Good dive bars, attracting regulars from all walks of life, are as integral to the fabric of the city as rent control, bodega flowers and angry cabbies. Many serve food, but that’s rarely the draw. Occasionally, though, the boozing takes a backseat to the kitchen. The Corner Bistro’s burgers long ago put that West Village hole-in-the-wall on the map. And some people swear by the hot wings at Wogie’s nearby.
Those places, and many others just like them, have one thing in common: No one cooking inside would ever claim they’re a “chef.” So why would a guy with Morimoto and Buddakan on his résumé try to enter that lowbrow arena?
This summer, former Top Chef contender Dale Talde launched his own dive bar, Pork Slope, not far from his hot Pan-Asian eatery, Talde. The new project, opened with his partners in the first restaurant, was designed as a trashy homage to Patrick Swayze’s schlocky classic Road House, complete with a pool table, a PBR sign and taxidermied boars’ heads. The menu, a survey of bar-food classics, includes crisp, golden Tater-Tots and better than-average wispy, sweet onion strings, along with ribs, chili, fried chicken and wings. There’s also a too-faithful replica of a McDonald’s cheeseburger, right down to the gray patty, plain squishy bun and ratio of squirts of ketchup to mustard (Talde has admitted a fondness for the Golden Arches original). It’s all hot, fresh and terrible for you—and none of it tastes like it was cooked by a pedigreed chef.
Fans of the TV star who flocked to his first solo restaurant would be right to expect more from his follow-up venture. Talde, though, is proud to insist that this is first and foremost a bar—a neighborhood joint where he might hang after work with his friends. The selection of brown spirits and cold brews on tap is more impressive than you’ll find in most New York dives—with harried bartenders who know the difference between a Sixpoint Bengali Tiger and a Full Sail IPA, a small-batch Kentucky bourbon and one from upstate New York. Still, this is Park Slope. How much whiskey and beer could they possibly sell in a place so packed in the evenings with toddlers and tykes?
It all seems like an easy excuse for playing it straight and safe, for serving bowls of mushy chili, baskets of run-of-the-mill fried shrimp in Buffalo-wing hot sauce and a no-frills iceberg wedge drizzled in ranch. Only the pork here seems to get any real care or attention—this is a food destination only if you stick to the swine the place is named for.
The chef’s St. Louis–style ribs, cooked low and slow in a smoker out back, have just enough bite and a nice, thick black-pepper crust. There’s top-shelf shaved country ham—Edwards Surryano—simply served with a buttery biscuit. And the “porky” patty melt is an excellent upgrade on the usual burger on toast, with a zingy house-made sausage patty, caramelized onions and strong mustard on marbled rye.
But most of the food is just average pub grub. The spicy fried chicken, soaked in hot sauce overnight, is too dry inside, with a crust that’s too dense. The Chicago-style Italian beef sandwich is suitably drenched in plenty of jus, but the beef is too chewy and the roll much too doughy.
There’s nothing sweet on the menu, for now, to send the kids off with a smile. But the Tots, chili and hot wings seem to keep everyone happy enough. The scene gets a bit boozier as the night wears on and the crowd matures. Even then, trying to think of Pork Slope as a real dive bar seems like a stretch. There are no barflies hanging around night after night, no brawls brewing, no one pouring drinks who might double as an improvised shrink. Everyone here, for better or worse, has come for the food and the celebrity chef who’s behind it. Too bad, then, that this neighborhood watering hole falls short of its star-boosted potential.
Eat this: St. Louis–style ribs, “porky” patty melt, onion strings, country ham
Drink this: There’s an extensive selection of beer, on tap and in cans. Try a pint of Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale, a hoppy, punchy California brew ($6), or a rich golden Belgian Duvel ($7). The shelves behind the bar stock dark American spirits, most of them well priced. Noah’s Mill, a silky-smooth small-batch Kentucky bourbon, has a great, thick brown-sugar finish ($10).
Sit here: The long bar, which runs almost the length of the room, is Pork Slope’s focal point, the best spot for a drink and a bite. The tables along the walls are the better option if you’re with the whole family.
Conversation piece: In keeping with the Road House theme, Pork Slope was officially opened on the late Patrick Swayze’s birthday (August 18). Local blog Fucked in Park Slope held a contest to name the pair of stuffed boars’ heads that hang on the walls; Piggie Smalls and Boss Hog were the winning entries.
By Jay Cheshes