There are an awful lot of things that I, a born-and-raised Northerner, do not understand about The South. Why do they still insist on calling it “The War for Southern Independence”, when it’s pretty universally acknowledged that they were wrong? Why do they build multi-million dollar high school football stadiums? Why do people from Iowa speak with a southern accent, even though they have IHOPs?
For us Northerners, “Southern Food” is nearly as mysterious as the rest of the region, usually defined in our minds as Fried Chicken, Barbecue, and whatever Grits are.
Handsome Hog, an upstart restaurant located in Lowertown St. Paul, is another of FDC’s attempts to understand the often confusing world of Southern Food. They label themselves as “Contemporary Southern”, which, if it’s anything like “Modern Farmhouse” means we’re in for a treat.
The restaurant is situated on street-level of the very attractive Park Square Court building in Lowertown, overlooking a bustling boulevard and Mears Park. As you walk into the restaurant, you are greeted with a very contemporary bar, contemporary tables and booths, and contemporary televisions. All this to say, the contemporary definitely strikes you as you walk in, but I didn’t feel much of the Southern upon first arrival. To be fair, I’m not sure what else they could have done on that front, other than turn up the heat to 95 degrees with 98% humidity.
Our food would have to carry the weight of the Southern portion of Handsome Hog’s claimed specialty, and boy did it ever.
We started off, as true southerners usually do, with a whole pork jowel. I know you’re probably saying at this point ‘Only one pork jowel?!’ To which I would say ‘Yes. For the love of god yes.’
The jowel was marvelous – succulent, rich, wonderfully prepared. In fact, it deserves another, less-good look:
After getting about the heaviest possible appetizer we could fathom, what else to do but get some rich entrees? We ended up ordering the Shrimp & Grits, the Brisket, the Chicken & Waffles and the Ribs. The star of the show for me, though, was our side dish.
Loyal FDC fans will recall that I have an affinity – some might call it an obsession – with biscuits at restaurants. The biscuit at Handsome Hog was – there is no better word for it – beautiful. A towering, flaky, crunchy concoction served with the chef’s absurdly spectacular spicy honey butter. I feel like I would come back to this restaurant to get like four orders of the biscuit and call it a day.
Although the biscuit was spectacular, the rest of the meal was not without its highlights. Let’s jump into those:
Shrimp & Grits
Chicken & Waffles
The Shrimp and Grits were unanimously liked. I had a hard time understanding how to eat a shrimp, and it’s shell poked my finger. Plus, Matt was being really pushy about eating all the shrimp faces. Good dish, but could’ve used less face eating.
The Brisket was also unanimously liked, although I think we all were more enthusiastic about it. The sauce was a nice homemade take on classic spicy barbecue. and paired well with the juicy brisket. Like all good BBQ, it came served on a bed of single-slice-of-white-bread. That’s how you know it’s authentic Southern.
The Ribs were one of the more confusing dishes we’ve had at FDC, even though they were ribs. First of all, they were done to perfection – the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and very succulent. However, there wasn’t a whole ton of flavor there. We all agreed that the ribs would have been better served with the Brisket sauce, but when we asked whether or not they were supposed to come with the sauce we were told no. TL;DR: Good Ribs, BYO Sauce
The Chicken & Waffles were my favorite entree of the night. Topped with a dollop of that spicy honey butter that came with the biscuits, the perfectly fried chicken was served on top of a delectable mini waffle and artfully garnished with syrup. This is clearly a southern flavor, and The Hog really hit this one out of the park.
To finish up, we got some sort of chocolate cake-y dessert that was really trippy in that it was served in a dish with a false bottom made of chocolate mousse! It took us a few minutes after getting our meal before realizing that the chocolate cakes were actually swimming in mousse! It really turned the dessert from good to great.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention our cocktails, which were expertly crafted / mixologized / poured, which I do not remember very well, and which I would definitely order again.
Overall, I very much enjoyed my meal at Handsome Hog. The food was great, the ambiance was nice, and the Southern was very contemporary. If you want to have a nice Southern meal, I’d recommend letting the culinary staff at Handsome Hog take your mouth to the South.
Bathroom review! It’s a bathroom that’s out in the hall of the building and not in the restaurant itself, so it HAS to be bad, right? Well…
Colorful, art on the walls, one of those pots of goo with sticks in it, this bathroom was solid!
4 out of 5 flushes!