Everywhere you turn, bacon is added to the most outlandish things — cupcakes, vodka, you name it. It’s been said that everything’s better with bacon. That isn’t always true, but bacon certainly carries its weight in pig-preferential Richmond.
The Pig & Pearl definitely grasps that affinity. The new restaurant in the former Republic space, at West Broad and Allison streets, puts it first and foremost on the menu above myriad pork items. Bacon is not only paired with other food, but also served as a stand-alone.
It comes as a bitty bite ($5), three pieces to a plate. All six flavors are disappointing, not because of the seasoning but the delivery. Each order is lackluster, limp and lukewarm. Other appetizers don’t compensate. Fried deviled ham cubes ($5) are chicken-nugget shaped, coated in breading and served with a chimichurri sauce that falls short. Wasabi deviled eggs ($4) are the best of the deviled options, as half of Pig & Pearl’s snack menu has deviled in the description. These are by-the-book deviled eggs with wasabi added.
Appetizers, large plates and salads also have bacon variations. Rocket tots ($9) are a heaping mound of tater tots, cheese, sriracha, jalapeños and bacon bits. The result is a lumpy mess. A few more minutes in the fryer would yield crispier potatoes, and real Monterey jack cheese would keep the drench factor to a minimum. The same fate falls on the fried oysters ($11). Huge, overly breaded oysters are only partially cooked and unappealing.
Salt and vinegar wings ($10) are tiny, not in portion size — the wings and drums themselves. The accompanying onion dip is great with a side of waffle fries ($5). The big pig ($12) is sliced roast pork, bacon and spicy relish on a french roll. It arrives dry and missing bacon and relish. Au jus adds moisture but little else. The Southern gentleman burger ($12) is the leader, though it too arrives without a few of the promised menu components: fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese. The ground beef and bacon are adequate while the bourbon blackstrap molasses barbecue is a beacon of light on the so-so brioche.
The beer list is hefty. Twenty taps along with many bottles run the gamut of local, domestic and import. An interesting disclaimer at the end of the list asks that only designated drivers drink nonalcoholic beer in the establishment: “The Pig & Pearl prefers that its customers drink beer with alcohol, as God and Nature intended.”
Service is distracted. One visit is during a Virginia Commonwealth University basketball game. The restaurant isn’t particularly busy, so most of the staff is watching. The results are fumbles in food delivery, ordering and at check time.
If pork and oysters aren’t your things, the establishment has a smoking side with a cigar bar, with choices such as Punch Grand ($13), Romeo ($11) and Cohiba ($22). An extensive scotch selection is offered for a nice pairing that can tip an evening into expensive territory: $6-$48 for a 1.5-ounce pour.
The renovations are noticeable and well thought-out, but on our visits, the food and service don’t quite make the step up. In other words, the beer is good and the flat screen is large.
The Pig & Pearl
2053 W. Broad St.
Monday: 5 p.m.-midnight
Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-2 a.m.