On Tuesday night, two friends and I visited Pittsburgh’s latest BBQ joint – Union Pig and Chicken in East Liberty. When I think of BBQ I think of pigs, chickens, picnic tables, lots of messy sauces, reasonably priced grub, and cheap beer. I think the Union got about half of the formula right.The place is fairly small, with two rows of long picnic tables and bench seating. If you’re not comfortable sitting really close to strangers, then this might not be the place for you.
The menu is fairly simple: various types of pig, chicken, a few side dish options, whiskey, and beer (soft drinks too if you are into that sort of thing with your bbq). The prices don’t seem overly high until you realize that none of the meal options come with a side dish. So if you buy the $14 brisket, you still have to pay an additional $4 for greens, $5 for mac and cheese, etc. Even a roll is a buck – are you kidding me?! It adds up quickly, as we spent just over $100 between the 3 of us.Our only other gripe was the beer selection. I love East End Brewing, and micro beers in general, but when I’m stuffing my face with meat, I’d like a light beer to go along with it. Where’s the PBR and Miller Lite? Not to mention that you can get the same East End beers just a few blocks down at Buffalo Blues for $2 cheaper.
As for the food, we went with the brisket, ribs, and fried chicken. We also tested out a few different sides: cole slaw, greens, and mac and cheese. All of the meat had a great smoked flavor. The ribs are not boiled, so they don’t fall off the bone, but they are very tender. The fried chicken was excellent and I think it was the most economical option. My tray was piled high with chicken parts.
We were most disappointed with the $14 brisket, which only amounted to 4 or 5 small slices. It tasted great, but the portion was too small. To quote one of my fellow eaters: “Tasty, but expensive for what you get. Slightly disappointed. They’ve got nothing on the Royal Oaks in Youngstown.”
Also, the 2 sauce choices were good, but I’d like a few more options. Maybe something more spicy? And a Carolina mustard sauce would be a great addition.
I really loved the mac and cheese. Really cheesy and really creamy. The greens and slaw were both also really good. We had no complaints with our side dishes. I’d go back just to eat a bowl of that mac and cheese.
Overall, I’d say check the place out if you are a fan of BBQ or southern cooking. If you are on a budget, you might want to steer clear. Given the neighborhood that the place is located, I can’t see it being able to maintain steady traffic unless they lower the prices a bit. The food was good, but for my money I’d rather hit up JT’s Rib Shack in Penn Hills.
UPDATE 5-25-12 – My buddy Will (who was with me the on my first visit) has since been back to Union and he says that he did a complete 180. According to him, the prices have dropped slightly and combos have been added to the menu. The place is up to a 61% on Urbanspoon – which is an improvement, but obviously I’m not the only person that had issues with the place.
To quote: “Ok, I’ve done a 180 on this place. The food is better, the menu is better, and we did a better job of choosing from the menu. I’m sold! The smoked pork belly lettuce wraps are mind-blowing!”
It’s nice to see that the place has some supporters in the comments area below.
To answer Scott’s statement: “… apparently unaware of what has been happening in that area for the past 10 years.” – I’ve only lived in Pittsburgh for just under 8 years, so you’re a bit off with that one. I’ve actually been to East Liberty and the surrounding areas quite a bit since I’ve lived here. I wasn’t knocking the neighborhood. I just didn’t think the place’s exact location could sustain such expensive BBQ prices. If they have actually lowered prices, then I guess that kind of proves my point. Either way, I wish them luck.