Dancing Pig is an unusual restaurant with multiple personalities. Housed practically in a residential neighborhood, it presents a small, quaint room struggling to be upscale (cloth napkins have that effect on me) on the entry level, contrasted with an upstairs level that's sports bar meets frat party, with easy chairs, big screen TVs, sports paraphenalia and a huge wraparound bar. The dining room's tiny bar gives it a speakeasy vibe; its close proximity to the tables adds some awkwardness.
The menu embodies the website's self description as "a BBQ-Influenced, American comfort food restaurant" and continues the multiple personality theme. Stated another way, it's a barbecue joint, but there are foodie aspirations. I'm tempted to say "foodie pretensions," but I'll leave that to the eye of the beholder.
As for the barbecue menu, it's a little strange too. The menu lists a rib platter with a half rack or full rack, but no combinations of rib with anything else. It lists a brisket platter and a pulled pork platter, but not a combination of one with anything else. It lists a pulled pork sandwich but not a brisket sandwich, unless you want the brisket Reuben. Different sides are designated for each of these platters, but you can make substitutions, so maybe they'll construct a combo plate to your specifications.
Barbecue appetizers and offshoots include smoked wings, pulled pork empanadas, brisket Sloppy Joe sliders, potato skins with brisket, and the aforementioned brisket Reuben.
Beyond barbecue, the menu has dish after dish of items that sound great on paper: crab cakes, homemade potato chips, fried pickles, bacon-wrapped grilled jalapenose stuffed with goat cheese, deviled eggs, pretzel bites with bacon-cheddar-horsradish dip, pork belly chicharrones, Cajun littlenecks, four different salads, shortrib chili, seafood jambalaya, shrimp and grits, meatloaf, Shepherd's pie, bacon-wrapped chicken, lamb chops, pork tenderloin, a steak sandwich, housemade bratwurst on a pretzel roll, eight different burgers, a po' boy of the day, a fresh catch of the day and mac and cheese with five different toppings.
I stopped in with a couple of barbecue crawl veterans for a weekday dinner.
Wings: A few different wing flavors had potential, but we settled in on the jerk wings ($7.99 for 8 pieces). They had the advantages of immediate smokiness, a thick coating of an interesting chunky sauce and some nominal moistness (short of juicy) inside. The downsides were very rubbery skin—the deal breaker for me—and an old, reheated feel. Flavor was right down the middle, with hints of boldness but overall just a little too tame.
Pig Skins: A souped-up (literally) version of potato skins ($8.99) featured all the usual players, plus brisket. That brisket addition was a little too insignificant (small pieces, too many other competing flavors) to really get a feel for its individual flavor and tenderness, but the complete package worked. The thing that elevated it over the top for me was the thick cream sauce that had a subtle but irresistable spiciness. It wasn't necessarily hot, just very flavorful. I'd probably like the dish better if they used only half as much sauce.
Hog Wings: Three pork shanks on the bone ($14.99 with pecan sweet potatoes and corn off the cobb) were served tee-pee style over a bed of mac and cheese (a subsituted side), each bone lightly coated with sauce. These had almost no crispness under the sauce, very little rub presence and very little smokiness. Texture was the lone strong point, coming in much more tender than a typical pork chop. Flavor pretty much depended on the sauce, which—while fully conceding that individual tastes can vary—I considered to be a weak point.
Ribs: A half rack of unsauced St Louis cut spares ($16.99 with mac and cheese and beans) delivered the crusty surface that the hog wings lacked, along with barbecue sauce in a separate bowl as standard practice. The smallish bones were borderline tender with a very subdued rub and smoke profile similar to the hog wings. The ribs were also similarly beholden to the sauce, because the meat be holdin' no flavor. Or, for that matter, any moisture. It's not often that three barbecue fans split a half rack and leave meat behind, but this was one of those cases.
I'm guessing there's only one sauce, as there's no choice and both entrees featured the same sauce. It's a tomatoey variant of marinara that's a little more sweet, a little more sour and a little more peppery, Compounding my issues with the entrees was my conclusion that Dancing Pig's sauce wasn't one of my favorites.
Sides were a mixed bag. Cornbread slices in a basket were soft and fresh with a standard Jiffy-like flavor. Understated beans with minimal condiment showcased the alluring natural flavor of the bean, and kept growing on me. Crisp cole slaw had more than minimal condiment and less than minimal flavor. Mac and cheese was the star among the sides and probably the best item of the entire meal: perfectly cooked pasta (so many are overcooked), a thick, loose cheese sauce and a very adult flavor profile. It was darker than typical and sharp with a nice complexity.
The Bottom Line
I really wanted to like this place, and walked in with high hopes based on the creative menu. Unfortunately, talking the talk doesn't always translate to walking the walk; at Dancing Pig, I walked out with those high hopes shattered. Meat flavor, texture and freshness all disappointed and the sauce hurt more than it helped. On American Idol, sympathetic judges often stammer out an awkward coda to a putdown of an obviously horrible act by saying, "...but you look beautiful tonight." At Dancing Pig, the mac and cheese may have been beautiful, but that's about all I can recommend.
Yelp reviews of Dancing Pig
Urbanspoon reviews of Dancing Pig