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Not long ago the only thing special out East McCain Boulevard in North Little Rock, beyond Home Depot and Lowe’s, was the U.S. Postal Distribution Center. But, we’ve found that if you build a Wal-Mart Supercenter, the rest will come. And now the Hog Wild Cafe has joined the many new restaurants to surface since Wal-Mart relocated its Sherwood store here.
The cafe opened in early April in the same strip center as Blue Coast Burrito. That’s near Ryan’s (formerly called Fire Mountain), down the street from Rally’s, Arby’s and Burger King. You get the idea.
With family in tow, we visited just a few days after owners Fred and Barbara French had opened and fired up the smoker. The couple has settled back in Arkansas after residing in several other states, and once had a catering business in Dallas. We returned a few weeks later to sample how things were going.
Oh the suffering, having to eat more barbecue. But someone has to do it.
Ordering food here is the standard drill in a lot of restaurants, but worth reminding. You place your order at the counter, pay and take your numbered receipt. Drink glasses, the non-alcoholic drinks, and the silverware are just around the corner. Paper towels and the different sauces are at the tables.
It’s smoke free. Hog Wild can seat 100 customers. When the order is ready, your hear your number called out on the loudspeaker.
All the meats are prepared and smoked on site, not shipped in and warmed up like you’ll find a some chains. You have the option to douse the meat with four different sauces.
We found the Sweet and Bold molasses-style sauce most to our liking. The Classic is fine, too, but has a touch of heat that tended to linger longer than we like. The Gold is a mustard-base sauce that reminded us of honey Dijon mustard salad dressing. And then there’s Hot and Spicy. We’re not fond of fire. For the sake of this review we tried it late in the meal so as not to get burned out and spoil the whole dinner. We tried just a dab — and, yep, it’s hot!
Plates of pulled pork, beef brisket, pulled chicken, pork loin, sausage and combos are rolled out with two sides and a roll for $7.29. Rib plates (four ribs, two sides, roll) run $7.99, with a full slab costing $18.99. Smoked meats also may be bought by the pound. Various sized sandwiches and salads with smoked meat run $4.79 to $5.99.
We tried a Hog Wild Platter, which has two pork ribs, pulled pork, chopped beef and sausage with the two sides and roll for $11.99. The platter obviously gives a good sample of the menu and can feed two easily (or one big eater, such as moi).
The sample platter just forced us to try more ribs. Ribs here make our “A” list alongside other popular barbecue joints we haunt.
It’s always a gamble when we try ribs at new places, sometimes finding meat so overcooked and tough that it’s a fight just to chew. Or we find those so tender and floating in sauce that when we pick up a rib, meat almost falls in our lap. Hog Wild ribs have more meat than we’ve found elsewhere. They’re moist and tender, but not fall-off-the-bone. They reach a happy medium in our book. They have a slightly crunchy texture with a light peppery rub. For us they were great just like they come served, but you can get as sloppy as you want with any of the sauces.
For an unusual menu item, do as we did and try the Hog Wild Sundae. It reminded us of the pile-it-all-in-a-bowl meal advertised by a certain chicken franchise. This sundae is a large bowl of baked beans topped with coleslaw and choice of meat (we had smoked chicken) and crowned with a pickle. Drizzle your favorite sauce over it and you’ve got a fast, tight meal. Sounds strange at first, but it was really good.
As far as sides go, the baked beans were the hit, swimming in a light (not globby or gummy) sweet sauce with chunks of smoked meat. Spice peaches were another side item that caught our attention and our taste buds — the peaches coated with their own juice in a cinnamon and sugar mixture were like having a dessert. They’re much better than those tired cinnamon apples everyone else seems to serve.
Baked potato salad, coleslaw, three-bean salad and regular salad are also offered and all priced nicely at just $1 if you go over the two-side limit per dinner order.
If the peaches don’t hit your dessert spot, Hog Wild has cake, cookies and cobblers, as well as pecan squares — a hard cookie-like crust with a pecan and syrupy mixture on top made from a family recipe, we’re told.
Bottled beer and wine will be available to round out the barbecue experience as soon as the license kicks in. Hog Wild also features local Diamond Bear beer and root beer on draft.
Hog Wild Cafe
4629 E. McCain Blvd.
North Little Rock
You must try the ribs. Also taste how their spiced peaches beat apples, at least in our book. If you’re in a hurry and want to do something different, order the Hog Wild Sundae.
11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday (will stay open past 8 p.m. if there’s a crowd).
Moderate prices. All major credit cards accepted. Wine and beer coming. Catering available.