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Gettin’ Piggy Wit It

Korean barbecue spot Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean Barbecue lives up to the hype

Photo: Sam Holden, License: N/A

Sam Holden

Finding Honey Pig Gooldaegee Korean Barbecue (10045 Baltimore National Pike, Ellicott City, [410] 696-2423) requires a tiny bit of sleuthing. The giant campy king statue (a remnant of the old Enchanted Forest theme park) looming over Route 40 West is your first clue that you’re close. But don’t follow his pointing finger into the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center. Instead, look across the street to the shiny Double-T Diner and follow the drive as it curves behind that building and up the hill to another shopping center, where you’ll find two spots for ’cue: the sprawling Centennial Cue and Karaoke pool hall and the compact, hotly anticipated Honey Pig.

Though Ellicott City is home to a number of Korean restaurants, few have elicited as much attention on local dining blogs and discussion boards as Honey Pig. As early as January, rumors were rife that an outpost would open in the Baltimore area (until now the closest location has been Annandale, Va.), and when the restaurant opened in April, foodies reported long lines, despite the fact that the restaurant is opened virtually 24 hours, seven days a week (it closes Mondays from 2 a.m. through 11 a.m.). So is Honey Pig worth the buzz? Absolutely.

As much as Honey Pig is about Korean barbecue, it’s also about spectacle and performance. Everything shines here, from the large heating elements built in to each table and even larger silver exhaust vents that hang above to whisk away heat, to the stainless-steel dining room sink that encourages hand-washing before meals, to the wavy, corrugated metal walls that suggest a barbecue joint out of the American South. Taking the place of any formal wall decoration are signs—some with the restaurant’s vaguely psychedelic cartoon pig logo, and some, like posters at a grocery store window, advertising “specials” with “sale” prices for la ribs, mountain tripe, or dumplings. Even during a relatively tame lunch hour, the tinkle of pop music—both Korean and American—adds to the sensory overload. “It feels like Seoul,” pronounced the Korean native at our table.

And then there’s the experience of the meal itself. First banchan, as a collection of tiny dishes, like a child’s tea set, filled with kimchi and pickled zucchini, potatoes, chopped jalapeño, and a myriad of sauces, cover the table. Next, you order from Honey Pig’s laminated two-sided menu of a la carte and “lunch/dinner” items, all accompanied by a hashed out “regular price” next to a clearly wrought “sale” price (although the menu states that these items are available “always [at] special price”). Immediately, a parade of servers begins bringing food to the table: an order of steamed dumplings ($7.99 for 10), hefty and stuffed to bursting with greens, and a crispy seafood green-onion pancake ($6.99), its browned surface broken with bits of shrimp and squid. The pancake is slightly greasy, but, like so much comfort food, more than satisfying. Less so is the kimchi and pork stew ($6.99), not because of the knobby bones that hide among the cabbage leaves and bits of pork, but because the broth lacks the depth that those bones usually give.

The real star of Honey Pig, of course, is the barbecue, which the servers cook at the table with brisk efficiency. And while at lunchtime you can order grilled chicken or beef ribs with noodles already prepared in the kitchen, you will miss the anticipation of watching rosy bulgogi ($12.99 a la carte) or candy-striped pork belly ($12.99 a la carte) turn brown and crisp on the hot convex surface. Indeed, two gray-haired women, barbecue novices, approached our table in awe as the server painstakingly flipped each belly slice. “We weren’t as adventurous,” one said wistfully.

Honey Pig’s bulgogi—Korea’s savory rendering of thinly sliced beef, soy, spices, and onions—is as good as I’ve had it in Baltimore, but it was harder to stop eating the pork belly, which looks like bacon but cooks up meatier and less crispy, though with a pleasant chewiness. A combination platter, o sam chul pan ($12.99), paired more pork with squid (sliced into small bites by our server with a pair of kitchen shears) and fresh vegetables (mostly cabbage). Those with a taste for something slightly less mainstream might try the seasoned beef viscera, tripe, or intestine, or dig into a kimchi casserole.

According to the Korean speaker at our table, Koreans use the phrase “honey pig” as a kind way to call a loved one a greedy eater, and a meal at Honey Pig certainly invites this and other excesses. As the lunch hour wound down, the volume was turned up to allow the sound of ABBA to fill the room, and the little girls at our table began to dance. The bigger girls (and boy) might have been tempted to join in too, if we hadn’t been such honey pigs.

Honey Pig Barbecue is closed Mondays, 2 a.m – 11 a.m.

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