss the ground.

I'm hoping, really hoping, I just caught the Pig too soon and that what I experienced is not the final rendition of Memphis-style 'que. And that given a few more weeks to work out the considerable kinks, the Pig will be in the pink.

BE THERE

The Pig, 612 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 935-1116. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday. Starters $3.50 to $6; sandwiches $6 to $6.50; house specialties $7 to $14. Also 6- and 12-packs of barbecue for six or 12 "hungry folks," $34 and $68. Street parking.

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