Monday, April 19, 2010

In the Verde Valley , . . .

they’ve gone hog wild for Hog Wild Restaurant, “Home of the Famous 1-Pound Pork Chop Sandwich.”

Named in the number two slot of the "TOP 6 BBQ Places in Arizona" according to an article in the Arizona Republic newspaper, Hog Wild has also been selected as the Reader's Choice for BBQ Restaurant in the Verde Valley for three years straight (2006-2007-2008) by the Verde Independent and was the winner of the Judge's Choice Award at the Cottonwood (AZ) Rhythm & Ribs Festival.

Dawn and Mark West opened their first restaurant in Tinley Park, Illinois in December, 1999, with a second to follow in January, 2001. (Note the photo of the Wrigley Field sign that reads "Home of Hog Wild BBQ.") In 2005, they decided to head out West and moved to Anthem, Arizona, (just north of Phoenix) and after two years, Dawn, Mark, and their two daughters relocated to Cottonwood, AZ.

This is a small (about thirty seats) order-at-the-counter place. And it was packed for most of the time we spent there during a recent lunch.

We expected BBQ, but Hog Wild had a few surprises in store. There, listed on the menu, were four examples of the Chicago “good food fast” genre: an Italian Beef Sandwich, served on a crusty sub roll with pickled carrot and celery and your choice of sweet or hot peppers; an Italian Sausage, again on a sub roll with peppers; an Italian Beef and Sausage combo sandwich; and the classic Chicago Style Hot Dog. We came for BBQ. Now what do we do?

We looked at the BBQ part of the menu--that’s what we do. Here we found baby back ribs, a fourteen to sixteen-ounce pork chop dinner, a sixteen-ounce pork tenderloin dinner, a pulled pork plate, a beef brisket plate, a sampler platter (1/4 slab of ribs, ½ pound pulled pork, ½ pound brisket), and a jumbo shrimp dinner. All sounded delicious, but also sounded like way too much food. How about a sandwich?

All of the sandwiches come with fries (sweet potato fries at extra cost) and a fountain drink. Or you may substitute applesauce, coleslaw or baked beans. Choices included: the Huge Pork Chop Sandwich in traditional or BBQ style; Pork Tenderloin Sandwich with lettuce, tomato, and mayo or BBQ sauce; the Monster Pulled Pork Sandwich served on Texas toast; the Smothered Pulled Pork Sandwich smothered in coleslaw and served on Texas toast; and the Pulled Pork Sandwich or BBQ Beef Brisket sandwich.

We finally decided to have the best of both worlds. We’d order one Italian Beef Sandwich (our hearts now belong to the Sonoran Dog over the Chicago dog) with hot giardinaire and regular fries and one pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries. To this we added a side of beans and a side of cole slaw.

Let’s start with all of the sides. The regular fries were crinkle fries and when I see crinkle fries I think frozen and out of a bag. The sweet potato fries were probably also frozen (I have learned that most restaurants buy their sweet potato fries frozen), but were a perfect match with the pulled pork. The slaw was typical Midwest-style and was, in my opinion, too vinegary. I attribute this to the influence of all of those German immigrants (my grandparents included) who settled in the Midwest. But the baked beans were sublime with a thick sweet tomato base.

The Italian Beef sandwich was made from real shaved, tender, and juicy beef. The roll had been dipped in the beef jus, but was not so wet that it fell apart – one sign of a really good roll. The giardinaire was made from diced pickled carrot and celery, and the hot peppers reminded me of the sport peppers which adorn a Chicago hot dog. Especially appreciated was the absence of cauliflower in the relish.

I took one bite of the pulled pork sandwich, looked at Chuck, and said “WOW!” The meat had been pulled into good sized chunks, rather than stringy shreds, and had just the right amount of smoky flavor. As much as both of us enjoyed the Memphis-style pulled pork, we both agreed that too often the flavor of the smoking wood would overwhelm the flavor of the pork. The sauce was more sweet than tart which is another hallmark of Midwest BBQ.

Dawn and Mark have a good thing going here, and we give Hog Wild a 4.0 Addie rating.

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