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The Blind Pig Tavern

This South Side bar offers a satisfying, pig-centric menu of pub grub

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Though "The Blind Pig" sounds like one of those twee British tavern names, the menu of this South Side saloon tells a different story, one which explains it as a true artifact of American history. 

During Prohibition, bar owners, forced to go "straight," found all sorts of creative ways of getting around the law. One was to sell admission to an agricultural-fair-type attraction, such as a sightless domestic animal, and serve customers a "complimentary" alcoholic beverage. According to Wikipedia, such an establishment wouldn't have offered much, if any, food. 

But fortunately the term itself suggests a menu, and The Blind Pig's owners have wisely followed up with offerings that don't depart from standard bar fare, but do emphasize nature's most intoxicating meat: pork.

The bar itself is pretty bare-bones, its sole decoration (aside from the requisite array of flat-screen TVs) being the text of the 18th Amendment spelled out in calligraphy on the wall behind the bar. Ultimately, nothing about the decor suggests that food is even available, let alone considered and cooked with care. But the tongue-in-cheek menu betrayed a kitchen that has given substantial thought to what it serves alongside the drinks, so we ordered dinner with optimism. 

Pulled-pork sliders were an obvious first choice, and the three little sandwiches, served on miniature, lightly toasted hoagie rolls, looked just right. The barbecue sauce was too sweet for our tastes, but it couldn't hide the savory bits of burnt end, and the meat itself was moist but firm, rather than soft and washed out. There are barbecue joints in town that don't do as good a job with this staple as The Blind Pig.

Another pub standard is the pepperoni roll, which The Blind Pig offers (again, three to a plate) alongside a number of variations, such as steak, turkey, meatball and bacon rolls. The dough appeared to be repurposed pizza dough, but in this guise, it took on a character distinctive from that of flat pizza base: Crisp but not at all tough, pleasantly chewy without being doughy, it was almost pastry-like in revealing flaky layers around the pepperoni filling. The pepperoni itself was well dispersed and accompanied by plenty of melted cheese. Again, the Pig outdid some local pizzerias.

The pizza itself was also quite good. The dough was only mildly flavorful, but its texture was close to ideal: thin but strong enough to support the toppings, swelling to a substantial crust at the edges that balanced crispness and chewiness. For a topping, we chose buffalo chicken, which the kitchen pulled off with assertiveness and aplomb. The diced breaded chicken tenders were the star of the pizza, without overwhelming the crust. But the spicy Buffalo sauce, used in place of standard tomato paste, and rich blue cheese and mozzarella made even chicken-free bites worthwhile. We tend not to be fans of stunt pizzas like this, because the over-the-top toppings obliterate the simple virtues of a perfect crust-sauce-cheese trifecta, but The Blind Pig played all the notes correctly.

Jason's chicken-parmesan sandwich wasn't quite so successful. The tenders made another appearance, but where they had contributed to a harmonious whole on the pizza, they were perhaps a touch too slight to anchor this sandwich. There was ample cheese, and just the right amount of sauce, although the sauce could have had more zing. The roll, big brother to those on the pork sliders, was better than supermarket mush, but not quite as good as a more substantial, crustier bakery offering.

The Blind Pig took an original approach to grilled cheese that we liked, cleverly incorporating that traditional accompaniment, tomato soup, into the sandwich itself by stacking the bread three slices high and dressing one layer with a shmear of tomato puree. The cheese, a mix of provolone, cheddar and mozzarella, was suitably mild but more complex than any single cheese would have been on its own. Excellent bacon — salty, smoky and perfectly balanced between chewy and crispy — took the sandwich from kids' lunch to adult-dinner grade.

However arcane our state's liquor laws may be, no one has found it necessary to open a traditional "blind pig" — at least as far as we know. Regardless, locals should be happy that this Blind Pig has decided to offer much more than a curiosity and a cheap drink.

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