It's a barbecue place, so the fast-casual format of ordering at a counter, getting your own drinks, condiments, cutlery and whatnot is kind of par for the course.
And I would never turn my nose up at such practices at a little mom-and-pop spot. But this was not one of those places.
Shigs In Pit BBQ & Brew on Maplecrest Road is a sight to behold and it is a true testament to the popularity of the original on Fairfield Avenue and the success it has had.
Its vacant, roadhouse style is attractive with touches of corrugated metal and long wooden bench seats around the perimeter walls. It has a big bar with an impressive array of beers, TVs scattered about that are not overdone so it doesn't look like a sports bar.
It was, however, louder than about any sports bar I have been to because its design makes it an acoustic nightmare.
But its biggest flaw is its lack of tableside service. The place is too big, too nice and too far advanced from the original not to have a wait staff, and I am not the only one who thinks so. When I asked an employee why it was set up this way, the employee told me many of the folks working there wonder the same thing.
Oddly, there is full service if you sit at the bar, which is not where families who need it most can sit. And, if you order a beer, you have to go to the bar to fetch it, so you might as well sit there if you can.
I made do, but I did miss out on a few things – things that would have generated more money for the place, too.
I always feel rushed to decide from the plethora of offerings as a line of people waits behind me at the register and I missed a nightly special that sounded great.
Another time I did not notice the yummy dessert offerings in a case next to the registers and had already paid when I spotted them.
There was no way I was going to make the line wait while I made a second order and dipped back into my wallet.
My food arrived quickly and there was no issue when it came to the food being hot, fresh and correct. But as I dived in, another flaw came to light.
Shigs serves its food in baskets, which are not optimal, but a few items came on metal trays, which I will ask for exclusively next time.
All of the cutlery was plastic, which was pretty useless and, really, ridiculous for such a nice restaurant. I broke two forks during one visit and, of course, had to get up and fetch another because there was no server to ask for one.
The food, at least, left me with few complaints.
The ribs were best in show when it came to the smoked items – they were tender, fell off the bone with just a little pull, which is perfect, had a nice smoke ring and plenty of smoky flavor, and I loved trying them with all of the sauces from squeeze bottles on the table – mild and hot barbecue and a vinegar-based variety.
But it was another pork item that spent nary a second in the smoker that was a real eye-opener.
The Hoosier staple breaded pork tenderloin was as solid as can be.
It was a big, thick, meaty cut of pork that was lightly breaded and fried until super crunchy. It is the kind of tenderloin that will draw me back.
Another sandwich worth returning for was the Smoked Bologna, which, like the tenderloin, was also dubbed a “slightly gourmet sandwich.” With a thick slab of smoked bologna slathered with pimento cheese and a little sauce, it was a wondrous creation. I loved the curled up, browned smoky edges.
It killed the awful Ham Po' Boy, which was not even slightly gourmet. Its Swiss cheese was not melted and, though the ham was tasty, the Creole mustard all over it had a very off-putting flavor that kept me from finishing it.
I found out later the mustard concoction also had lemon juice, garlic and – here is what likely made it so awful – ranch dressing mix.
The smoked wings were so good I didn't need any ranch dressing – my wing condiment of choice. I chose the Alabama White sauce, a loose sauce with a vinegar kick and just a hint of spice. The chicken had a flavorful spice rub that was not too heavily applied to the skin, which was a little crisp.
You will be hard pressed to find a side you don't like at Shigs In Pit. The best offering is the Corn Spoon Bread, which is kind of like bread pudding made with cornbread and creamed corn. It had kernels of sweet corn throughout and is a must as one of your side choices.
The Potato Casserole is also worth having if you like cheesy potatoes and if you can get it because Shigs was out of it during one visit.
The Apple Pie Baked Beans were top-notch with plenty of pork scraps and some spice to tame the sweetness.
The macaroni salad was the biggest side surprise given it was something I would likely pass on given the more enticing sounding options. Its sweet, thick, creamy dressing clung nicely to the noodles, which were al dente. Carrot and celery gave it crunch.
The Shigs Mac Attack wasn't a side but could be an appetizer or meal.
Its base was the Green Chile Mac and Cheese, a side offering, with pulled pork, burnt brisket ends or chopped chicken. It also had a drizzle of sauce and cornbread crumb topping. The mix worked well with the crumbles adding a nice little crunch, had just enough sauce and hit you with heat here and there from the peppers.
But the burnt ends I chose were not what I expected.
These bits of beef were way too tender. I know that sounds odd, but burnt ends should have some texture given they are the charred ends of the brisket. These were more like pot roast that spent hours in a crock pot.
They were OK, but I wouldn't call them burnt ends.
I also did not like the sliced brisket, which was just as tender but had no smoke flavor. If I had ordered a roast beef sandwich, I would have been happy, but I wanted good smoked brisket and this wasn't it.
The desserts – once I spotted them – were all great.
The Boston cream pie was outstanding with lovely, moist yellow cake, rich cream and a sweet dark chocolate ganache on top. The old-school banana pudding was also as perfect as it gets, and I could not find a flaw with the sprinkle-topped brownies, which reminded me of Texas sheet cake.
I did find another big service flaw, however.
As my meals were winding down, I was hounded by runners who kept asking if I was done and insisting on clearing my table. I appreciated their diligence, but I had to snap at one of them when he grabbed a tray as he asked if I was finished.
I was not finished and was not happy he touched it when I still hoped to eat from it.
It is that kind of error an experienced server would not make.
Restaurant: Shigs In Pit BBQ & Brew
Address: 6250 Maplecrest Road
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Wings ($5.99 for 5; $11.99 for 10), Mac Attack ($12.99), ribs ($14.95 half slab; $22.95 full), tenderloin ($8.99), Po' Boy ($7.99), bologna sandwich ($6.79), desserts ($2.99)
Rating breakdown: Food: ★★ (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 maximum), service: 0 (1 maximum)
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at email@example.com; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.
Shigs In Pit BBQ & Brew
Out of a possible five