Pork & Beans has all the trappings of a classic Southern barbecue joint: battered old signs, floor-to-ceiling racks of chopped wood, piles of meat served on plastic trays lined with brown butcher paper. Stepping inside, I was reminded of the BBQ shacks that dot the back roads of Mississippi and Alabama, where ribs and brisket are a way of life. Stepping outside, I was happily reminded that I was still in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Though not open just yet, Pork & Beans is the latest concept from Richard DeShantz, the chef and owner of Butcher and the Rye, Meat & Potatoes and täkō. For his new restaurant, DeShantz teamed up with Keith Fuller, chef and owner at Regent Square’s acclaimed Root 174. Bonding over a shared love of beer and barbecue, DeShantz and Fuller are rolling out “a pork-centric smokehouse and beer garden in the Cultural District” just blocks from DeShantz’s other restaurants.
On Saturday night, Pork & Beans held their first event: a five-course dinner with Full Pint beer pairings that gave diners a generous taste of what’s to come. The space itself is airy and relaxed, with a mix of communal tables and cozy wooden booths. On one side is a bar boasting three dozen taps, which empty into what looks like a long porcelain bathtub. The opposite wall features hundreds of beer cans arranged into a mural of (what else?) a giant pig. Like all of DeShantz’s restaurants, the atmosphere is as much of an attraction as the food.
Though the décor evokes ramshackle roadside eating, the menu for the special dinner featured ample cheffy touches from Fuller and DeShantz. Take, for instance, the ribs course. A good rib is a hallmark of any barbecue joint, and the tender Korean short rib did the trick. Rather than serve it with a squeeze bottle of barbecue sauce and a cup of banana pudding, however, the plate featured savory Rice Krispies, banana puree and BBQ Pop Rocks. The dish cleverly recalled the flavors of traditional barbecue, yet imagined them in a whole new context.
Other courses were more straightforward. The “Pork & Beans” was a hearty celebration of the restaurant’s namesakes, pairing pig in various forms with a handful of perfectly cooked beans. Though the menu is undoubtedly meat heavy (these chefs do not fear animal fat), various pickled items and Southern staples like rhubarb and collard greens brought much-needed brightness and lightness to the meal.
Pork & Beans will not be for everyone (namely vegans and those who insist good barbecue can only be found in one of the classic Southern meccas). But I, for one, very much look forward to seeing what else the chefs have in store. Though “upscale barbecue” may sound like a contradiction, the concept works, combining old-school flavors with modern techniques (and plenty of fresh, local beer).
Pork & Beans has not yet announced an opening date, but the team is aiming for an early summer opening. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for the latest developments.