Web: The Whole Hog Truck
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Barbecue Buffalo Food Trucks Pork
It would have been a lot easier to write about The Whole Hog Truck if it wasn't any good; in truth, the story would have practically written itself. Mirroring local food truck pioneer Lloyd's launch last year, Buffalo's latest mobile food vendor was beset by an overwhelming array of legal, mechanical, and weather difficulties in its first week of operation - enough to stunt the growth of any small business, especially one with a tiny menu focused mostly on pork sandwiches. On its first night out, police tried to shut Whole Hog down due to permit issues. Then the truck needed repairs and disappeared mid-week. Next, its much-discussed re-opening at the Taste of Diversity Festival was washed out by a rainstorm - one we braved just to visit the truck.
As paying customers, we were frustrated by the whole waiting and chasing game, particularly given that a half-dozen other and more easily accessible restaurants here serve the same dishes. When the truck abruptly cancelled its scheduled service due to repairs, we talked about and ultimately decided to visit Suzy-Q's instead - twice. And yet, we're going to say something that we didn't expect to convey to you after all of that: The Whole Hog Truck turned out to be actually worth visiting anyway. It had a bad first week, but even if the menu, calendar, and locations could all use some serious work, Whole Hog's sandwiches are tasty enough to sustain the plain white truck until it polishes up its business plan.
So how good are those pork sandwiches? We're not going to use the word "great," but somehow, the words "really good" don't seem to go far enough. There are two versions, regular and hot. They're both massive, and served with spoons so that you can pick up the chunks that fall off the oversized roll. Go with the hot version, shown here, which arrives loaded up with sliced onions and large garlic gloves. Like the meat, they're so soft that you know they've been stewing together for a long time, and we found ourselves spooning up and scarfing down the extra cloves.
We'd call that uncharacteristic but appealing softness the single best reason to visit the truck. It even extended to the white roll, which looked nothing like the one on Whole Hog's web site, but was as fresh and soft as the meat and veggies. (Note that something changed in the rolls in Whole Hog's first week: on the first night, the rolls were toasted, but by the time it appeared at Taste of Diversity, they weren't.) Additionally, though the barbecue sauce on the pork was a little on the thin side - perhaps the major reason the sandwiches fell short of greatness - this had the benefit of letting some unexpected sweetness in the vegetables and the strong, savory flavor of the pork shine through. Arriving complete, ready to eat, and falling apart in its container, this sandwich was the polar opposite of Suzy-Q's version, which was lighter on only modestly moist meat that required self-saucing.
On a note that will impress locavores more than anyone else, the rolls, pork, and vegetables are all locally sourced, a point that Whole Hog is taking pains to emphasize on its web site and in its in-person marketing. But this turns out to be a double-edged sword: people might or might not care, and those who don't will chafe at the truck's prices, which have kept changing to the point where they really don't make sense. So while it's a good thing that the originally $7 sandwich has fallen to $5 - fair for a sandwich of this size, when served from a truck without a dining room or table service as overhead - Whole Hog is now asking $5 for its french fries and $6 for its sweet potato fries.
We've tried what were claimed to the best fries in the country - those at Thomas Keller's Bouchon - which go for $7 per portion in one of the nicest-looking, well-staffed restaurants in Las Vegas. Despite the hype, Bouchon's fries weren't better or worth more than the ones served in large cardboard containers at McDonald's or Five Guys. Even if they came straight from a family farm, the soggy, merely passable fries and sweet potato fries at Whole Hog wouldn't have rated in our top 100. If you feel that you must try them, accept the truck's offer to take them with a heavy drizzle or side of dark, smoky barbecue sauce, which partially makes up for their lack of texture. There's not much else on the menu besides a plate of beans and greens - different beans depending on the day you visit - and a single outsourced dessert per month, currently a brownie.
Our advice would be to go at least once for the barbecue sandwiches, assuming that you can find a day when the truck's open. You'll want to consult both its web-based calendar and its Twitter account, as one or the other mightn't be updated to reflect truck or other issues - another small but important inconsistency Whole Hog will need to address going forward. The calendar currently shows that it will be at Fireman's Park in Buffalo four days a week, serving the late night drinking crowd in Allentown two or three nights a week, and at festivals when possible. We'd call the overall experience memorable enough to be worth a special trip at least once, after which pork fans will be thinking enough about the soft meat, garlic and onions to come back again.