Sneak peek at Handsome Hog, Lowertown's new contemporary Southern restaurant

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24-hour smoked brisket with trumpet mushrooms

The owners aren't calling it BBQ, but we can't help ourselves. The dearth of good BBQ in the Twin Cities is a major blind spot — especially in a food city that can currently (or will soon) boast everything from Japanese street food to a Korean pizzeria. Still, when it comes to smoke, we just don't have the pedigree. 

So when we heard tell of a "bourbon and smoke" spot, we were all atwitter. Handsome Hog will open Monday in the former Bin Wine Bar space in Lowertown. It's a sister restaurant to adjacent Public Kitchen + Bar, and the chef is Justin Sutherland, formerly of Brasserie Zentral and Meritage, so expect some French with this Southern. 

The space has been utterly transformed and feels larger, more open, and airier than its former incarnation. There is plenty of sleek copper, wood, and exposed brick. In a savvy move, the place is more bar than dining room; the west-facing dining area is just a narrow, intimate strip with fewer than half of the restaurant's total 66 seats. 

The cooking isn't BBQ in the traditional sense, though they are working with a lot of smoke. The 24-hour smoked beef brisket arrives served with trumpet mushrooms as meaty and smoky as the beef. These are so delicious, they could carry the dish on their own. 

There's a heavy emphasis on pork, though the menu is more a compendium of the South's greatest hits than it is BBQ: shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, hush puppies, baby back ribs, crispy pig tails, pimento cheese. The more inventive, signature dishes include a whole roasted hog jowl, littleneck clams with smoked potato and chowder reduction, and a succotash panzanella. 

Cocktails are being handled by a team of bartenders including powerhouse personality and drink maker Trish Gavin, formerly of Il Foro. The menu is, naturally, bourbon-centric, but there's stuff for the clear-liquor set too. This Sage Against the Machine with gin, ginger liqueur, St. Germaine, lemon, pineapple, and sage is herbaceous, tart, and sweet. 

At the far end of the bar, you can post up at a six-seat "meat bar" if you want, where a charcuterie dealer will dispense meats like cards. Cured meats provided by Red Table Meat will be available in small, medium, and large platters.  While the place feels a little fancy, for all its sauce swoops, craft drinks, and trendy dishes, it won't cost you too dearly. Entrees don't go above $30, and small plates stay mostly under $12. There's a Carolina BBQ sandwich with an 8-hour slow-roasted pork shoulder, vinegar sauce, and cabbage slaw for 12 bucks and a whole list of sides, like mac and cheese with country ham, and pork shank braised greens for $6 each.  Handsome Hog opens for lunch and dinner on Monday.  Handsome Hog  203 E. Sixth St., St. Paul 651-340-7710 handsomehog.com                                                           


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