Whole Hog Cafe4501 Burrough Road
Fort Smith, AR 72916
There was much hubbub when Whole Hog Café opened in Fort Smith this summer. Tales of the Arkansas chain’s glory spread to the River Valley from other WHC’s in Central and Northwest Arkansas. The place has won the Arkansas Times Readers’ Choice Award (admittedly very heavily Central Arkansas favored; who ya kiddin’ Ark Times) as being the best barbeque in the state for 9 years running. Basically, since it opened.
Fort Smith Eats wasn’t a complete newcomer to Whole Hog. We’d eaten at their other locations, knew the drill. Heck, we’ve even seen Whole Hog’s whole hogs, with the still pig-shaped roasted carcass being carved up in front of an audience. It’s a sight alright.
What we hadn’t yet seen, though, was exactly what all the fuss was about. We get BBQ, love BBQ, know BBQ. We ain’t gonna claim to be world champion barbequers or anything, but maybe something closer to championship barbequers’ roadies. Without the, er, road. Anyway, we’re pretty informed fans of good BBQ. And yeah, Whole Hog has good BBQ. But great? The best in the state? Not so sure about that, so we went back for a few more tries.
Started with the combo platter. When in doubt, try everything, right? We had ourselves a little brisket, a little pulled pork, a few ribs, baked beans, slaw and (since they were out of potato salad), chips. That’s a bunch of food, too much really. But we enjoyed trying everything and playing bartender with the sauces.
That’s half the appeal of Whole Hog, we suspect. Every table comes with a 6-pack of squirt bottles full of a half-dozen varieties of sauce. Don’t like it too sweet? Try the Carolina-style Southern mustardy one. Like it spicy, there’s a couple of those for you, counting the behind-the-counter-only Volcano sauce. We like to mix them up, turning our plate into an artist’s palette for the palate. Sauce #1 and #4 blended together, for instance, pretty darn lickable.
The slaw was nice and slawy, not too watery, not too sweet. Just light and full of the comforting crunch of something still resembling “healthy” food. The beans were pretty good, lotsa flavor. The chips were Lays. Not going to review those.
The meat? We liked the pulled pork a lot. With or without a smorgasbord of sauces, it boasted a lotta flavor. The brisket was fine in a sliced-meat-that-reminds-us-of-roast-beef-at-the-Holiday-Inn-buffet sort of way—but maybe that’s intentional. The ribs were disappointing. Juicy and meaty and yet, boring. Not sure how that’s managed but they did it.
Just for kicks, we tried the brownie for dessert. Don’t know if Ark Times has a category for the Best Disconcertingly Freezing Cold Cellophane-Wrapped Brownie in the state, but this would be a contender.
So for the next visit we stuck with a basic: pulled pork sandwich (regular size) and the potato salad all our Twitter friends kept going on about. (Yeah, you, @SaintCajun, @OrangeBlossom00, @AlbusPuer, @krisnreine. Potato-salad pushers). Yeah, this was more like it.
That potato salad really is all that. It’s likely the big pieces of bacon in it that make it so awesomely eatible. We stopped analyzing on bite #2 and just enjoyed.
The pulled pork sandwich comes with slaw on it or on the side. The pork was still yummy and piled super high on that ordinary-sized bun.
Will say this before we take off. We’re happy to have Whole Hog here, will probably go back many more times. But can someone please start a nightly brawl in there or something? It’s just plain disconcerting to see a barbeque joint so clean and new and sterile and—egads—almost corporate looking. Everyone knows good barbeque takes hard livin’ and hard lovin’ and the place has got to feel it. Scuff up those tables, throw some chairs around and dent up the walls. Get some pictures that didn’t come from Target.
BBQ up the joint and we’ll be sold whole hog on the place.