Auburn's Copper Pig BBQ and Taproom -- the one to beat (Dining Out Review)
“Named for a pig-shaped copper smoker, The Copper Pig in downtown Auburn offers a thoughtful combination of predictable choices and happy surprises. Pork, chicken, ribs, brisket and sausage are balanced by inventive salads like the Cucumber and Watermelon also available as a main for $7.95 and a vegetarian Southern Noodle dish ($10.95).
Dixie Pie ($15.95) is made of layered pork, collards, macaroni and cheese. There are burgers ($8.95 to $12.95), a Brisket Cheese Steak ($10.95), a Shrimp Po'Boy ($11.95), a House Bean Burger ($8.95), and a Cedar Plank Salmon and New Orleans Boil, each at $16.95.
In short, the name of the restaurant reflects far less than the menu offers.
As The Copper Pig is also a taproom, we tried some of the 11 beers, ciders and stouts available. We started with a Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro and an Arrogant Bastard Ale, $7 each. The Milk Stout was smooth and luscious: opaque and deep brown, this is the kind of drink that, with brown bread and butter, can make a meal.
Arrogant Bastard's description dares you to drink it, saying "you probably don't have the sophistication" to appreciate its bitterness. It was deliciously strong. The Ithaca Nut Brown Ale we finished with later ($6) made a softer, malty middle ground between the two earlier brews.
To try the focal points of the place, we each ordered a three-meat combination ($18.95) with two side dish choices. A couple of the dishes included in our dinner were just okay, but the overwhelming majority were the best examples of their types we have had.
We started our tasting with the side dishes. While the Deviled Potato Salad was forgettable, with less mustard than we expected and an undercooked texture, our other three choices were stellar. The Collard Greens were especially good, with butter, vinegar and hot sauce and greens cooked just to tenderness. We could make a meal of those.
Our Macaroni and Cheese was dense and cheesy, made with shells. The best contrast to everything else we enjoyed was the fresh, chilled Watermelon and Cucumber Salad. The feta, arugula and balsamic reduction made it clear why this side is also offered as a main course.
The cornbread included was odd -- so dense it was almost chewy, with mild flavor. We guessed that the batter may have been over-beaten.
We started the main event with our four chicken wings, smoked and then finished on the grill. These were among the best we'd ever had. Not fatty or greasy, but not dry, these large wings were great on their own but even better with an extra dose of the house-made mango habanero sauce we chose for our flavor/heat option.
The Copper Pig makes three sauces, all served on the side. Their regular BBQ sauce and Carolina style mustard-based sauce have a little kick. The mango habanero sauce is sharper as well as sweeter. All are delicious.
Those sauces were important to the flavor of the chicken leg quarter, cooked perfectly but not strongly flavored. Given the mild flavor of the meat, all three sauces tasted great on it.
The brisket, sliced thicker than usual, was so tender that it came apart like corned beef. With a deep smoky flavor and very little fat, it was great on its own and simply terrific with the mustard-based sauce.
Our smoked sausage was very smoky as well, with a fine texture and plenty of flavor to stand without any sauce.
Our substantial pile of pulled pork was chunky and had a good flavor, especially with bits of the crusty exterior. This was not the stringy, flaccid pulled pork we've seen elsewhere but a dish that retained the full character of the roast from which it came. The regular sauce and the mustard sauce were both stellar with this part of the plate.
However, the little 3-rib rack was the most amazing selection. Slow smoked after a St. Louis spice rub, these were so meaty and well cooked that the thick layer of meat almost seemed fluffy. Of all the meats we tried, this was the best.
Our desserts, a Chocolate Texas Sheet Cake ($3.95) and a Maple Bourbon Bacon Cupcake ($2.95), were good but not the focus. The chocolate cake was dense and rich, and the cupcake's frosting had a strong maple flavor. It was decorated with bits of bacon on top.
Service is friendly and efficient at The Copper Pig. All of our questions were answered quickly and thoroughly, including one about when we might return at a quieter time (the room is mostly hard surfaces and therefore noisy for us). We were told that any day at 5 or 8 pm, but especially Tuesdays, things would be quieter. We will certainly return then because this was the best barbecue we have enjoyed since coming to Syracuse.”
By Jane Marmaduke | Contributing writer - The Post Standard