Even native New Jerseyans make mistakes: driving south on the Parkway on a Friday evening in the summer, expecting a decent bowl game from Rutgers, and going to Point Pleasant on a weekend. But when my in-laws fly in from Washington State and want to go to a beach with a hoppin’ boardwalk, from North Jersey there isn’t many options within a reasonable driving distance. And so Point Pleasant it was, and while it turned out to be a beautiful day and a great time, it did take me an hour to find a parking spot after dropping them off. I ended up near the train station in town and flip-flopped it down to the beach from there. Loaded with stuff, it would have been torture, but having dropped everything with the family, not so bad. Jersey beaches, almost in their entirety, without the stupid politics that people play about restricting access (Sea Bright!), are some of the best in the country. Growing up near the shore for a young boy: couldn’t beat it. There are days that I miss it desperately, for many reasons, but also because the fact that I’m so far from some great barbeque places. So when the family wanted to hit up dinner after a long day in the sun and water, we pulled up the Jersey Joints page to look for a great place near us. And being in Point Pleasant, we hit the trifecta, as not only does it have a barbeque place, but three!. Counting the Beach, we’ve got The Hickory Hog, Woodchuck’s, and Shore Points. None of which I have tried before, although their days are numbered. They have a a Taking the Point BBQ Tour written all over them. But today, purely by random, we chose The Hickory Hog, and we are glad we did.
If you have been sleeping for the last four years, you might have missed the move. The Hog has been in its current location for the last four years, next to Gerard’s Booze Palace (my words!), so you can take a small detour, grab your favorite beer or wine, and walk on back. Order an extra appetizer with the money that you save. The old place is now occupied by Woodchuck’s, with no relationship between the two, although it could lead to a little confusion. The Hickory Hog is owned by Mike and Maureen Cassidy, with each seeming to have their own domain within the restaurant. Maureen can often be seenoutside with the diners and, I’m going to guess, had the major say in the decoration of the restaurant. It is not decked out like many barbeque places with tin signs, crude jokes about pig parts, or neon lights. It seems more like your home dining room with bright, clean walls and lots of natural light. As I spoke with her, I could really tell how proud she was of the restaurant and how much she cared that we all were comfortable and happy. The kitchen, though, is Mike’s domain, and he is a pedigree. Working with smoked meat since he was sixteen, he started at the infamous Southern House, a local favorite that unfortunately burned down in January of 2003, leaving a vacuum for good barbeque. In 2007, the two decided to open up their own place, the Hickory Hog. Now, think this: would you want barbeque from someone who has cooked only barbeque for the last 30 years. Uh, yeah you do!
If you go to the Hog, make sure you ask for Rose as your server. I’m sure that all of the servers are terrific, but Rose is special. Rose makes you feel so welcome. Like Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s welcome! Like “Be Our Guest” welcome! She did not actually sing, but coming from a hot beach, hungry like wolves, with kids in tow, she was awesome.
Although I love to try everything on the menu, my family was not cooperating with me. I haven’t reviewed a restaurant before with the whole family, so the ground rules weren’t really laid out well before-hand. I wanted everyone to order something different, so I could nibble and graze, but they weren’t having any of that. They wanted their own dishes, and most of them wanted ribs. Even the kids, who love their father very much, were being stingy with sharing. I had to muscle in more than usual, but I did come away with some success. As an appetizer, the table shared the onion loaf, which was a favorite at the Southern House, and brought back by Mike. It’s very similar to the Blooming Onion but with less spice and shaped like a loaf pan. Similar dipping sauce. It was gone in a few minutes. Next time, I’m going for the pub pickles. Like I said, most of us ordered the ribs, as they came recommended by Rose. Although the wet ribs were great, the star of the show was the Memphis dry rub ribs. The rub, although sharp and flavorful, did not mask the smokiness of the meat. The two blended so well together that they were the hit of the table. George and Barbara, my-inlaws, said that they were better than any of the ribs in Spokane, and how they wished that they had a barbeque place like this near them. Although Washington is not the Mecca of barbeque, they have been all around the country and really enjoyed them. My daughter, who loves pulled pork always, ordered the Carolina pulled pork sandwich and gobbled that up. But not before allowing Daddy to pick off a piece of pork. Tangy with hints of mustard and vinegar made the pork one of my favorites from the menu. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any brisket or chicken on the table for me to grab, so it’s something to look forward to when I come back. For the sides, the cole slaw and the baked beans, which I always seem to get, were sweet and good. But my youngest son, got the mac and cheese which is one of the restaurant’s most ordered items. Although new to giving feedback, he told Maureen, “I wouldn’t change a thing about the mac n cheese.” So if you have a fourth grader, and he or she digs the mac n cheese, it got very high marks from my son, Brennan.
Terrific! Radiant! The Hickory Hog is a place with an experienced and proven pitmaster, serving up great food in a restaurant that treats their customers like their own family. It was the perfect place for my family to unwind and enjoy a meal after a long day on the beach. Many thanks to my family for putting up with me talking throughout the meal, snapping photos of their food, licking at dabs of barbeque sauce off the plate, and foraging for bites. Many thanks also to Mike, Maureen and Rose for their warm hospitality.