“If you build it, he will come.”
This is the voice I hear in my head as I pull up outside a (quite ugly) industrial office park in Ndabeni. We are here looking for The Hog House Brewing Company and there is a definite parallel to The Field Of Dreams, where our hero built a baseball field in order to summon up his beloved team, the White Sox. Today we are The Sox. Except it’s not baseball we are here for. It’s BBQ. And our hero isn’t a corn farmer. He’s a chef.
When PJ Vadas told me he was going to be opening a BBQ / Brewery concept I was stoked. Really stoked. Then he told me the venue. And I was worried. Would people really drive out to the middle of nowhere to eat smoked meat and drink beer? Well, if the first week of this restaurant being open is any indication, then the answer is yes. And they aren’t even licensed yet. (BYOB for now)
Here’s the thing about PJ. He believes his food is excellent. Because it is. And in an age where most restaurants are offering crazy winter specials just to try and get people in the door, he has the belief that he will simply cook food that is so delicious people will make an effort to get there. That’s refreshing. With a pedigree that includes working in some of the world’s greatest kitchens, before running some of ours, he has managed to take his classic training and apply it to the art of BBQ.
“The art of BBQ?”
That’s what I said. BBQ is a highly specific, highly developed skill. As with any other form of cooking, it needs to be learnt. And practiced. And perfected.
At The Hog House, they are pretty close. With a menu built around brisket, you can also take a pick from pulled pork, buttermilk chicken, sausages and various specials (on my visit it was lamb ribs and a loin of pork). The sides are far more than an afterthought, with mac ‘n cheese, kimchi pineapple, coleslaw, bread and butter pickles and even their house-made hot sauce all deserving a mention as well-executed examples. Bar snacks like burnt ends croquettes and wild mushroom arancini are good enough to be dressed up and served as parts of fancier dishes at fancier restaurants. But here, they are served in a bowl. As the star. Take it or leave it. (I took it, by the way). Indeed, with the exception of one hiccup – a bizarre, overly strong cardamom ice cream – the meal was pretty much flawless.
If you’re looking for starched white linen and waiters in waistcoats give this a miss. Here you’ll get knives and forks in a bucket. And metal canteen trays with wax paper. You won’t have someone wiping your crumbs off your table. You’ll do that yourself. With messy, sticky, smoky fingers.
As the category of smoked meat and BBQ grows in this country, there is currently one venue and one chef standing head and shoulders above the rest. If we stick with the Field Of Dreams analogy, someone has just hit a home run.
The details: Hog House Brewing Company, 42 Morningside Road, Ndabeni. (021) 810-4545.
Go forth and eat,