2419 Guess Road, Durham, NC
(2nd location at 2780 Durham Road in Roxboro, NC)
Hours: Mon – Sat 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“Closed Sundays for Worship & Family.”
BBQ Jew’s Grade: C-
Porky Says: “Is this hog heaven? No, it tastes like Iowa.”
Good (tasting) pigs go to heaven when they die, or at least to Grady’s, Lexington #1, and other such divine BBQ joints. Evil (tasting) pigs go to hell–or at least lousy BBQ joints–when they die. Despite the angel-baiting name, the pigs served at Hog Heaven aren’t nearly good enough to make it into the pearly gates. Neither are they among the worst pigs you can eat. Instead, Hog Heaven is a pork purgatory, where less-than-worthy pigs suffer eternal blandness.
Interestingly, Hog Heaven has won several reader’s choice awards for serving the Triangle’s best barbecue. Unfortunately, these awards show only that the masses don’t have much taste when it comes to ‘cue (and, alas, that there ain’t much good pork in the Triangle). Hog Heaven serves thoroughly mediocre pork that never cooks anywhere near a wood coal, and thus lacks in any authentic flavor. The tasteless pork is not helped by the thin but sweet and sticky sauce, which is a truly odd concoction. Since Hog Heaven is supposed to be an Eastern-style joint it is not surprising that the sauce seems ketchup-free, yet it is sweeter than all but the sweetest of the Lexington-style dips. It is sort of like syrup with a dash of hot pepper in it, and would not seem out of place at the Waffle House. I recommend you skip the sauce and simply douse your pork with as much Texas Pete as needed. To Hog Heaven’s credit, the pork is hand-chopped to order and that gives it a good, not-too-fine consistency, though it is a tad mushy for my taste.
Hog Heaven offers an admirably large menu of side dishes, in the Eastern-style tradition, as well as main course choices like fried chicken (quite good), BBQ chicken, pork chops, shrimp, catfish and more. Ribs are served on Tuesdays only. Sides that are served most every day include candied yams, green beans, turnip greens, mac ‘n’ cheese, fried okra, potato salad, and more. In addition, there is a special vegetable side each day of the week, such as black eyed peas or corn on the cob. See the online menu here.
I had the BBQ and Brunswick Stew combo plate, which comes with two sides. I chose the slaw, which was good, mayo-creamy and somewhat sweet with a nice, coarse-chopped consistency. The mac ‘n’ cheese, on the other hand, was awful unless you have a preference for boxed Kraft with Velveeta. The Brunswick Stew tasted okay, but it looked like death warmed over. It had the far-too-thick-for-stew consistency of banana pudding, rendering the spoon it was served with completely unnecessary. The body of the stew was embedded with ample amounts of meat (pork and chicken too?), lima beans and corn, but the odd consistency made it difficult to stomach. As is expected at most joints, hush puppies accompany each order. Hog Heaven’s were reasonably good, dense and moist, and they were a welcome chaser for the stew.
Like most barbecue joints, the interior of Hog Heaven is clean, comfortable, and entirely unremarkable. If anything, it is plainer than most but it is a nice enough place to eat a meal. You order at the counter, fill your own drink, and then sit down and wait for the staff to bring your food. My food arrived quickly, even during the busy lunch rush. There is also a drive-through window (“drive-to” window may be more apt, since the restaurant comprises the end of a small strip mall and traffic circulation prevents a typical drive-through).
Between the various awards it has won and the steady business it gets, clearly Hog Heaven has its share of loyal followers. I am happy that they have found a place they enjoy, and they’ll be happy to know that I won’t again soon add myself to the order line. If I need barbecue in Durham, you’ll probably find me a mile or so up Guess Road at the Backyard BBQ Pit #2, which I will review soon.