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The Pig – Callahan, Florida

E. S. Murdoch opened his first The Pig restaurant back in 1955. The first location was on Kings Road in Jacksonville, Florida. Four generations later, his family still runs the business at five locations in and around Jacksonville.

At first they served only barbecue – ribs, pork butt and chicken – plus the traditional beans and cole slaw. But in the 1960s. a friend who worked in commercial fishing talked Murdoch into adding seafood to the menu. That’s the biggest change in the 60-year history of the business.

I visited the location in Callahan – just a few miles north-west of Jacksonville. It sits at the end of a strip mall, so there’s plenty of parking. Inside, the restaurant has a couple of big rooms and lots of seating. A friend and I sat in the side room, and amazingly, it had sound absorbent tile in the ceiling and carpet on the floor. It was quiet enough to have a conversation.

The server was an extremely friendly young woman. She took my order and quickly delivered the food. For me, a pulled pork sandwich, coleslaw and green beans.

Florida is not generally known for barbecue – it seems overrun with chains such as Sonny’s or Bono’s or Sticky Fingers in the north, or Cuban barbecue with mojo or citrus sauces in the south. But if you prowl the northern part of the state, you can find a few real barbecue joints. The Pig is one of them.

The meat is smoked over a slow fire, and the smoke flavor is evident. Murdoch’s innovation was his sauce – still a family secret. More on that in a minute. The coleslaw is fairly typical – rather finely minced cabbage and vegetables with a somewhat sweet sauce. It’s good but nothing stands out. The green beans were good and flavorful and cooked to appropriate doneness, though our Northern Bretheren may find them overcooked. There is very little crunch.

The restaurant offers two custom sauces. A sweet sauce seems to be ketchup based with a bit of afterkick. I thought it would be good on french fries. The Pig Sauce, the pride of the business, enhances the smoky flavor of the pork, provides the proper balance of sweet and acid, and removes any dryness in the plain meat.

The business is conveniently located, it’s easy to find parking, there’s plenty of room inside, and it’s relatively quiet. Service is very good, and the food is good, too.

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