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Rob Shawger, co-owner of Brookyln-spawned barbecue eatery Pig Beach, can picture something even sweeter than scooping up three awards at May’s Burger Bash at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.
That would be opening Pig Beach’s first – and pandemic-delayed – restaurant in West Palm Beach.
Pig Beach’s brisket-and-short-rib burger – a smashed patty topped with housemade bacon jam, spicy pickles and American cheese on a Martin’s Potato Roll – won People’s Choice and a pair of Best Dressed prizes at the Guy Fieri-hosted hamburger-off. And it will be a permanent fixture at Pig Beach Palm Beach, slated to debut this October at 2400 S. Dixie Highway with a menu of cheddar-jalapeno sausage, Carolina-style pork shoulder, Texas-style brisket and Memphis-style beef ribs. The new restaurant will occupy a 5,000-square-foot warehouse, until recently a Crossfit gym.
Not content to wait until fall, Shawger will do what his unfinished restaurant has done the past 18 months in South Florida: stage Pig Beach barbecue pop-ups. Fans of smoky meats will be able to taste Pig Beach’s smash burger during the restaurant’s 5 p.m. June 18 event at Civil Society Brewing (425 Kanuga Drive, West Palm Beach).
“It’s good to get the Pig Beach fans teased up a bit,” says Shawger, a restaurant investor who grew Pig Beach to acclaim for years on the competition barbecue circuit. “We’re limited right now with a restaurant under construction, but we can’t make people forget Pig Beach is coming.”
Shawger found willing restaurant partners in Matt Abdoo (New York’s Del Posto) and Shane McBride (New York’s Balthazar), two classically trained chefs who traded high-intensity restaurant jobs for the leisurely pace of low-and-slow barbecuing.
To Shawger, the name Pig Beach conjures visions of swimming pigs frolicking in the crystal-blue waters of the Bahamas’ Exumas, but in reality, he came up with the name seven years ago while gazing at the brown, murky waters of Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. That was where Shawger opened his flagship Pig Beach in 2017 after competing (and winning national awards) with his barbecue crew of Abdoo and McBride at big-name contests such as Memphis in May.
“I said to them as soon as we got back from that competition, ‘We have to strike with the iron is hot. We have to open,” Shawger recalls.
Abdoo says Pig Beach’s menu is filled with meats inspired by big barbecue regions, the result of touring the country and sweating over smokers with some of America’s best-known pitmasters, he says.
“I was hanging out in gleaming white kitchens, not the pits, so I didn’t know how to cook barbecue,” says Abdoo. “Then we’re meeting Aaron Franklin, one of the big dogs in the Texas brisket game. And we’re meeting Rodney Scott and cooking whole hogs in South Carolina. And we’re doing ribs with Skip Steele from Bogart’s Smokehouse in St. Louis, and shadowing all these guys got our feet in the door.”
In exchange for barbecue know-how, pitmasters, in turn, wanted to learn more about being a classically trained chef, McBride adds.
“It was a pretty symbiotic relationship, for sure,” says McBride, who grew up in West Palm Beach. “A lot of these pitmasters want to be chefs, and I wanted to do what they did. We were pretty fortunate to make those relationships.”
They brought that barbecue knowledge to Pig Beach, whose menu reflects a fusion of styles.
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Eager to expand outside of Brooklyn, Shawger signed a lease on the West Palm Beach warehouse pre-pandemic but shutdowns and slowdowns in permitting prevented construction from starting until last week. In the meantime, the trio slowly gained popularity last summer for their weekend barbecue pop-ups in the parking lot.
They plan to keep their roadside stand going, with Abdoo and McBride working the portable smokers, until Pig Beach’s restaurant is finished this fall, Shawger says.
“If the brand is successful here, we’ll expand to other parts of South Florida,” he says. “It’s the perfect storm and we’ve got to open soon.”
Pig Beach Palm Beach will debut this October at 2400 S. Dixie Highway, in West Palm Beach. A Pig Beach burger pop-up featuring their Burger Bash-winning smash burger will take place 5 p.m. June 17. Go to PigBeachNYC.com.