By Janet M. Herrick
The Bearded Pig, the inspiration of tenured restaurateur Chad Munsey and architect turned pitmaster Michael Schmidt, has redefined the total customer experience as it fits into the BBQ genre in Jacksonville. “Our aim is to deliver certainty,” says Munsey. “Certainty that a guest always feels welcome and appreciated, the food is authentic and consistently fantastic, and the service is knowledgeable and fun. Michael and I may own this restaurant, but it belongs to our patrons. So, every decision we make is with the total customer experience in mind.”
The Bearded Pig is a self-described “Southern BBQ Joint and Beer Garden” which adheres to two Texas traditions: One—the idea that, like a local BBQ joint, you go to the counter and order your food, then sit, have a beer, and relax until your food arrives. And two—the use of the Texas method of dry rubbing meat before it goes into the smoker. The wet-rubbing method adds sauces to meat during the smoking process. Kansas City is famous for this, but it is also seen across the South. “For us,” says Munsey, “the true flavor of the meat is best expressed in the dry rub and the smoking talents of the pit crew. And the better the meat, the more the outstanding the flavor.”
For The Bearded Pig, quality reigns supreme and that translates into excellent BBQ. All Bearded Pig meats are humanely raised and hormone and antibiotic-free and they only use a hundred percent certified Duroc pork, one of the oldest breeds of pig in the United States. Local sausage maker Azar & Company custom makes all of The Bearded Pig’s sausage cuts. The Seasonal Side menu rotates every few months to ensure that the best seasonal vegetables are offered. Plus, all side dishes are thoughtfully vegetarian for guests who do not otherwise partake in the main menu. Munsey and Schmidt personally designed four of their five sauce recipes to ensure the pairing of meats and sauces is impeccable. Munsey adds, “We even insist on using locally grown oak to fire our pits. Just like with wine, the essence of the local soil is present in our smoke and that makes all the difference. We worked extremely hard to make the dining experience here feel easy and simple. We have 12 beers on tap at any one time, but those are all craft beers from local and regional breweries and go great with our food. And, knowing that not everyone drinks beer, I, from many years in fine dining, have been able to offer select wines at reasonable price points that go very well with our meats. For me personally, when it comes to BBQ and wine, Zinfandel is king. What could be more delicious than ribs and Zin?”
“More than anything else,” says Munsey, “we want the experience of The Bearded Pig to feel real, not pretentious. Michael designed the space to be completely open and welcome to families, friends, or the solo diner. The beer garden is designed with a two-sided bar. The courtyard, though open-air, has an enclosed, mostly covered dining area with art from local artist Chip Southworth. This is a fun and safe place for kids and pets to be, with a turf-covered floor and a huge blackboard on the back wall. Every part of The Bearded Pig is designed for people to feel completely relaxed and where they can enjoy great food.”
Five years after opening their first location, Munsey and Schmidt are now expanding. The original location at 1224 Kings Avenue in San Marco will remain a special event space and the new building at 1808 Kings Avenue (three blocks south) will be a newly built structure. “It will essentially be about the same seating capacity,” says Munsey, “but we will have expanded kitchen facilities and a much-improved traffic flow from ordering to seating. We are also opening in Jax Beach at 1700 3rd Street South. There’s just nothing better than great BBQ. We love what we do, and our customers inspire us to keep pushing on. So, 2021, here we come.”
Pair it with:
Four Vines 2018 Old Vine Zinfandel
Grapes: 100% Zinfandel, Lodi, California
Description: With aromas of ripe wild berry flavors with a hefty dusting of spice and zesty pepper, the 2018 Old Vine Zinfandel is full-bodied with a juicy entry and big finish.
Located in California’s Lodi region, the vineyards are between 30 to 50 years old. Here, ancient, head-trained vines yield only a few grape clusters; each with small, intensely flavored berries. As a result, Four Vines Old Vine Zinfandel is bold in both flavor and body.
At harvest time, grapes are picked during the cool night and early morning hours and delivered immediately to the winery to be destemmed and gently pressed into fermentation tanks. After seven to nine days of fermentation, the wine is gently racked into a combination of French, Hungarian, and American oak for malolactic fermentation and 10 months of aging.