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.
410 Circle Avenue
Forest Park, Illinois 60130