Located far enough on the western edge of the Village to suggest the outskirts of some Southern town, the Hog Pit knows it's tacky. Weathered walls, fly-specked windows, and a neon sign blaring "BBQ" begin an evocation of the mythic South that continues with a University of Alabama pennant, a passel of stuffed razorback hog heads, a Route 66 sign, and a massive fish swallowing a bottle of Bud over the bar. Photographs of the old meat-packing district are all there are to remind the diner that this is Manhattan. It's over-the-top, but no one would wish this testosterone-powered joint to be otherwise. Its menu comprises a raft of Southern specialties that pay homage to barbecue and the most southern of cooking techniques: frying.
It was the chicken, not the pig, that sucked me in; there for a TV interview, I was immediately taken by the yardbird used as a prop. We weren't allowed to taste, but it looked just right: a good crisp crust with just enough burnt bits to guarantee no pink. All I got to sample that day were deviled eggs, which were primo: creamy, spicy yolks flecked with minced onion that contrasted perfectly with the rubbery albumen. Even though I'd blown my critical cover, I decided this was a place worth revisiting. And in the end there were enough glitches in the cooking to convince me that the food I described would be the food readers got.
I was back again the next day for takeout and got to observe a motley mix of Village people and tourists as I downed a Rolling Rock long-neck at the bar, where I wimpily requested a glass. The fried green tomatoes ($4.95), while a bit too ripe, boasted a righteous crusting of flour and cornmeal. The mound of pulled pork ($10.95), however, was stringy, with a thin, vinegary sauce. But all dinners come with two vegetables, and my double order of collards redeemed the plate like a great gospel solo after a bad sermon. Free of trashy stems and flavored with a dash of vinegar, they were just chewy enough, and displayed their ham proudly.
I called in my Texas sidekick for a final foray and we went hog wild. The green tomatoes were still too ripe, but fried dill pickles, a much debated special, proved tasty slices of New York half-sours in a puffy crust. I was impressed that the batters were different, and the chicken ($11.95) confirmed that this chef was intimate with her Fry-O-Lator: as crisp and moist as I'd hoped. Somebody's Grannie Lou must have been nearsighted, for the pinto beans that bore her name ($3.50) looked like red beans to us, but were just fine. The siren call of cornmeal-fried catfish so enchanted my friend that she actually began to eat and hum, and the fried corn ($3.50) with it was voted most authentic. We couldn't not sample the 'cue, so we shared a rack of baby back ribs billed as "so good you'll have to slap somebody" ($14.95). We selected a corn salad ($3.50) and savory cabbage with bacon ($3.50) as sides, and though the former was too hot and the latter too tough, morsels of slab bacon saved the cabbage anyway. And as for the meaty, tender ribs, with just enough sauce to be sloppy, they were fine. But what slapping there is to be done is about the fantastic frying at this downhome spot in Manhattan's Far West.
The Hog Pit 22 Ninth Avenue, 604-0092. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 4 to 11 p.m. Major credit cards. Limited wheelchair access.
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