Tex’s Pig Pit, 1 Niver St., Cohoes, 235-2424, pigpitbbq.com. Serving 11-8 Mon-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: barbecue and Mexican
Entrée price range: $5 (BBQ blankets) to $23 (full rack of ribs dinner)
Transplanted Texan David Frazier has seen a considerable amount of change where barbecue is concerned. He moved to the Capital Region in 1992, when grilled meat was incorrectly termed barbecue.
I last wrote about him in 1995, when he had a joint on Colvin Avenue and was trying to bring true religion to the area masses. “Good barbecue is more than just a well-wrought recipe,” I wrote back then. “It’s a sociological phenomenon.” The challenge has eased considerably since then as a succession of eateries have fired up the smokers and offered varying shades of barbecue, and Frazier particularly welcomed the arrival of Dinosaur BBQ in Troy two years ago.
Frazier grew up in Texas and thus was nicknamed “Tex,” and got a masters in marketing from University of Texas. And barbecue was a way of life down there that he wasn’t prepared to leave behind.
Ten years ago he bought an abandoned firehouse in Cohoes and, ironically, turned it into a smoker, from which he runs his catering operation and prepares meat not only for the Pig Pit but also for the lunch cart he’s had in downtown Albany for many years. It’s not fancy in the Pig Pit. Order at the counter and, if you’re staying, grab one of the half-dozen booths or tables.
The menu is a mix of smoked or roasted meat dishes and Frazier’s take on Mexican fare. “It’s about half-and-half in sales,” he says, “but the Mexican items are really my own kinds of things.” That he sells a lot of burritos is no surprise: the $6 concoction is a generously stuffed flour tortilla with a default filling of pulled pork and rice and beans with a side of chips and salsa.
This, to my wife, is everything a meal should be, especially when our daughter isn’t on hand to recite the nutritional tables for everything. The $8 tamale pie is built with tamales from Pedro’s in Texas, and is popular enough that Frazier won’t think of dropping the item even though the price of its key ingredient has tripled in the past few years.
A plate of three meat- or cheese-stuffed enchiladas is $7, the enchuritto, which is a souped-up burrito, is $6, and a combination of rice, meat, salsa, cheese, chili and jalapenos, called the Santa Fe, is $6. You can also get the Santa Fe items over greens for the same price.
Items I plan to sample on subsequent visits, if I’m strong enough to sidestep the call of barbecue, are fried chicken ($6), a fried haddock po’ boy ($7), chicken-fried steak ($8) and Big Bubba’s burger, which comes in 4-ounce ($4) and 8-ounce ($5) versions.
A look at the “Tex’s Favorites” column of the menu pretty much guarantees that other choices will be difficult. Way back in ’95, Frazier told me about the dry rub he makes that gives his ribs their flavor. If you’re a purist and think to ask for it, they’ll keep the ribs just like that. But the usual practice is to rub some sauce on them and heat them on the grill.
“More and more people are coming in and asking for them that way,” he says. “We have a lot more people who know the Texas style in the area thanks to places like Global Foundries and the University at Albany.”
A quarter-rack of ribs is $8; double that for $15 or splurge on a full, 12-bone rack for $23. A quarter of a mesquite-roasted chicken is $6, half is $10 and the full bird is $15. Or do what I did and go for the chicken and ribs combo ($16), which gets you a half chicken and quarter rack.
You’ll also get a couple of side dishes, which can include fries (sweet potato or regular), okra, coleslaw, Cajun beans and rice, potato or macaroni salad or mac and cheese. The regular fries are seasoned, the novelty of which has diminished for me, and for the first time in my life I ordered mac and cheese, which sports a couple different types of the melted stuff and could prove horribly addictive.
And I have no complaint at all about the meats. The ribs were tender, nicely browned, with a touch of grilled-in sauce (I forgot to ask for it otherwise), and the moist chicken had the crunchy, blackened skin you know you’re supposed to discard, but . . .
We’d pondered the starters. The list ranges from chili ($4) and onion rings ($5) to Mexican goulash ($6), BBQ shrimp ($7), fried pickles ($6) and corn fritters ($6). We were sure we’d need none of it with the meal to come, and went ahead and ordered fried green beans ($7) anyway. They’re a marvelous concoction, with an onion-flavored batter and side of horseradish-dill sauce, although I ended up dripping hot pepper sauce on them.
So go to Dinosaur when you need beer and music and floor-show excitement, but head for the Pig Pit when there’s serious eating on your mind.