EVANS MILLS Theres a new barbecue joint in Evans Mills.
Hog Wild has been open for several months. Its directly across from Stewarts in the front of the former Agway building, occupying the same space as V.V.s Casita, a short-lived Mexican restaurant.
From the parking lot, you can smell the distinctive aroma of barbecue coming from a smoker behind the big building. Its even more pronounced inside the neat and clean little restaurant.
There was a comfortable crowd dining there on a recent weekday evening. For seating, there are booths along the side windows, a few high-tops perfect for single diners, tables down the center of the room that can be pushed together for larger parties and a counter that looked like it might have come from an old diner.
One of the owners used to work at a McDonalds and told us, Now I dont have to go home smelling like grease.
Now she can go home smelling like barbecue smoke instead.
She left a complimentary platter of cornbread at our table. Cornbread can sometimes be overly sweet, but Hog Wilds version was just right, accompanied by little plastic packets of butter.
A high school student was our server. She started us out with a round of drinks, Pepsi products. No beer here. We asked her if they planned on getting a liquor license and she wasnt sure.
We sipped our sodas and looked over the simple, two-sided paper menu with its nice Hog Wild logo at the top. All the barbecue favorites are there: ribs, pulled pork, barbecue chicken and brisket, available as dinners or sandwiches.
Theres also a section of burgers half-pounders for $12, which we thought was a little pricey even though they came with cornbread and two sides. You can add pulled pork or brisket to your burger, but it will add a couple of bucks as well.
We tried three of the appetizers: sparkplugs (four for $5.50), alligator kickers (four for $6.50) and crawfish etouffee ($6).
The sparkplugs were fun, although a little on the mushy side jalapeno peppers flattened, topped with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon. Bacon makes everything good and in this case contributed to a nice combination of flavors.
New to the menu are alligator kickers, tasty little golf ball-sized morsels. There was a crunch on the outside from being deep-fried and a softer interior from the crab-like alligator stuffing. We likened them to hush puppies or fritters. They came with a cool Cajun ranch dipping sauce.
Crawfish etoufee, a Southern favorite, is described on the menu as crawfish with vegetables and Creole seasonings in a light roux over rice.
This was not our favorite. There were gummy blobs of fishy something-or-other over bland rice. No evidence of vegetables of any kind. No noticeable seasonings, either.
The appetizers were served on plastic wood-looking plates. We ate from similar-looking plates. The etouffee was served in bowl of the same sort, similar to what youd see a side salad served in.
What seemed like a dozen dirty plates and bowls sat on the table forever before being cleared.
My three guests chose dinner entrees, served with cornbread and two sides. I chose a sandwich just to see what they were all about. Sandwiches come with cornbread and two sides as well.
Ribs are a staple at a barbecue joint. You can usually get a full rack or a half rack. Here, you can get a quarter, half, three-quarter or full rack, priced from $13 to $24. We got the quarter rack ($13).
The ribs were deceivingly tender, because it took some muscle to cut the four ribs apart with a serrated knife. They werent exactly fall-off-the-bone tender, but were tender to chew. There was just the right amount of rub, smoke and preslathered house barbecue sauce on them.
The barbecued chicken is available in a quarter-chicken ($9) or half-chicken ($11) portion. We got the quarter chicken, a bone-in breast and wing.
The chicken was first marinated and then basted during the smoking process. The first bite tasted like the oil-and-vinegar marinade used at firemens barbecues. The meat itself was a little dryer than we would have liked. And for two extra dollars, we probably should have gotten the larger portion.
In our book, pulled pork is usually the benchmark for a good barbecue restaurant, and Hog Wilds pulled pork ($14) measured up. It was the best of the three entrees, the slow-cooking process allowing the succulent meat to be literally pulled apart in the kitchen from a large pork butt, and at the same time, it was subtly smoke-flavored.
The menu description mentions the pulled porks bark. In advance, we asked our server what bark meant. She didnt know, but was kind enough to flag down a co-worker who did: Its the brown, spicy and slightly crunchy exterior that forms during the smoking process.
I got the Texas beef brisket sandwich ($10.50), a slab of tender brisket served over a slice of processed cheddar cheese with raw onions and jalapenos on an 8-inch sub roll.
While the meat was moist and tender, it also came with slimy fat running down one side. Some of the fat cap really should be trimmed from the meat before it goes in the smoker, since the low smoking temperature doesnt allow it all to melt away. Not a problem; it was easily pulled off with a fork.
Our waitress appeared, asking if wed like soda refills. Right about now we were ready to run to the Stewarts across the street and smuggle in a 12-pack of chilled Busch cans. But we stuck with soda.
There are a dozen sensational sides to choose from. Heres what we sampled:
■ Hand-cut ribbon fries: These were excellent, an ongoing thin ribbon of potato fried nice and crispy. Wed never had them before, no doubt a new product from a restaurant supplier. Good by themselves, even better doused with two house-made barbecue sauces provided on the table.
■ Poppys cheesy potatoes: A mushy, packaged-tasting version of homemade potatoes au gratin. Before ordering, we asked our server what they were all about. She described them as those potatoes like you get at Walmart, only better. I cant imagine what the potatoes at Walmart taste like.
■ Deep-fried corn on the cob: A half-cob that was overcooked and stick-to-your-teeth chewy. The corn had no coating; it was merely dunked in oil like you would cook it in boiling water.
■ Onion rings: These were better, four commercial lightly battered and deep-fried rings. They could have been a little crisper and hotter, yet the flavor was good.
■ Baked beans: Nothing special. Looked and tasted like Bushs Original Baked Beans. Maybe there was some extra brown sugar added, since they were noticeably on the sweet side.
■ Potato salad: A good, traditional mayonnaise-based salad with egg and celery.
■ Cole slaw: Appeared to be homemade. Could have used some help in the flavor department. It was pretty standard, bland except for an overtone of onion. At a barbecue restaurant, cole slaw should be given top priority.
I couldnt wait for dessert to try their intriguing piglickers, chocolate-covered thick-cut bacon sprinkled with sea salt (two for $3).Yumm-eee.
We asked for two orders, but there was only one left. And it looked like the last order, two apologetic, slightly shriveled-up slices of bacon totally covered with dark chocolate, served chilled and without sea salt.
They tasted fine, though. These being finger food, they were a little messy to eat.
Which brings up another point. We had to constantly ask for more napkins throughout the evening. They were those dinky little square paper napkins that practically fell apart when you looked at them. They need to get something more substantial and put them right on the table and dont ration them. Or just put a roll of paper towels on the table like they do at some other barbecue places.
Back to desserts. The other choice is a sweet shot ($1), a 2-ounce plastic cup filled with creamy milk chocolate mousse decorated with a hit of canned whipped topping. As advertised, Just enough sweetness to satisfy that craving.
A comment on the two house-made barbecue sauces on our table, Hog Wild Tangy Garlic and Hog Wild Hot. The tangy garlic was very good, the garlic not strong at all. The hot sauce really wasnt hot at all; it was a bit spicy but pretty tame by barbecue standards. They should put one of those little bottles of XXX hot sauce on the table for those who really want to hurt themselves.
And they really need to put all three of their sauces on every table. We were lacking the Hog Wild Original, although it came standard on most of the dishes delivered from the kitchen.
An evening at Hog Wild for four cost $77.85 before tip.
Theres room for improvement here, but I think theyre on the right track. A little more attention to staff training, perhaps some more competitive pricing and a beer license and theyll have it licked.
■ Just south of Potsdam, in Hannawa Falls, the old Shoreline Restaurant is now Canoe Place Inn Grill & Pub. A new sign has gone up that says, Now open for lunch and dinner. Liquor coming soon.
■ Further down Route 56, in South Colton, South of the Rock Inn has reopened. Owners Mike and Linda Pratt have renamed it Mikes South of the Rock Inn.
Chef Matt Cressey, formerly of Julians in Potsdam, has put together menu thats perfect for their charming dining room or for casual eating in the bar area.
■ We spent a perfect day in Sackets Harbor last weekend, where restaurants abound. Sackets is a foodies paradise.
At the Boathouse restaurant, we enjoyed lunch on the spacious deck overlooking the beautiful harbor.
Next door, the Hops Spot was in full swing, the owner chatting with patrons on the patio about the selection of craft beers while a folk singer provided entertainment.
The outdoor bar at Tin Pan Galley was a great place to start our evening. We stayed for dinner the food is always fabulous at Tin Pan. The scallop entrée was outstanding: large, perfectly cooked pan-seared scallops finished with a sherry-roasted red pepper sauce, served atop lobster sweet potato cakes.
And you cant beat the live music and entertainment provided by the talented Andy Taylor, who also owns Tin Pan Galley.
For a nightcap, we stopped at Goodfellos Pizza & Wine Bar Restaurant. A most accommodating bartender was happy to serve us, even though the restaurant was getting ready to close for the day.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hog Wild Barbecue & Grill
8727 Noble St.
Evans Mills, N.Y.
A new barbecue joint in Evans Mills at the former V.Vs Casita location.
HOURS:11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Try the alligator kickers for an appetizer. The barbecue is pretty good: ribs tender, pulled pork just right, brisket juicy but fatty, chicken a little dry. Go for the piglickers for dessert, chocolate-covered bacon!
RATING: 2½ forks