The genesis of America’s popular music–country, jazz and even rock and roll–is rooted in the soul and sounds of Mississippi Delta blues–sounds born in the disgraceful shadow of slavery and lyrics which echoed the grievous plight and painful lament of workers in plantations and fields. It is a tribute to the resilience of a people that the music of their lament evolved over the centuries to bring succor, alacrity and pride to generations.
Given poor quality meat, those plantation workers dug pits in the ground in which they cooked the poor cuts of pigs or meat they were allowed to raise. When emancipated, the pit masters introduced their prowess over the barbecue pit throughout the United States. The American epicenters of barbecue excellence–Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and the Carolinas–all owe their barbecue roots to the deep south.
Today, the term “real pit barbecue” rarely refers to a big hole in the ground. A barbecue pit is almost always above ground in a steel “oven” in which meat revolves on racks until just right. The pit master’s prowess is showcased in the way he or she deftly manipulates indirect heat and wood smoke to produce the inimitable flavor that has made barbecue not only a national tradition, but a veritable piece of Americana.
Southern-born (Southern New Mexico) pit master Guy Nix has been “messing around with BBQ since I was a teenager…more seriously since about 1992’ish.” As a 14-year old he bought his father a smoker for Father’s Day, but it wasn’t his father who was interested in the craft; it was Guy, who relates that he ruined thousands of dollars worth of meat in perfecting the smoking process. Now that he’s got it down pat, he’s been plying his craft in restaurants throughout New Mexico, Oregon and Arizona.
In January, 2008, he launched Porky’s Pride Real Pit BBQ in a 2400-square foot edifice in the barbecue-starved Northeast Heights. Five months later he opened a second restaurant in another barbecue deprived section of the city, Albuquerque’s far North Valley. The worldwide economic malaise forced the closure of the original location on Juan Tabo while fortuitous fate precipitated a move about a quarter mile south of his initial Forth Street location.
Porky’s is now situated in a heavily trafficked section of Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, an area quickly becoming a dining destination. Clustered in a one block radius within easy walking distance of each other are Sadie’s Dining Room, Ezra’s Place, Sophia’s Place and Hurley’s Coffee, Tea & Bistro. Porky’s Pride won’t take a back seat to any of them.
Porky’s Pride is down-home, down-to-earth and as American as Waylon and Willie whom you’re more likely to hear on the sound system than any Mississippi Delta blues. It’s only natural that country music be the music of choice at a Guy Nix restaurant. That’s because the affable proprietor has been making good country music even longer than he’s been making good barbecue. Guy has temporarily shelved his CMT (that’s Country Music Television for you sophisticates) ambitions to concentrate on his restaurant. Admittedly a man of many passions (cars, music, motorcycles, etc.), Guy has shelved them all (at least temporarily) to invest all he’s got into his barbecue restaurant. That’s how much he believes in it.
As good as his music is, his barbecue is even better. It’s the type of barbecue that transcends cultural and social divides; it’s white and blue collar food with nary an aspect of highfalutin to it. It’s slow-smoked and fast-eaten, the American way. It’s the type of barbecue which can trace its genesis to the Mississippi Delta. It’s barbecue that feels like the South, but it’s also barbecue that can’t be pigeonholed into one category.
Though the ambience and aromas may resonate stereotypical barbecue joint, Porky’s Pride has the most ambitious menu of any barbecue eatery in town. It’s as diverse a menu as you’ll find anywhere, offering not only bodacious barbecue, but New Mexican food entrees in the style of Las Cruces where he grew up and steak so good Porky’s might just become your destination of choice for USDA choice or better top sirloin, flat iron, rib eye and even Porterhouse steaks (more on that later).
Porky’s Pride makes it possible to enjoy three square meals a day with little semblance among each of the three (though the commonality will be deliciousness). The breakfast menu includes as impressive a line-up of breakfast burritos as there is in the city as well as a stuffed French toast the likes of which are rarely seen in these parts. It’s casserole style French toast with the syrup built in along with bits of bacon and cream cheese. It’s dusted with confectioner’s sugar and includes a side of maple syrup. This is a popular breakfast entree and if you don’t get to Porky’s early, the restaurant may have run out.
If you’re feeling a little bit country and a little bit New Mexico (with apologies to Donnie and Marie), lunch options include Porky’s Q-Ritto where you can wrap up any meats in a “big ole flour tortilla” burrito style. There’s a little bit of irony here since the first Porky’s Pride 4th Street restaurant was on the former corrugated steel edifice that once housed the Albuquerque Tortilla Company. At any regard, the O-Rittos are terrific–eight-inch tortillas enveloping nicely smoked pulled pork and, if you request it, green chile.
Build your own combo platters for lunch and dinner will satisfy even the most rapacious of carnivores. One, two, three and four meat platters can be crafted from pulled pork, pulled chicken, hot links, beef brisket and rib tips. All platters are served with triple baked beans and your choice of coleslaw, potato salad, garlic mashers or fries and garnished with diced onion and a dill pickle spear. In addition to these sides, the menu includes a creative array of appetizers: fried mac-n-cheese, pop-a-tops (breaded jalapeno halves stuffed with cream cheese), peel and eat shrimp, jumbo wings, catfish nuggets and corn fritters, rib tips and more.
Meaty rib tips are also off-the-bone tender and juicy. Each rib tip has a nice crusty outer core just above the smoke ring that typifies great barbecue. There’s a lot of meat on them there bones and it’s absolutely mouth-watering.
In his Dilbert Blog, nationally syndicated cartoonist Scott Adams questions why “so-called natural meat eaters feel the need to disguise their food by cutting it into steaks, cooking it, and covering it with barbecue sauce.” He posits that “if eating meat is natural, you would expect it to make you hungry in its natural condition. Looking at a cow should make you salivate when you are hungry.”
He does make one salient point in that few, if any of us, would salivate at the sight of fatted cows grazing on green grass, but you’ll need extra napkins to wipe your mouth upon receipt of a Porky’s Pride combination platter. You’ll immediately dig in lustily.
The hot links, stuffed in a natural casing, snap when bitten into and release their tangy spiciness. The links are sliced diagonally into slightly larger than bite-sized chunks. With or without sauce, they star.
Porky’s meats are the antithesis of the type of meat to which I refer as Ivory Snow in that they’re NOT 99 and 44/100 percent pure. You’ll find a fatty or sinewy sliver of meat here or there and plenty of dark meat, but that, too, is Americana. The pulled pork falls apart at the touch of a fork. It’s a moist and tender pulled pork imbued with more than a hint of hickory smokiness.
That smokiness is also imparted on the barbecue sauce which is slathered generously on your platter. The sauce hints more than subtly at being spicy, smoky and sweet, an unbeatable barbecue sauce combination. You’ll want to take home a bottle of that sauce which Guy is in the formative stages of bottling and distributing (not only the sauce, but his salsa and more). The sauce, by the way, is served hot. That’s because Guy knows if you serve smoked meats hot, they have a tendency to dry quickly. To keep them moist and juicy, he serves the meats warm and the sauce hot. It’s a fantastic sauce which you won’t find sitting on the table. It’s served to order so you can get it hot, the way it should be. It’s a sauce that’s very complementary of the dry rub Guy uses which isn’t always the case at barbecue restaurants which offer five or six different sauces but use only one dry rub.
Several so-called grill masters I know wonder if I’m smoking something when I explain it’s possible to smoke a great burger. Rio Rancho’s Smokehouse Barbecue Restaurant has proven me right several times with a smoke burger that has prompted nearly a hundred visits to that restaurant. At the risk of being accused of heresy, Porky’s Pride makes a better smoke burger than the Smokehouse. Porky’s smokey cheese burger is a half-pound Angus all-beef patty smoked then broiled to order and topped with two types of cheese. It’s available in single, double, triple and even quad sizes. You’ll want yours with green chile and bacon with barbecue sauce on the side for baptismal style immersion of bite-sized portions of the burger. This smoked burger has both a smoky flavor from the smoking process and a charbroiled flavor from being heated on the grill upon order. It’s the best of both worlds.
The most worthy accompaniment to any barbecue is baked beans and Porky’s Pride shines in that department with triple baked beans, the likes of which I last had at Hap’s Pit Barbecue in Phoenix, Arizona. It didn’t surprise me that Guy developed the concept and menu which has made Hap’s one of the most highly regarded barbecue restaurants in the Phoenix metropolitan area (Porky’s Pride is better). The trio of Navy, kidney and lima beans joins ground beef and bacon in a sauce of equal pronouncements sweet and savory. This isn’t a triple; it’s a home-run, some of the best baked beans in town.
Available for either lunch or dinner are steaks and chops the likes of which you might find at a Chophouse in Chicago. All chops are cooked to order on a Montague Steak Broiler which broils with infrared radiant heat which sears in all the juices and flavor. The temperatures on this broiler reach 2,500 degrees which means the heat intensity penetrates all exposed surfaces of the meat. This broiling process, by the way, is the same one used at high-end, high-dollar steakhouses such as Ruth’s Chris.
The Duke City won’t pay Ruth’s Chris prices for an outstanding steak at Porky’s Pride. In fact, at under $23, an outstanding steak can be had at Porky’s Pride for about a third of what you’d pay at Ruth’s Chris. The most expensive cut of steak offered is the Porterhouse, a beefy behemoth at 20-ounces of glorious, perfectly seasoned and perfectly broiled meat. This is a very tender, very juicy steak which explodes with flavor. If you love a great steak, this is one you’ve got to try.
Exemplifying just how much Guy Nix wants his cuisine to stand out is his willingness to pay almost a dollar a pound more for the green chile he uses on his New Mexican food. If you’ve ever noticed a boring sameness among the green chile at many Albuquerque restaurants, it’s because many of them obtain their chile from the same supplier. Not Porky’s Pride which pays a premium for fire-roasted chile which has a discernible flavor that stands out. Not especially piquant, it accentuates the fruitiness and flavor of chile. An excellent way to sample it is on enchiladas, three corn tortillas stacked with beef, pork or chicken then topped with Cheddar cheese and that terrific green chile.
Porky’s Pride exemplifies the type of barbecue that has become as American as barbecue and country music, a combination that can’t be beaten.
Porky’s Pride Real Pit BBQ
6136 4th Street, N.W.
LATEST VISIT: 16 October 2009
1st VISIT: 1 July 2008
# OF VISITS:4
BEST BET: Combination Platter (pulled pork, chicken, rib tips, hot links), triple beans, Porterhouse steak, onion rings, Porky’s Smokey Cheese Burger & Fries, Q-Rittos