Pitmasters tend to speak of their passion for barbecue in reverential terms; lionizing its primal convergence of man, meat and wood smoke. But for Arrogant Swine’s Tyson Ho, his quest to master Carolina ‘cue was a bit more practical. “I wanted to go to wherever was closest and cheapest, and learn about how they did things there.”
And he’s been equally unsentimental about his ensuing business decisions, from his expansive 3,000-foot Bushwick space (again, cheapest—and due to the fact that his nearest neighbors are the Frito-Lay factory and plastic bag manufacturers, he can blow smoke and blast music whenever he wants,) to his partners (basically, “anyone who believed in the dream and could put up with me,”) to his staff, many of whom were recruited from the nearby Doe Fund; a non-profit halfway house for people with histories of homelessness, substance abuse, and incarceration (hold the “awwws,” he’s quick to point out that, since the restaurant industry is riddled with drug users anyway, he’d just as soon work with people that have a support system already in place.)
Not that any of it matters; because when it comes down to brass tacks, dude knows how to cook a pig.
Ho starts feeding his smokers—located in a series of tin sheds out back—at around 2 am, laying whole heritage hogs over oak wood coals (incidentally, plan to dine outside at one of the surrounding picnic tables until well into the winter, where the air is heady with burning wood, maple syrup and caramelized pig skin; a veritable Christmastown in a grubby corner of Bushwick). There are also deeply red house-made sausage rings on offer, as well as racks of spare ribs in a Carolina honey glaze and giant, Renaissance Faire-style turkey legs, “Because I’m a big kid, and who doesn’t like the idea of waving around a giant turkey leg?” shrugs Ho.
But the core menu essentially revolves around whatever Ho can pluck off of his hefty porcine carcasses, and at $15 per plate (accompanied by slaw and a slab of cornpone), it’s a nominal price to pay for a ½-pound heap of hog; tender strands of shoulder, lean strips of loin, and meltingly fatty nubbins of jowl, belly and leg, all tossed together and laced with a sweet-tart vinegar-based sauce. Equally decadent is the Outside Brown ($13). Native to the westernmost regions of Carolina, it refers to the outermost layer of the animal, stained dark with seasonings, drippings, and direct heat. Although it’s usually incorporated into the rest of the whole hog mix, Ho butterflies his shoulders in a way that maximizes their exposure, before chopping them up and serving them separately, with a tangy, tomatoey “Piedmont” dip.
Add in 20 drafts, 40 bottles, rails of good whiskey, an odd selection of board games, and greasy, floppy discs of mac and cheese, rendered hot and crispy in a waffle iron? Even the inscrutable Ho will have to admit, it sounds like a winning formula.
173 Morgan Avenue, Bushwick