Many a restaurant mogul of late has made the ego trip to Disney Springs, where riches – in the form of famished and weary travelers from near and far – await to be exploited. So far, these celebrated culinarians have brought national and international star power to gastronomy's Olympic Village, but now we (and those tourists) can help fatten the coffers of some of our very own local notables.
James and Julie Petrakis of Ravenous Pig/Cask & Larder fame, along with James' brother Brian, have forged their way into a Disney Springs nook at the bottom of the escalators, where foot traffic is about as heavy as the barbecued meats coming out of the kitchen's smokers. And as with every Disney restaurant, there's a faux backstory – Polite Pig is meant to be a smokehouse that took over an old farmers market. The decor, in all its newness, is convincingly bumpkin enough, and there's even a "bourbon bar" for the liver-averse.
The eatery is "part fast-casual/part full-service" – you queue up and order at the counter, but once seated, a server tends to your needs, including ordering more food. On this most recent visit, we saw no occasion to order more food – there was plenty, and I mean plenty, to swell our rapidly pudgifying frames. We started with the half rack, or kid's size, of baby back ribs ($9). The dry rub made it seem they were done in the Memphis style, but ripping into them revealed more of a Sonoran Desert theme: They were dry to the bone and neither the tomato-based sweet sauce nor the signature black-pepper sauce procured from the sauce bar could resuscitate the meat.
Then we tried the coffee-rubbed brisket ($17), which was absolutely and gloriously luscious from bark to bottom. You don't get a whole lot of brisket for $17, unfortunately, at least not compared to, say, Pig Floyd's or 4 Rivers, but you do get a pillowy sweet bun and a side – we happily chose crispy brussels sprouts drizzled in a whiskey caramel.
Just as luscious was the pork shoulder ($15), which coated our fingers in a (delicious) grease necessitating multiple pulls off the pig-shaped paper towel roll. Nods of approval were shot in the direction of the tangy vinegar-based mustard sauce, and gestures of woe toward the pruny niblets on grilled cobs of corn with lime butter and breadcrumbs, before we surveyed the untouched meats sitting in their metal trays. We needed to breathe, stretch and drink, and after raising glasses of Cask & Larder's IPA ($9) and amber ale ($9), we got right back to it. (In addition to beer, there are also cocktails on tap, a nice touch.) A "snack" of a half-dozen chicken wings ($11) was plowed through in mere minutes. They're crisp-skinned and smoky, and their essence isn't lost after a proper dip into barbecue ranch sauce.
Ending with a 100 percent pork sausage hoagie ($11) seemed like the appropriately piggish thing to do. Kudos to our server, who insisted we try it – "it's my favorite," she said – and we saw why. It's fat, garnished in peppers, onions and pickle relish, then slathered with an IPA mustard and cheddar cheese sauce. After that gutbuster, desserts like the orange blossom honey cake ($7) and double layer chocolate cake ($7), prepared by Mike's Pies in Tampa, were wholly unnecessary.
Clearly Polite Pig's patronage differs from the Petrakises' other ventures, but the Petrakis name holds sway and many readers will want to make the jaunt down to Disney Springs to give their new eatery a try. If you ask me whether or not it's worth the drive, there's really no polite answer besides "Yes."