BBQ is serious business to me. Not only am I a no-nonsense eater of smoked and sauced meats, but I have recently been dabbling in the arts in my own backyard, with decent success. It seems so basic; rub some meat with a seasoning blend, smoke it low and slow, then offer up some tangy sauce options to compliment. But it's not, it's a subtle art form that too many get wrong. Often too dry or fatty, ribs with meat you have to gnaw off the bone, and frequently too reliant on sauce to be the main flavor component. Not so with Holy Hog, this is barbeque done right. With a nice blend of Georgia, Carolina, Texas, and St. Louis BBQ styles, the variety was everything you'd expect, plus a little more.
I made my first visit to the recently voted Best of the Bay joint with my fiancé, Sloan. Walking into the restaurant, you're reminded that this is no place for vegetarians. Animal heads galore line the walls and range from wild boar to antelope.
Walking up to the cafeteria-style ordering line, all the usual suspects are here. Scanning the menu for my selection, my eyes lit up. Burnt ends! Burnt ends? What is this you say? They are nuggets cut from the point of the brisket after it has been smoked, then reseasoned and smoked some more! You've never had them?! Um, well... I must admit neither had I. But I've heard of them on just about every BBQ episode you ever see on one of those cable food stations. You see, I've never seen them at any BBQ joint I've ever been to, yet always looked. They are typically associated with Kansas City BBQ, which is probably why they took awhile to get down here. Although I have no comparison, these little chunks of smoked beef were dripping with flavor. Tender, smoky, and ridiculously flavorful, I'd order these morsels of BBQ glory again. Although delicious, they came in as my second favorite, I'll get to the first later.
Getting back to our orders, and you now know about the burnt ends, we chose to get combos, allowing us optimum variety. Pulled pork, St. Louis style ribs and brisket rounded out our dinner selection. Served with Texas toast and two sides each we were ready to eat!
The smoked pork was chopped right in front of us, allowing for a more fresh and juicy meat noshing experience. This stuff would have also been great on a sandwich.
The St. Louis pork ribs, which are a particular cut of spare ribs, were right on time, with most of the fat rendered away leaving tender fall-off-the bone pork. My only complaint was that they were slightly dry.
The brisket. Oh, the brisket. This was my numero uno. Sliced pencil thin, I often expect smoked brisket to be on the dry side. Not so at Holy Hog. Juicy and just pull-apart ridiculous, this is the best brisket I've ever had and with no knife required. There was a layer of fat on some pieces to be dealt with, but it didn't damper my meal. The brisket didn't even need sauce, in fact, nothing really did. The only meat I really sauced up was the pulled pork. Sloan's favorite is the mustard-based BBQ sauce, and I have a tendency to agree.
The sides were all solid. The baked beans were probably the most average, but I admit that I'm such a fan of my own that I've become somewhat picky in regards to the musical fruit. We also had jalapeño mac & cheese, which was devilishly hot and cheesy, although I'd like to try the recipe with fresh chilies instead of the pickled variety. The fried corn fritters were almost like desert with a nice dusting of powdered sugar. My favorite side was the Brunswick stew, made with a nice portion of their barbequed meat simmering in this Georgia-style concoction.
For all the barbeque joints that I have ever been, Holy Hog has got to be one of the best. Shame on me that this was my first time to this South Tampa eatery. I'm determined to make up for that by planning my next visit to try their beef ribs, sausage and chicken. If your only Tampa BBQ experience has been going to Sonny's, please do yourself a favor and get to this heavenly porcine destination.