Well-traveled Orlando foodies are probably familiar with The Ravenous Pig, one of our finest local restaurants. Situated in Winter Park, James and Julie Petrakis’ venerable institution was founded in 2007 and quickly established itself as one of the shining stars of Orlando’s burgeoning culinary scene. I still consider it a “special occasion” sort of restaurant and don’t go as often as I would like, but it never disappoints. I’ll have to get back there one of these days to write a proper review, as it’s the sort of place that all locals and tourists alike ought to make a pilgrimage to.
In the meantime, the Petrakises have expanded their empire with a few other local restaurants, including The Polite Pig (https://politepig.com/), a fast-casual barbecue joint, which opened in 2017 in Disney Springs. For the uninitiated, this is an area outside of the actual Disney theme parks (so you don’t have to pay for admission or even parking to visit it), specializing in shopping and dining. It has grown immensely over the last few years and added a lot of high-profile restaurants, including some helmed by celebrity chefs. It is cool to see our local legends establishing a foothold in there too, and The Polite Pig provides the Petrakises a greater chance to feed and impress guests from around the world. It’s a relative bargain for Disney Springs, where many of the restaurants are more upscale, with prices to match. Because it’s casual, fast, reasonably-priced, and the food is hearty, familiar, and GOOD, it is a great option for families with kids and any other visitors who want to avoid white tablecloth joints and entrees priced over $20.
My BFF (best food friend) and I went there in May of 2017, just a few days after it opened, and we both agreed it was fine. Not bad at all, but he lives in Miami and I live almost an hour away from that side of Orlando, so neither of us were going to rush back. But he visited Disney recently with his mom (my first-grade teacher), so we agreed it would be a swell place to meet for lunch to catch up. And I’m so glad we chose it, because we both liked it so much more this time, almost two years later. I would unequivocally recommend it to anyone visiting Disney Springs, especially if you like meat and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg.
We ordered our food and paid at the counter, and it seemed like it was delivered to us in a matter of minutes, but we were also smart and got there right when it opened at 11 AM. By the time we left, it was mobbed, and the rest of Disney Springs was mobbed too. All the barbecue sandwiches come with a choice of a side order, and the entrees come with a small jalapeno cornbread muffin, “signature Polite slaw,” and a choice of a side. My friend and his mom (who is no longer my first-grade teacher, so I am proud to also call her my friend) both ordered baby back ribs, which come covered with a dry rub and sweet, sticky barbecue sauce glaze. I got to try a rib, and it was very tender. Like any good smoked ribs, the meat doesn’t exactly “fall off” the bone, but they were extremely tender, not dry or stringy or tough at all.
He chose baked beans as his side, and she went with crispy waffle fries, dusted with barbecue seasoning.
I decided to go with the barbecue cheddar sausage, which the menu said was covered with a bourbon glaze. The outside had a subtle sweetness, and the natural casing had a very good snap when I bit into it, something I always appreciate in sausages and hot dogs. That’s what I call the pursuit of snappiness!
I got four decent-sized cuts and immediately gave one to my buddy. I was impressed that the cheese was gooey and melty in each bite I took. True to form, I chose macaroni and cheese as my side, which was also nice and melty with white cheese and al dente mini-shell pasta. I’ve gone twice now and always turned away from the tomato watermelon salad with feta, basil, and pickled onions at the final moment, but maybe next time I’ll try that. It sounds delightfully refreshing.
My magnanimous friend also ordered us the slider trio to share: three mini-sandwiches on tiny, soft brioche rolls. The fried chicken sandwich came topped with sweet & smoky barbecue sauce, Duke’s mayo, pickles, and cole slaw. The Southern Pig included pulled pork, fennel-apple slaw, tangy mustard barbecue sauce, and Duke’s mayo, the only kind of mayo I ever buy for my house. I think our table’s favorite was the Low & Slow Brisket, with Prime brisket, pimento cheese, porter barbecue sauce, pickled jalapeños, and onion straws. I was reminded that on our earlier visit almost two years ago, we ordered the Southern Pig and Low & Slow Brisket sandwiches and split them both. Even these mini-slider versions were better than what we remembered from back then, which only speaks well of The Polite Pig and how much it has improved.
Speaking of barbecue sauces, they have four house-made sauces “on tap,” and you can fill little paper cups to dip to your heart’s content: Lil John’s Signature Porter sauce (made with a reduction of Working Man porter beer, brewed at another Petrakis restaurant, the Cask & Larder), Layla’s sweet sauce, Thomas’s Southern Gold sauce (a mustard-vinegar hybrid), and an Alabama-style white barbecue sauce that pairs excellently with chicken… and surprisingly everything else. I’m not the kind of person who pours ranch dressing all over my food, but this white sauce is different. If you’re skeptical, try a tiny taste in one of the paper cups. It’s free, so you have nothing to lose!
The Polite Pig offers fountain sodas — mostly Coke products, but also excellent root beer and lemonade from the Blue Sky brand, made with cane sugar. I try to be so good about not drinking sodas, but I really like root beer and lemonade, so I couldn’t resist. Of course they were cold and refreshing. When we were there two years ago, I remember being half-dead, exhausted and sun-baked after spending half the day waiting in lines and schlepping around the Orlando MegaCon (sprawling pop culture convention for nerds and geeks alike), and I slaked my thirst with Blue Sky orange-mango soda, but they didn’t have that one anymore. The root beer had a vanilla creamy taste, which I always appreciate compared to the more herbal, “biting” root beers, so that was a good choice.
And finally, they were offering chocolate chip cookies from Gideon’s Bakehouse, located in Orlando’s very East End Market, which I will argue is the best chocolate chip cookie anywhere, and certainly anywhere in our city beautiful. My buddy loves chocolate chip cookies and supposedly makes some pretty great ones himself, but I got one for him and his mom to split, after hyping it up for the last year. They might have been stuffed from an excellent lunch, but they made room for that cookie, which lives up to all the hype. Sorry I didn’t get a photo of it, but check out the website above.
So that’s it! If you’re on Disney property, they’ve got ya. You’re going to pay, so it’s just a question of how much you’re willing to pay, and what you get for your money. The Polite Pig is a fantastic option if you’re relaxing at Disney Springs and don’t want to go to a more upscale and expensive restaurant. Vegetarians will have to stick to side orders or salads (hold the bacon!), so they would be better served almost anywhere else, but most meat-eaters will be perfectly pleased by the Polite Pig. And here’s a helpful hint: it’s right outside of the Lime Garage at Disney Springs, so if you’re just going to eat there and don’t want to linger, that’s the place you want to park.