At Cliff Allen’s new barbecue pit on N Williams Avenue, nothing is sacred. Smoked, deep-fried chicken? How about oak-fired wild boar? And if this is barbecue, where’s the brisket? No matter, says Allen, owner of the People’s Pig food cart and, now, his only slightly larger barbecue shack: “Smoked pork shoulder is so good that I don’t even care about brisket anymore.”
Allen earned a rep as one of the city’s best cart chefs for his mesquite grilled meat sandwiches, served street-side in downtown Portland. After an inspiring trip earlier this year to Lockhart, Texas—that state’s self-proclaimed barbecue capital—Allen is trying his hand at the low-and-slow cooking style using traditional oak for fuel. From the belly of a six-by-four-foot fireplace retrofitted for smoking comes everything from thick pork ribs to that unbeatably juicy, smoked then battered and deep-fried chicken. Authenticity is not a factor here. Barbecue sauce, chunky and tomato-heavy with blissful chile heat, is neither Texas nor South Carolina. “It’s not going to make anybody happy,” Allen jokes.
The 300-square-foot, neon-lit space may look ramshackle, but everything is carefully made from scratch, from sourdough bread for barbecue sandwiches to creative tomatillo sauces for a smoked lamb special—the fruit sourced from the farm lot next door. Allen also dabbles in Southern comfort, slow-cooking collard greens with ham hock, deep-frying beignets, and baking sweet potato pies.
“People read ‘The People’s Pig’ and think barbecue anyway,” says Allen. “I’ve been fighting it for years ...and I’ve given in.” That’s perfectly fine by us.