“When pigs have wings, indeed!”
That was my thought as I laughed at a hog with a gaudy rooster’s plume blooming from its butt — it was also rocking a coxcomb atop its snouty head. This cartoony image popped up on Gallo’s website, where Feathery Porky serves as the “click to enter” icon to Gallo’s impressive, inexpensive and brand new barbecue restaurant. Maybe some background would be good here.
In Italy, “Gallo” means rooster. In Columbus, “Gallo’s” translates to a family-owned restaurant group raising the bar on tired feeding genres (check out the actually cool Gallo’s Taproom sports pub and the terrific Italian/Creole eatery called Gallo’s Kitchen).
Just a couple of weeks ago, the masculine Gallo’s aesthetic — emphasizing relaxed fun, games on TVs, authentic recipes and smartly curated adult drinks — was stamped onto and breathed life into another all-American chowdown meme: the pork-centric, Southern-style barbecue joint. Enter funky chicken-pig.
Significantly, opening Gallo’s Pit BBQ (aka GBQ), brings the Columbus ’cue scene to a restorative full circle. See, this stylistically correct wood-and-corrugated-aluminum-strewn newbie (which also fittingly uses a Wild West font, even on rustic-hip black tables) occupies the abandoned space once housing the original Hoggy’s — an initially pioneering, later underperforming, now nearly extinct homegrown barbecue chain.
While GBQ is hardly revolutionary, it does score high in its comfortable casual atmosphere (big padded booths, tons of patio room, HD flatscreens, handsome photos of bluesy guitar stars), beer supply (offering about 80 all-over-the-mappers), distinct sides and titillating appetizers.
From the last category are first-rate Taproom-style Chicken Wings ($4.50 — opt for the spicy BBQ or Sriracha-based “cockfight” sauces) and outrageous Loaded Hand Cut Fries ($7.50 — a must!). The knockout spuds are baked and fried — and if you are too (or even not) — you’ll greedily annihilate this giant plate of party-time munchies.
That starter’s base is fantastic, shoestring-y fries that are crunchy, ungreasy and bursting with honest potato flavor. Above these lovelies are melty cheese, cockfight sauce, scallions, sour cream plus your meat of choice (brisket works beautifully). Spicy, smoky, sweet, cheesy, meaty and starchy, these crazy tuber-nachos push a lotta feel-good buttons.
Those killer fries (in unadorned form) make perfect partners for an unusual Smokehouse Burger ($8). That’s a huge and juicy handmade patty smoked out of pure burger-hood into intriguing new ’cue territory.
The Three-Slider Platter ($9.50, with two sides) is a delicious way to sample GBQ’s more traditional fare. These supersizers are literally spilling over with judiciously (never excessively) smoked meats: juicy pulled pork, formidable beef brisket and lean, chopped chicken breast (the smokiest). Like all of GBQ’s meats, these thoughtfully leave saucing to eaters (two unique house sauces are offered; my favorite is the thicker, curry and tamarind-hinting spicy version).
Chicken resurfaces with the excellent Leg and Thigh Platter ($10). That “pink smoke-ringed” biggie benefited from smoking as well as a crust-forming grilling.
Ditto for the crisply “barked,” dry-rubbed Baby Back Ribs ($14 for a half rack). Like the chicken quarter, these come with good cornbread and two of Gallo’s nifty sides, like collard greens (properly bitter, enriched with pig); extra-tangy elbow mac and cheese; celery-seeded, bell-peppered, refreshingly non-gloppy cole slaw; super-comforting, “scallopy” cheesy potatoes; baked beans (top-notch, in a piquant sauce) and those wonderful fries.
Even with understandable crowded-opening-week inconsistencies and service glitches (variable or missing sides, an undercooked burger, semi-longish waits), this distinguished place already is a top Columbus ’cue destination — and beer-, sports-, fun- and patio-fueled proof that pigs can fly.