Unsolicited Proposals to Piggyback Tavern

I applaud your efforts, encourage improvements

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By David Hammond

Piggyback Tavern had been open three weeks when we stopped by. That's not long enough to do a formal review. Usually reviewers wait at least a month before they weigh in. That's a fair policy, and the following observations and proposals are presented from the perspective of a food-oriented Oak Parker who applauds a place like this and is humbly offering a few unsolicited suggestions to help make it better.

I had read initial comments about Piggyback on local food chat sites like Yelp and LTHForum.com. This new BBQ restaurant is getting a lot of love, specifically about its craft beer selections, which is indeed spectacular and perhaps the best you'll find locally (if you're having pork, I'd highly recommend the Crispin hard cider, which complements the meat with a sweet tang you can't get in most beer).

Complaints in social media seem to focus primarily on three points: dryness of the meat, the price-to-value of the food, and the uncomfortable chairs.

We ordered the catfish taco, pulled pork sandwich and the half-slab of baby back ribs.

On the dryness point, I must concur. Both pulled pork and ribs were very dry, making them less tasty and harder to chew than they should have been. The pork actually had a small black marble-sized clump of 100% carbonized meat on the plate: that's about as damn dry as something edible can get. Actually, though I ate it, I'm not sure it was, technically, edible.

I mentioned the dryness of the food to the server, and she pointed out that this is because "the quality of the meat means that there's less fat, and we use a dry rub." Maybe. We also came by late in the day, so perhaps the meat had been on the smoker a little longer than it should have been. More likely is that the meat was smoked hours earlier and then re-heated a little, which would also cause it to dry out. Running a pit takes some time to master, for sure…and it is only week three of operations.

After dinner, walking to the back to check out the smokers, I ran into a neighborhood friend, Wesley Cichosz, who had read no online reviews and had no preconceptions. I really like talking with guys like Wes because he's just coming for the chow, doesn't give a damn about trends or what kind of wood the Pitmaster might be using, or how the Q here compares to what they're turning out at Honey 1 or Uncle John's. He's also very happy to talk about food. He told me that even his burger was dry, which started me thinking that maybe this extra-dry theme is part of Piggyback's approach. Piggyback supplies each table with bottles of Carolina, Zesty and Smokey Sweet sauce; you're going to need them…except for the fish taco, which was moist and tasty and priced right at $3.

Cichosz was with a group of local joes who regularly dine together. He said their budget for dinner is usually around $25 or so for apps, entrée and two drinks (plus tip) – which, personally, I think is on the low-side (a frequent hangout for these guys is Goldyburgers, where you can definitely hit that price point).  By the Cichosz scale, Piggyback was expensive. Although I didn't feel that the per person price was way out of range, I did feel the portions were a touch small.  The pulled pork sandwich was $9 and the half-slab of ribs was $12 – the former came with fantastic slaw (good texture, not too creamy), but neither came with fries. It might be advisable for Piggyback management to spend the few extra cents per order to add fries and make diners feel like they're getting a decent value. The plates as ordered seem a little sparse, Carolyn noted, and so the perceived value is low.

I wasn't bothered by the chairs, but both Cichosz and Carolyn seemed put off by the hard metal surfaces.  "I'm an old fart," confessed Cichosz, "and I have a hard time sitting on metal for hours."

I want to see Piggyback succeed. This area of our community could use a new BBQ place. So I humbly submit that Piggyback should tweak their cook times (and perhaps use fattier meat) to yield a juicier product, consider adding fries to make their dinners a better value, and maybe invest in cushions.

The first few weeks after opening are a crucial time for a restaurant. They're still getting themselves together, so everything may not be 100%, but they're still making a lot of first impressions.

Getting up to leave, Cichosz boldly proclaimed, "I'll never come back!"

But then I mentioned that I might post his comments, and he said, "Go ahead! Maybe they'll send me a free gift certificate."

So I guess as the common wisdom goes, you never want to say "Never": there are clearly some circumstances that would lure customers like Cichosz back to Piggyback. The surest way management can keep customers coming in and eating happy, however, is to make some small adjustments that would improve the food, make it a better value, and minimize customer butt-discomfort.

Good luck, Piggyback. I applaud your efforts, encourage improvements – and continue to bemoan the fact that Forest Park, rather than Oak Park, continues to score more interesting and promising restaurants such as your own.

Piggyback Tavern

410 Circle Avenue

Forest Park, Illinois 60130

(708) 669-9744



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David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 19th, 2012 9:23 AM

PIggyback service seemed just fine to me, Chris, though this is such a highly variable factor that I'm not shocked that others perceived it differently. Rib Guy, I'm with you re: Chucks, an outstanding restaurant that, unlike many BBQ places, has a huge and innovative menu (influenced by Chuck's time with Bayless, I think -- lots of well-conceived Mexican-type dishes, which is also a little unusual for a Q joint}.

Rib Guy from Oak Park  

Posted: December 19th, 2012 8:39 AM

For some really fine bbq, try Q in LaGrange and Naperville and Chuck's in Bridgeview. Outstanding Q!

Chris Koertge from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 19th, 2012 8:05 AM

Completely agree with you and Gary on whether a rib should be dry, David. It should not. I was just at Honey1 on Western in the city and the ribs were perfectly smoked and moist, as always. I too have found Smokin M's to be run by very nice people putting out an average product at a good price. Their hot links, normally a must-order item, have always been dry and somewhat mealy and the ribs and rib tips have been hit and miss. The bar for top-priced BBQ in the Chicagoland area is significantly higher than Smokin M's. The tales of poor or rude service at Piggyback are a whole other issue which will likely keep me from trying a restaurant I was excited to see arrive in our community any time soon. I hope they can turn it around.

Foodie from Illinois  

Posted: December 19th, 2012 7:36 AM

Went to Skrine's just recently -- one side of the chicken was completely charred/blackened --I don't just mean grilled, but burnt. Tasteless mac/cheese, pork sliders with no sauce (but mashed potatoes on both sides of the bun??), I was left wanting.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 18th, 2012 11:51 PM

"a rib should be a bit dry." Mike, I ran this very quote by Gary Wiviott, author of "Low and Slow," a book about BBQ and pitmaster at Barn & Company, and he said, "Never." Thoughts?


Posted: December 18th, 2012 7:01 PM

I think the guy's facial expression in the picture explains all.

bbqribguy from Oak Park  

Posted: December 18th, 2012 6:51 PM

Dave - after hearing the guy bad mouth a really outstanding citizen of Madison Street - my appetite failed. And I started the conversation saying we were interested in drinks or desert. In 25 years observing our restaurant scene I've never had such a tasteless conversation. Now the guy at Smokin M's at Oak Park & North has gone out his way to accommodate me. Yes, it's a totally different type of place but thoughtful service helps build a following.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 18th, 2012 6:01 PM

Last time I was to Smokin M's was in 2008 -- it was okay; I'd go back (but haven't). If there's one thing I've learned about Q places, it's that there's a lot of variation based on wood, weather, meat, etc. Which is why I feel that maybe I caught Piggyback on a bad night. bbqribguy, how did you find the food at Piggyback?

bbqribguy from Oak Park  

Posted: December 18th, 2012 3:42 PM

Hammond needs to get out more for local BBQ - check out Smokin' M's (Oak Park & North) or J&T Smokin (on Grand) or Skrine Chops. This place looks OK BUT 1) the person behind the bar I spoke to Saturday (manager?) was a JERK. I stopped after dinner at Duckfat thinking about a drink. When I mentioned where I had eaten he starts ripping on Duckfat like some frat-boy d-bag. 2) Chairs are really bad 3) Entrees with no sides - come on! Piggyback not recommended. Smokin' M's better & much nicer.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 18th, 2012 11:46 AM

BBQ places do cook with smokers, of course, and it is possible some patrons are more sensitive, but it also seems like most BBQ places figure out a way to vent the smoke so as not to bother even sensitive clientele. Didn't bother me, but smokey air has been a common criticism of this place. As they use huge enclosed commercial smokers at Piggyback (which no doubt vent directly outdoors), any smoke in the air must have escaped when they opened the cookers. And one must admit: delicious smoke outside the restaurant provides excellent marketing. MIke, excellent to hear from you!

Mike Janowski from oak park  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 10:40 PM

Oh, and a note to people who complain about smoke in a BBQ restaurant...HEY, IT'S A BBQ RESTAURANT. THEY COOK WITH SMOKE. IF YA CAN'T STAND THE SMOKE, GET OUTTA THE RESTAURANT.

Mike Janowski from oak park  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 10:38 PM

Ate there last Tues...had ribs and brisket combo. The ribs are baby backs, so yes, they are leaner than ST. Louis or full spareribs, but I thought they were well-smoked, didn't seem "dry" to me...besides, a rib should be a bit dry, otherwise that tells me they boil 'em or use some other abominable method of prep. Brisket was mighty tasty, smoky, not dry, and a nice serving, sliced like they do in Texass. Sauces were only so-so, the sweet being way too sweet, and the "spicy" or "sassy" or whatever, which barely registered on my heat-o-meter. I went with the vinegar sauce for most of the brisket, it's not traditional, but it's a nice complement to the smoke IMHO. I'll agree on the value point-price is pretty steep for a couple of cheaper cuts of meat (and I didn't see anything on the menu that indicated they weren't using your typical Smithfield or other mass-purveyor,low price meat). Not a slam, lots of fine establishments all over the US use mass-market meat and get fine results; but I know what ribs cost in bulk, and these guys have a nice markup. I like what they've done with the space, and though I didn't drink any beer (stuck with whiskey), it's nice to have another craft beer place in town. And in general, their food tastes right...and I've been to Texas, NC, 'bama, so I know me some BBQ. I'll give 'em 3 outta 5...

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 5:55 PM

James, service issues, in particular, are ones that can be corrected over time, but it sounds like you got some seriously sad treatment.

James O'Brien from Forest Park  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 5:45 PM

I Won't go back! Greeted by the hostess. needed a table for one person. Told they currently did not have any tables ready for a single diner, I could get a drink downstairs. was handed a drink menu by the bartender and the first three drinks I ordered off the menu was told we don't have that maybe next week. A table was ready fairly quickly about 20 min. Was seated by the hostess. but no wait staff for about another 20 min. complaint to manager Neil did no good. ate and left food was just OK.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 5:03 PM

Q, if Piggyback gets enough of the same kind of criticism (and there are some consistent comments here and elsewhere) then it's very possible they'll tweak their operations in response. And that would be a good thing.

Q from Oak Park  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 4:47 PM

Why would anyone want to go back thinking they are going to get better. If you paid full price for a place that isn't ready to charge full price, then the customer should get compensated for the level they are at.

Vivian from Oak Park  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 2:11 PM

I agree with alot of what was said here but I won't be able to go back and see any improvements until they have figured out the ventilation system. The smoke smell was so bad, our eyes were watering. We cut our dinner short and my clothes, and hair smelled so smoky it made me nauseous even after I left. 3 days later, my pocketbook still smelled like smoke. That is unacceptable.

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 1:35 PM

Yeah, op/fp, I understood you the first time. This may be a semantic argument (and so open to interpretation), but I consider a "review" an evaluation of a finished product. Piggyback is a work in progress, and I'm willing to give it the benefit of another month or two before I go back. For less charitable approaches, you can consult either of the other social media sites I mentioned. From beginning to end, I tried to clearly qualify my comments to make it clear that Piggyback is still evolving and I'm witholding judgement until they're in full swing. However, they are taking paying customers, so the point could be made that they're already in full swing and, thus, open for discussion.

op/fp foodie from op  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 1:26 PM

Sorry Hammond, it just seems lame and. Seems like you could have just waited a bit and then if the experience was the same, blogged about it then.....

David Hammond from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 1:25 PM

Smoke-filled air at Piggyback has been a problem for others (according to some of the social media referenced). I can't say it troubled me, but as mentioned it's possible I was there late enough so that the smokers were no longer in operation (and thus they were not creating much smoke).

op/fp foodie from op  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 1:24 PM

Love the energy at Piggyback. The tacos are excellent, so is the brisket, the collard greens are amazing, cole slaw is great too. The sauces are unique and delicious, each in their own way. @Hammond, yes, they have some things to work out but nothing that another few weeks won't cure, Jason's a very talented chef as evidence by Lake St. Tap.... I'm a little disappointed that you, after disclosing that it's unusual to write a review this early, go ahead and write a review this early.

jim from Oak Park  

Posted: December 17th, 2012 1:20 PM

I had the combo - pork and beef brisket. I'll go along with dry, but maybe that's the hallmark of Arkansas BBQ. I'm not an afecionado of that variety of pork so no big draw for me. But I can't come back with my wife. The smoker filled the room with smoke, and when I got home, I put all I was wearing right in the washer.

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