The next neighborhood renaissance looks like it's arriving at Parkside. There's the Please Touch Museum, a new supermarket mall and now Le Cochon Noir, an upscale barbecue restaurant with live blues and jazz as well as local art shows.
Owner Jamal Parker said, "I look at Parkside as moving in the direction of Manayunk or Northern Liberties. To have a space like this directly across from Fairmount Park is an amazing opportunity - I couldn't touch a property in New York across from Central Park."
Parker is originally from Philly, worked in food and beverage and eventually landed in Las Vegas. He's back now, and after a summer of test-marketing his ribs and music venue outdoors, he's opened inside a long-empty factory space.
Le Cochon Noir opened at the end of June and Parker is still tweaking the menu, but barbecued pork will always be the theme song.
The restaurant's name is a play on the heirloom pig specialty, Le Cochon Noir - not to be confused with another black pig on the menu, Kurobuta Pork Chops.
I turned to food educator Aliza Green to sort it all out. Le Cochon Noir is a very rare breed of pig from the Pyrenees region of France. It's big (roughly 800 pounds) and known to be delicious. Parker intends to find one and cook a form of nose-to-tail at the restaurant.
Let me be the first person that e-mail goes out to, please.
The Kurobuta is an English heirloom breed known as Berkshire that is much smaller than the Pyrenees breed. In Japan, it is considered to be the pig version of Kobe beef.
I'm getting ahead of the menu, though.
In keeping with the Philly tradition that you have to have good bread, Parker imports a crusty button with a dense crumb and heats it up to toasty temp.
On one visit it was served with a delightful compound butter that I hope becomes standard. During another visit we were offered a basic olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
On the lighter side of the menu you'll find a Snapper Soup ($6) with a velvety broth with slightly rich undertones. Thank goodness, it wasn't served with that nasty cruet of cheap sherry you so often find.
The London broil comes as a salad on the lighter side ($12) or an entrée ($18). My tasters and I agreed that the smoky meat was divine, but the salad could have used a little more dressing and the greens were a tad ho-hum.
Two favorites from the lighter fare were the Pulled Pork Quesadilla ($9) which was loaded with crispy, smoky pork bits coated with tangy sweet sauce.
We also enjoyed the Crab Cake ($12), although it has to be said it's hard not to enjoy a healthy portion of crab and butter with no filler.
If pork is not your thing, the Half Rotisserie Chicken ($18) is a perfectly good substitute. It came cut on the diagonal to show off the breast meat colored pink by the smoke and a nice mahogany glaze on the skin. It should have been served with a steak knife, however, as the cut requires navigating around the bones.
The Kurobuta Chop ($29) takes an already stellar cut of meat and adds a little smoke to bring out even more sweetness. It's accompanied by a dark sauce that had rich coffee undertones to contrast with the sweetness.
It's the Ribs ($35 full rack; $20 half-rack; $15 one-third rack) that are center stage, though.
These are toothsome - don't look for parboiled falling off the bone meat here. These are done heavy on the dry rub with just a hint of barbecue sauce at service. Personally, I'd like a little side of extra sauce, but these are mighty fine ribs as is.
I queried Parker on the wood used in the smoker as I detected both hickory and apple. He coyly noted it was a blend and I nailed two. Well, every good barbecue has a secret or two.
The sides were the disappointing part of the menu. The Mac and Cheese ($8) was passable, but it was overwhelmed by the seasoning. The Mustard Greens ($8) could have used more flavoring.
The Crème Brulee ($7) dessert was also disappointing, but I'm particular. There has to be the perfect ratio of cream and a caramelized topping that shatters like glass when hit with a spoon. The Chocolate Souffle ($8) made up for the disappointment, although it was more like a cross between a brownie and a souffle.
The music encourages you to linger over the coffee prepared tableside in a vacuum pot ($2.50). Until the beverage license comes through, Le Cochon Noir is BYOB. On the nonalcoholic choices there is an Ice Tea ($2.50) that has just enough Southern sweet without being too overwhelming.
While I'm not a music critic, Parker believes music and barbecue are one. I heard just enough of Sunday night's jazzy house band, LXG ("league of extraordinary gentlemen") to be impressed. And for blues fans, Simply Leland is a Wednesday regular.
I'd say even with just a couple of months under its belt, Le Cochon Noir is starting off on a high note.