Sweet and salty, moist in the middle yet firm on the edges, easy to eat with one hand, the perfect vehicle for spicy mustard — the sliced BBQ pork dish served for decades by Tommy Chung and his family at Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens was bar food at its finest. It’s just one of the Chinese-American classics that regulars have missed ever since Jimmy’s closed in 2006, and many feared those recipes were gone for good when Chung died in 2013.
But for two weeks starting on February 5, Clay Lovejoy will be bringing the dish back to life at The Pickle Room, the bar that he started with his late father, Bob Lovejoy, inside the former Jimmy’s location. The special occasion is the Chinese New Year, which celebrates the Year of the Pig, this time around the sun, making an excellent excuse to resurrect the bright-red plate of pork.
“I was able to get Tommy’s old recipe,” said Lovejoy, explaining that it was handed down to a few people in town, including Skin Deep salon owner Tina Hasche, who passed it his way more than a year ago. “I just don’t want to mess it up,” laughed Lovejoy. “I want to make sure I honor the recipe. I can’t bring something half-assed to the table.”
He’s practiced his version about six or so times on the hometown-heavy Monday and Tuesday crowds and will be serving it every night at the bar during the two-week New Year’s celebration. “It’s all about marinating it overnight and slow-cooking without overcooking,” he said. “You want to keep it moist. And it looks beautiful once it’s cut, with white meat on the inside and a bright-red outside.”
Without divulging the specifics, Lovejoy said that the marinade includes hoisin, garlic, ginger, and red food coloring, and that he throws a smoke box in the oven to give it the barbecue kick. He uses the pork cushion (part of the shoulder) for the meat, cuts it on the bias, and serves it with “the Chinese mustard and the sesame seeds to dip it in, and a little bit of cabbage on the plate — some roughage for you.”
Throughout the two weeks, Lovejoy will also be serving other pig dishes both at the bar and next door at Three Pickles Deli, including banh mi sandwiches, chile verde soup (like a green pozole), and, with the BBQ pork, perhaps some egg rolls and fried rice dishes. “We’ve come up with all kinds of pig recipes,” said Lovejoy, who’s adding to the fun by serving fortune cookies, selling a shirt featuring his dad’s “Pigs are people too” line, and offering a free drink to people born in other Years of the Pig (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, or 1995) on February 5.
But the easy money is on that sliced BBQ pork being the star. “It’s such a great thing for sharing at the bar,” he said. “Everyone can take a couple bites and pass it to their friends. It’s the perfect bar food.”
The Pickle Room’s Chinese New Year Celebration runs February 5-19 at 126 E. Canon Perdido Street. Call 965-1015 or see threepickles.com.