Barbecue is a brotherhood, and the brothers Solove want everyone to join. Dan and Ben Solove opened “The Dirty Pig” restaurant this week at 320 Grinnell Street (formerly Finnegan’s and Lucy’s), and it’s destined to be a delicious and messy culinary highlight for any local or tourist. The place exudes a down-home feel with a music vibe, the perfect itch that needed to be scratched in old town. Ben, a Key West radio DJ with 29 years in the restaurant business, saw the opportunity to combine his little brother Dan’s great food and the brothers’ love of their favorite genre of music, the blues, in one place. “The Dirty Pig” is bound to bring together people over the primal, sweet smoke of low and slow cooking.
Dan Solove, barbecue pit master, is the soft-spoken genius behind the food. A former Intel employee who made microprocessors, Solove doesn’t just care about the quality of the food but also the history and science behind the entire culture. He charms eaters with stories of BBQ tales of the Conquistadors and the early word “Barbacoa” and explains how, in the 1800s, European immigrants brought the smoking techniques to the U.S. to preserve meat without refrigeration. They also started the tradition of placing the food on a paper-lined tray (who knew?). Ohio natives, the Soloves did not grow up on this type of food but find it resonates with their Russian-Jewish heritage.
“My dad’s ancestry was similar to the beginnings of BBQ. How do cultures with limited resources take undesirable meat and make it tender and delicious?” Many cultures, like the post-slavery South, could not afford the “best cuts” and developed ways to bring out the flavor of harder meats. A self-professed nerd, Dan Solove even goes so far as to explain how indirect heat shortens the DNA strands in the beef. It’s clear: he loves his craft.
For the past 15 years, Solove experimented with BBQ recipes from the South to the Midwest to the Southwest. Armed with “Sweet Melissa,” his 5,000-pound smoker (a nod to the Allman Brothers), Solove mixes regions and styles getting to the soul of barbecue cooking.
“I tend to Frankenstein stuff,” said Solove. Having gone to college in South Carolina, he draws from East Carolina recipes but also Southwest flavors after living in Arizona with Intel. His brisket is Texas style with a “Dalmatian rub” — mostly salt and pepper—because “the beef needs to be the star.” He has chosen St Louis Cut Spare Ribs over baby back because “the ratio of meat is better.”
Solove boldly proclaims, “If your rubs are good enough, you don’t need sauce.” However, that hasn’t stopped him from creating five distinct and delicious sauces for any region’s palates, with Carolina mustard sauce, mango habanero — it’s got a great kick — maple BBQ glaze, East North Carolina vinegar sauce, and bourbon BBQ sauce.
From tweaking his baked beans until “just right,” an excellent ratio of bacon to beans and not too sweet, Solove pays attention to the details. From turkey so tender, it puts Thanksgiving to shame, to an 11-hour pulled pork done multiple ways — even a nod to the Cuban sandwich with a “Barbecuban” full of smoked meats, and homemade sausage that can be eaten breakfast, lunch or dinner. Solove nails it.
Not wanting the vegetarians and vegans to feel left out, Solove created three original veggie sandwiches: a seasoned black bean veggie burger, a smoked lentil Sloppy Joe and a very creative jackfruit pulled pork-like sandwich with no actual pork, all jackfruit.
Lastly, try “meat candy” made from what Solove called the “white whale of meat,” brisket. A large brisket is hard to cook evenly, so the overcooked end bits are sauced and served as appetizers. For any meat lovers, Solove’s meat candy is a delectable decadent treat.
“People are going to f#@*ing love this BBQ,” said Bill Hoebee, favorite local radio personality and close friend of the Soloves. “The style seems a mixture of this and that but decidedly better than anything I’ve ever had. It has all the parts of BBQ I like.” Hoebee suggests everyone go to Sears because they will need to buy some new (larger) shorts.
Dan’s wife, Kim, happened to be a professional baker and created an exclusive menu of homemade desserts — hands down, the carrot cake is a winner. Also joining him in the kitchen is Chef John Hines, with the best, heavenly beignets in the Keys.
“The Dirty Pig” will have musician Ross Brown on Opening Day, Friday, April 5 and Happy Dog will start every Monday as the roster continues to build. Seven days a week, get lunch and dinner, and after the kinks get worked out, get breakfast too.