Address: The Rail Yard, 1212 E. Sixth St., Little Rock
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Credit cards: M, V, AC, D
Alcoholic beverages: Full bar, with a focus on craft beers, draft wine and Rock Town Distillery products
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
A former newsroom executive, a barbecue expert of long-standing and quite probably the pickiest barbecue consumer of our acquaintance, waited on the edge of his figurative chair for the opening of the new brick-and-mortar space for Count Porkula in the Rail Yard in Little Rock's burgeoning East Village.
After their meal there, he and his wife gave the ribs and the pulled pork sandwich four sauce-covered thumbs up. "No doubt about it."
Based on a sauce-covered handful of recent visits, we happily concur.Gallery: Count Porkula
We never really got to try Count Porkula when it was just a food truck because of long lines. Now we realize why.
The Count Porkula pitmasters, Walt Todd and Kelly Lovell, deliver excellent barbecue — the usual suspects, pulled pork, brisket, ribs, sausage — but also truly excellent and enjoyable side items, including greens, including a dill pickle pasta salad, two excellent kinds of potato salad and slaw that elevated even our party's slaw-averse diner into the next level of happiness.
Count Porkula's single sauce, though distinctly complex, is slightly sweet; if you are not a fan of sweet sauces or you prefer yours vinegary, peppery and/or mustard-y, you may want to give this one a pass. However, you'll be depriving yourself of a fine barbecue experience if you do.
Oh, and the portions are huge; if you leave Count Porkula hungry, it's your own fault.
The Rail Yard, which occupies the back half of the building that formerly housed Rock Town Distillery, sits on East Sixth Street immediately east of, almost in the shadow of, a low railroad overpass under which high trucks frequently got stuck and regularly flooded in heavy rains.
You have to look a bit sharply to see Count Porkula's exterior sign, which hangs from the blonde-brick wall above the painted-on Rail Yard sign, so you might miss it the first time by. Peculiarly enough, on every visit there were parking spaces on the street directly in front, but if there aren't, you can park in one of two rough-and-maybe-ready lots on the other side of Sixth Street.
Inside, there's seating at the bar, which also guards the kitchen window — a nearby wall-mounted chalkboard shows the menu, the list of craft and commercial beers on tap and the variety of draft wines, all also available on laminated menus the waitress brings to your table. Or you can sit at low and high blonde-wood banquettes or tables in bronze-colored aluminum patio chairs.
A garage door can open to the gated backyard, where other food trucks park in fair (and sometimes foul) weather. There's fair-weather seating out there; when conditions are adverse you can grab a blanket or a throw from buckets by the door or take your purchases indoors to the Count Porkula seating area.
Don't pass up the pulled pork, available as a slaw-topped sandwich ($9) or in the Pulled Pork Plate ($9), which comes with with two sides and a jalapeno cornbread muffin, plus fresh jalapeno and pickled onion garnishes on the side on the paper-lined metal tray.
Because our former boss is picky about pulled pork, particularly whether it has been pulled to order, we can tell you they do that here — not in shreds but in big chunks. That was also true of our Rail Yard Sandwich ($11), a goodly portion of pulled pork sharing a bun with a big chunk of smoked sausage, topped with sauce and pickled onions.
The meat is perfectly smoked and fully flavorful, even without the sauce, on which the kitchen does not skimp, but if you feel like you haven't gotten enough, you can add it from squeeze bottles; if there isn't one on your table, a server or food runner will gladly supply one.
Count Porkula serves its likewise richly excellent brisket with slaw in a large sandwich ($11; they'll happily put the slaw on the side if you ask) or as a plate ($12) with two sides. The menu describes the Sausage Plate ($10, also with two sides) as consisting of two sausage links, but what we actually got on the plate was two kinds of smoked sausage, one a smoky, somewhat coarsely-ground link type and the other big, finely ground, slightly spongy sausage in a firm red casing. Both were delicious.
When we say the Baby Back Ribs are tender enough to fall off the bone, we mean it — we tried to lift one to our mouth and the bone came free while the meat remained on the plate. They, too, are perfectly smoked, with a light coating of rub/sauce and tasty enough so you won't necessarily want to add more sauce. A four-bone quarter rack is $9, a half rack $13 and a full rack is $22, again with pickled onions (red, in our estimation, not because they're red onions, but because they're pickled in red-wine vinegar) and fresh jalapenos as a garnish. Rare in our experience: Buy a single rib as a side for any dish or just by itself for $3.
Available only at lunch: the BBQ Potato ($9), a huge spud that seemed from the slightly smoky flavor to have been baked in the smoker, absolutely and sloppily loaded with slaw, pulled pork, pickled onions, barbecue sauce and the nacho cheese sauce that presumably goes on the Almost Famous BBQ Nachos ($8) that, we admit, we were a little scared to try.
We generally prefer mustard-based potato salad, and Count Porkula's is top-notch, but their mayonnaise-based version is almost as good. We can also certainly recommend the slaw, slightly sweet-ish, slightly tangy, and certainly crunchy; the greens, with bits of chopped meat, nicely balanced between sweet and bitter, slightly oily but not swimming in grease; and the surprising dill pickle pasta salad, firm bow tie pasta lightly coated with a mayonnaise-based dressing with large chunks not just of pickles but mild orange cheese.
If you still have room for dessert, see if they're serving fried pies ($3); they're not available every day, apparently, but the apple pie we got, prepared to order (so it took a few minutes), topped with a small dollop of whipped cream, was certainly worth the wait.
Service was excellent on all our visits; the wait staff, which takes orders on a tablet but processes credit cards through a separate hand-held device, was helpful, friendly, knowledgeable and competent.
Weekend on 02/07/2019
Print Headline: Count Porkula smokes the taste test