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A Jolly Roger may fly on the sign outside 140 W. Fairmount Ave. – the site of Lakewood’s newest restaurant, Hog Wild BBQ – but don’t be alarmed. Owner Dean Wells assures that they come in peace.
Like other aspects of Hog Wild, this Jolly Roger logo demonstrates the attention to detail that has gone into crafting the restaurant. The skull and crossbones, Wells said, is a way to pay homage to the forefathers of barbecue cuisine: pirates. And it isn’t the only clue that Wells has done his homework: the menu itself, featuring everything from brisket to ribs to oysters, is a nod to diverse barbecue styles from many cities across the southern United States. The full menu will be available this weekend at the restaurant’s grand opening, which runs Friday 5 to 10 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“Southern barbecue is a really old school cooking method,” Wells said. “Legend has it you can trace it all the way back to the island of Tortuga in the Caribbean. There was nothing for the natives to do on that island, but there were wild pigs, so they would catch them and slow-roast them over a fire. The technique was called barbacoa… Trading ships would stop by the island, and after a while these natives got the idea that they should just take these trade boats. So they did. And so, the original barbecuers were pirates.”
In the kitchen these days, Wells maintains that his barbecue technique hasn’t changed much from the pirates’ methods of yesteryear. He cooks meat low and slow over a hickory and oak fire, until the meat is falling off the bone. And when Wells says slow, he means slow: the pork takes 15 hours to roast, the brisket 14, and the ribs five or six hours. None of the meat is cooked at a temperature higher than 250 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, the dish is plated with homemade sauces and sides – maybe smoked shrimp, hush puppies, or pit baked beans – and the order’s up.
“The menu is a real gumbo of things,” Wells said. “We do our ribs Memphis-style, our brisket Texas-style, our pulled pork Carolina-style. We can do that, because we’re up north and this isn’t a traditional barbecue region. So we can kind of pick and choose what we want to do without anyone getting offended. We get to take the best of all the worlds.”
Wells knows what he’s talking about, because he’s tasted all of those different barbecue worlds. Although he went to college for journalism and worked as a writer for nearly 15 years, Wells said he was never far from the kitchen. After spending a few years south of the Mason-Dixon line, he got his first taste of barbecue and never looked back. He would return home to Warren, PA to open a barbecue catering business and eventually begin establishing restaurants.
“Writing and cooking are my two loves, but I lived down in Maryland for a couple of years and I started getting really into barbecue,” Wells said. “I was watching the shows on Food Network and the Travel Channel, and then I started reading and taking trips. I started doing it at home. I had a lot of success with it, so then I kind of introduced it into a catering business. It took off from there.”
The catering branch of Hog Wild BBQ was officially launched in 2005, and before long, Wells and his motley crew of barbecue cooks – friends and colleagues he found along the way – were catering for groups as big as 1,600 and 3,500 people. In the summers, they competed in the professional rib cook-off circuit, amassing an impressive 18 national awards for their southern barbecue style. In 2014, Wells decided to open a seasonal restaurant in Warren, PA, a barbecue joint that runs from March through October. The establishment was such a success that Wells made the decision to open a second, year-round location in Lakewood. Already, he’s looking to the future and the possibility to expand his brand even further.
“The community here has been incredibly supportive,” Wells said. “The village of Lakewood was amazing to work with, their officials were nothing but supportive. They made this process really easy and this restaurant was up and running in three months… I don’t ever want to be a chain restaurant, but by the time I’m done, I would like five or six of these [barbecue restaurants].”
Reservations for this weekend’s grand opening of Hog Wild BBQ in Lakewood are highly recommended. They can be made by calling the Lakewood location at (716) 526-1281 or the Warren location at (814) 688-3461. For more information or to view Hog Wild’s menu, visit the restaurant’s website at WellsHogWildBBQ.com or its Facebook page, @HogWildNorth.
To read more articles featuring local businesses around the area, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com.