Driving north along Kings Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida, hungry locals and foodies take twists and turns among rundown buildings as they search for the best restaurant in Florida. The landmark they seek is Chris Dyer’s trippy and vibrant mural of the funky “interdimensional entity” (as he calls it). They know their destination is close because they can probably smell it, and it smells dang good. It’s locally owned, fast-casual restaurant and beer garden — The Bearded Pig.
Named best restaurant in the state by Reviews.org, The Bearded Pig is, according to co-owner Chad Munsey, “an ode to southern barbecue.”
“It’s a Texas-influenced, Carolina-influenced, casual BBQ restaurant that serves top-quality food in a kid-friendly, casual environment,” he said, overflowing with imagery. “It’s also a beer garden, we could go on and on. We’ve got a lot of descriptors for us.”
The BBQ joint was founded by Munsey and old friend, Michael Schmidt, who grew up cooking BBQ and watching his father in the food industry.
“I always made BBQ with my dad and my friends,” Schmidt said. “The OG sauce we have here, I’ve been making it since I was a kid. It’s a family recipe.”
Schmidt also created the other sauces to represent the different BBQ-influenced areas in the country.
“The ‘OG sauce,’ it’s a Western Carolina ‘dip’ which is a tangy ketchup and vinegar-based sauce,” he explained, breaking down the saucy selection. “The ‘Drizz’ is our take on South Carolina Mustard sauce. Our version is a little sweeter. The ‘Sweet Spot’ is our nod to Kansas City sauce. It is thicker and sweeter with molasses and honey along with brown sugar. The ‘Pepper Vinegar’ is an Eastern Carolina vinegar style sauce. And the ‘XXX’ is our hot BBQ sauce. It’s our ode to Texas in that it has lots of pepper flavors, chili powder, ghost pepper, cayenne and habanero.”
Popular entrees include brisket, ribs and the almighty King Sandwich made with pulled pork, brisket, sausage, jalapeño poppers, cheese sauce and coleslaw on a brioche bun. It’s named after Kings Avenue.
For a hearty snack while enjoying a brew or two from the beer garden, “Jax’s Original” Bearded Poutine is a mountain of fries topped with burnt ends, pulled pork and pimento cheese curds, smothered in cheese sauce. Drizzle some XXX sauce for some heat.
The business partners hope to add a second location.
“The biggest thing is finding the right location,” Schmidt said. “We have to look at where we can replicate this. Where can we get the same feel? We found areas we like, but it’s just finding the right space.”
Lynn LaBoone, a previous resident of Jacksonville, thought The Bearded Pig was the right location to cater her wedding in November 2017.
“It was the first BBQ people suggested when I mentioned I wanted BBQ for my wedding,” she said. “Not only did they have good food, but they also had a wide selection of local beers. It was the perfect intersection of my food interests.”
“Thank you to everybody for supporting us,” Munsey said. “I mean that’s the biggest thing. Thank you to the staff. Thank you for the nice comments, the people that just love what we do. We’re fortunate to be from here and do something that is broadening the scope of culinary in this town.”
And we’re fortunate to have the best restaurant in Florida so close to home.