Arrogant Swine: Brooklyn Barbecue Takes a Detour Through North Carolina (Review)
Even if you haven't been paying close attention, you probably know Brooklyn has a food scene that rivals and often surpasses Manhattan. Barbecue is no exception and, in fact, most of the top BBQ restaurants in NYC are now sprinkled all over Brooklyn.
Arrogant Swine (173 Morgan Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11237), a relatively new addition to Brooklyn BBQ, is not one of the those top restaurants. However, it's quite good for a newcomer and with a little refinement, it could be in a higher tier in a year's time.
The restaurant opened in October 2014 with pitmaster and blogger Tyson Ho at the helm. Ho comes from Queens, New York but is obsessed with North-Carolina-style BBQ and so, Arrogant Swine was born. Ho likes to call his restaurant the "church of pork."
Arrogant Swine feels very much like a product of its neighborhood, East Williamsburg. It's kind of hip, kind of charming, and full of attitude. Warning: there may be hipsters. On the outside of this industrial building, you'll find a mural of smiling pig over a pile of burning wood (see top photo) and more than 10 wooden tables where people can chow down.
Inside, wooden tables and chairs reside, along with a giant Jenga set in a corner. A comfortable row of tables sits across from a well-stocked bar with one bartender juggling food and drink orders. It has the feel of a place that's been in the neighborhood for years but not in a gimmicky way.
If you hadn't guessed from the owner calling it the "church of pork" or the name itself, Arrogant Swine is all about pig. It serves whole hog, pork belly, pork shoulder, spare ribs, and sausages. There is no beef to be found here, so if that's what you're after, look elsewhere.
Among all these pork items, the tender, juicy pork belly is the dynamite standout. It's covered in French onions and sprinkled with tamarind and brown sugar. The combination is mouth-numbingly good. I was also happy with the well-seasoned pork shoulder, which was a tad tough to chew in some pieces and all fat in others.
The spare ribs, which are served slathered with mustard, are not nearly as good as the other meats. I believe in the tradition of serving all sauces on the side, as the meat should speak for itself. From what I could gather after getting past the mustard, the ribs were over-smoked and awfully chewy.
Arrogant Swine fully embraces the traditions of North Carolina when it comes to sauce. It serves Outside Brown, a sweet vinegar sauce with a hint of brown sugar; Carolina Mustard, a sweet and (slightly) spicy mustard ; and Whole Hog, a tart and smoky vinegar sauce. There's even a bottle of Sriracha available if that's more your style.
The Outside Brown was my favorite to pair with all of the meats, as it had the right amount of sweetness and vinegar for pork pairings. I'm not huge on mustard generally but the Carolina Mustard wasn't terrible. The disappointing Whole Hog was not worth covering a whole hog much less a small piece of it.
Arrogant Swine has a lot of great ideas when it comes to sides, but it often misses the mark. Most notably, the "mac and cheese waffle." The name alone evokes joy and who couldn't resist trying mac and cheese that's been put into a waffle iron and served with queso on the side? Well, my group and I were drastically disappointed. The waffle iron dried out the mac and cheese and unfortunately the queso tasted more like mustard than cheese.
Other swings and misses were the baked beans and the cole slaw. The beans were overcooked and the pork mixed into it tasted like nothing. As for the slaw, we got the "red vinegar slaw," which had raisins in it and was distractingly sweet.
Thankfully, one side we ordered wasn't a wreck. That was the cornbread waffle, which is a mix of cornbread and waffle batter, put through a small waffle iron. It tasted more like a waffle, but it was damn delicious.
The drink selection at Arrogant Swine is excellent, and one could be forgiven for going here just for a beer or a cocktail. It has many craft beers on tap, including Boulevard Tank 7 from Kansas City (a personal favorite) and a fantastic selection of whiskey (of which I'm also partial). You'll find something great to drink here even if you're not a Carolina BBQ fan.
There's not much to report on the service here, as you order food from the bartender or a to-go counter, take a number, and then a server brings out the food to the table that corresponds with your number. I will say that Ho, the owner, was incredibly friendly and outgoing and happy to answer my questions. The bartender that served me was simply fine.
Arrogant Swine does a lot right. The ambiance works, it makes some decent Carolina-style 'cue, and several of its pork dishes are delightful. Tyson Ho has done great work here despite his restaurant being open less than a year.