Hidden away in the Portland neighborhood, Porkland BBQ opened back in the spring as part of Love City, a nonprofit organization that funds community programs for young people and supports economic stimulation. Proceeds from the restaurant support these objectives and others.
But this isn’t a one-off charity barbecue we’re talking about. The restaurant is located in St. Cecilia’s Hall, and the space is a treat for the eyes, with brightly colored walls and funky décor — from murals to games to quirky items like a metal rocket ship hanging in one corner and half a Volkswagen Beetle overlooking one half of the divided dining space.
The place is filled with tables of varying sizes, with plenty of long, communal seating. The chairs are all mix and match from chairs that could have come out of your grandmother’s kitchen to a couple of church pews. It’s fast-casual style dining, wherein you order at a counter and your food is brought to you.
I stopped in for lunch on a recent Saturday afternoon and found the place empty. College football played on a flat-screen TV. I had planned to get my food to go, but decided to stick around and take in the fun atmosphere of the place.
The chalkboard menu isn’t extensive, with barbecue basics like rib tips, pulled chicken and pulled pork sandwiches, and sides like smoked baked beans, green beans, coleslaw and the like.
But, much like the décor, the menu gets a little funky at times, as evidenced by Churched-Up Tater Tots (tots smothered in nacho cheese, pork or chicken, and sautéed onions), along with a version of street-style Mexican corn on the cob seasoned with chili powder and season salt and drizzled with white barbecue sauce.
For seafood lovers, there also are fried cod sandwich and rolled oyster options. The day I stopped in, a different chalkboard also trumpeted a new item: BBQ salad, with smoked pork or chicken, deep-fried corn, lettuce and tomato, black beans and tortilla strips, topped with red barbecue sauce and ranch dressing.
There also was a Caesar salad, a fish plate and homemade desserts like brownies, peach cobbler and banana pudding.
But one item grabbed my attention immediately and wouldn’t let go: “Pops” Porkland Round Steak. If you’re scoring at home, that’s a big slice of hickory-smoked bologna with nacho cheese, red and white barbecue sauce and Grippos potato chips on toasted bread. That was my order, with a side of beans and a rolled oyster as an appetizer.
I settled in at one of the large tables, and my food was brought to me within 10 minutes or so. I sighed when I saw the oyster, because it was nearly as big as my closed fist.
But sitting next to the oyster was the sandwich, which was a whole other proposition. When the friendly young lady who took my order placed it before me, I said, “Wow.”
“Yeah, that’s a sandwich,” she said, agreeing with a chuckle.
I dug into the oyster first, and it was perfectly breaded and fried, dense and flowing with oyster flavor. It contained only two small oysters, but it was a tasty deal for $5. It was a solid rendition of a Louisville classic and would almost be enough for a light lunch by itself, truth be told.
Next, it was onto the massive sandwich.
The bread was barely toasted, but the bologna was at least an inch thick and smoked to the point of being char black. The cheese was on the bottom, and the sauces were drizzled on top, with plenty of chips crunched up between bread and meat.
It comprised an odd blend of flavors, to be sure, and the chips almost took the creation over the top. But in a good way, adding crunch and a distinct spice that pops on the taste buds when blended with that familiar spicy meat flavor you’ve known since childhood and a hint of smoke.
Honestly, it might have been the weirdest sandwich I have ever eaten, but it worked somehow. And while it may have puzzled my palate at first, it sure made my belly happy and full. The sauces added a creamy tang, but largely, it was a full-on meat assault.
Finally, while I normally know pretty much what I’m getting when I order baked beans, I didn’t see these beans coming. The side was a blend of pinto, black beans and kidney beans with chunks of onion and green pepper, cooked smoky sweet to a firm texture with a tiny hint of spicy heat. I’ve never had baked beans quite like them, and I sure hope to have them again soon.
Pretty much everything on the menu at Porkland BBQ is $6 or less, so you’ll walk with your belly full and your wallet not feeling too light. And it’s for a good cause.
Porkland BBQ, located at 2519 Saint Cecilia St., is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.