Holy Hog Barbecue offers old-fashioned smoked meats in a modern Delray Beach setting

Clockwise from top left: Havana sausage, Texas toast, St. Louis ribs, pulled pork, burnt ends.

Texas and southern-style barbecue classics, served Chipotle fast-casual style, are on the menu at this franchised outlet of a popular Tampa Bay area restaurant group.

By Alan J. Wax

Holy Hog Barbecue, recently opened in Delray Beach, takes you on a cross-country tour of barbecue.

Incorporating aspects of different regional styles, Holy Hog offers the holy trinity of Texas ‘cue, beef brisket, pork spareribs and sausage, as well as classic southern barbecue: pulled pork, Brunswick stew and smoked chicken.

But let’s ignore geography and call it contemporary barbecue. The atmosphere at Holy Hog, in the sprawling, very busy Delray Place shopping center anchored by Trader Joe’s, certainly suggests that.

The dining room and counter at Delray’s Holy Hog Barbecue.

Aside from the subtle odor of smoke that wafts to your nose upon entry, you might think you’ve arrived at any other modern, fast-casual eatery. There is little to suggest that authentic BBQ can be found in this modest 42-seat storefront eatery. There’s no country roadhouse feel. No memorabilia or old photos adorning the walls. One wall, which provides a backdrop for three big-screen TVs, is a bright collage of BBQ terms in enormous type.  Another wall, made of brick, surrounds the windows and bears the restaurant’s logo. The brightly lit room with industrial black air ducts hanging from the ceiling is filled with light-hued wood and black tables and chairs. Atop each table is a wooden holder filled with sauce bottles and a dispenser with flimsy brown napkins — no rolls of paper towels here. In other words, Holy Hog seems to lack the country character one expects in an eatery serving country food.

Open since mid-January, Holy Hog runs on the cafeteria model, a la Chipotle, with sides at the start of the assembly line, followed by meats, and then the cashier’s counter which also holds two beer taps serving up a mass-market light brew and a craft-brewed Mexican-style lager.  There’s a stainless-steel, gas, electric and oak-burning Ole Hickory Pits Convecture Tri Oven smoker in a corner behind the cashier. Drinks — tea, sodas and bottled beers — are dispensed on the side.  Your order, placed on a shiny metal tray, is delivered to your table by one of the friendly counter workers.

Working the smoker at Delray’s Holy Hog Barbecue.

The Holy Hog in Delray Beach is a franchise of a 10-year-old, highly successful mini-chain established in Tampa by veteran restaurateur Danny Hernandez, who after expanding his family’s Cuban restaurant, Pipo’s Cuban Café, moved into barbecue.

We were welcomed on our first visit by a manager, who identified himself as Paul. He  insisted we try samples of the restaurant’s coleslaw and Brunswick stew before we could decide what to order.

There are seven meats available on platters or sandwiches, a dozen sides from which to choose, and three sauces. The meats are served naked, that is sans sauce. A sampler of all the meats, two sides and a slice of Texas toast (I wish cornbread was available), starts at $28. Portions are humongous and a sampler provides enough eating for several people, let alone one. I had leftover BBQ for lunch for the next two days.

Among my choices was the Havana sausage, a blend of pork and chorizo, which was juicy — and addictive – with a mélange of smoke and mild spice. It was the only meat that didn’t require a squirt of sauce.

Brisket sandwich.

Brisket is ready for cutting.

Brisket, a $3 supplement on a lunchtime sandwich, had a beautiful campfire char on the bark, or outside, but the brown meat beneath, trimmed of the fatty cap, was dry, and lacked the pink smoke ring that defines smoked meat.

The St. Louis pork ribs, a barbecue staple and the only ribs on the menu, lacked char and were lukewarm, but nonetheless were smoky, tender and meaty. They also were in need of sauce to counter some dryness.

Similarly, the pulled pork served with thick shreds, seemed dry, but was enhanced by a douse of the golden, Carolina-style sauce.

Burnt ends, the toasted ends from the tip of the smoked brisket that are cooled overnight, then cubed, braised in sauce and smoked again, also were tender with a palate of sweet, salty and fat. Regrettably, I bit into a big chunk of fat among the pieces of meat in my black plastic bowl.

Sides, clockwise from top left: jalapeño Mac & cheese, Brunswick stew, coleslaw and collard greens.

The Brunswick stew, a nice portion of Holy Hog’s barbequed meats simmering in a Georgia-style sauce, easily could have served as a main. The bright yellow jalapeño mac & cheese was creamy with a mild kick.  Collard greens, tender and mixed with shreds of barbecued pork, alas, were not particularly memorable. Not so, the coleslaw, which was a sweet concoction of thickly shredded green and red cabbage and sweetened, dried cranberries that easily was a favorite.

Desserts are limited to apple or cherry cobblers or banana pudding.  Our pick, cherry cobbler, had already sold out the night of our first visit. Feeling stuffed, we decided to pass on the others.

A caution: Parking can be an issue and traffic seems to move in every direction in the narrow parking lot in front of Holy Hog. Still, for residents of Delray Beach seeking a barbecue fix without having to drive to either Boynton Beach or Boca Raton, it provides an option, albeit one that won’t necessarily answer your prayers for smoked hog.

Holy Hog Barbecue

420 E Linton Blvd., Suite 800, Delray Beach, FL 33483

(561) 894-8696



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